Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
By Sherry Bunting, published Farmshine, Feb. 18, 2022
WASHINGTON — As reported in the Feb. 11 Farmshine, USDA announced a ‘transitional standards’ rule on Feb. 4 for milk, whole grains, and sodium for school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.
The transitional standards are only in place while USDA works with stakeholders on long-term meal standards through a new rulemaking.
The proposed rule for the longer-term is expected to come from USDA in fall 2022 and will become effective in school year 2024-25. It will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, but USDA says it is conducting a public comment and review process related to the standards and to the “gradual implementation” plan it will develop based in part on stakeholder input.
In the official transitional standards rule, USDA notes that full implementation of its 2012 meal pattern requirements for milk, grains and sodium have been delayed at intervals due to legislative and administrative actions. “Through multiple annual appropriations bills, Congress directed USDA to provide flexibility for these specific requirements.”
Now is the time to comment before March 24, 2022 and to call for an end to the prohibition of whole milk in schools. Request that USDA restore the choice of whole milk in schools by commenting at the online rulemaking portal https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936
Comments and questions can also be sent to: Tina Namian, Chief, School Programs Branch, Policy and Program Development Division—4th Floor, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: 703-305-2590. Include FNS-2020-0038-2936 in your correspondence.
In a rare move Feb. 7, the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA) made a public media statement on the transitional standards — pointing out their concern that the long-term standards will be ‘more stringent’ due to the restrictive Dietary Guidelines that were approved by USDA and HHS in 2020.
The Association of School Superintendents stated: “It is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.”
Agreed! This applies to the milk also. Students miss out on 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, complete high quality protein, a healthy matrix of fat and several nutrients of concern when they don’t actually consume the milk offered or served at school. Those nutrients ‘on paper’ are then not realized. Many key nutrients of concern are also fat-soluble. A study at St. Michael’s Children Hospital, Toronto, showed children consuming whole milk had 2.5 to 3x the Vit. D absorption compared with those consuming low-fat milk, and they were at 40% less risk of becoming overweight! Details were presented in a June 2021 hearing in the Pennsylvania Senate, listen here
Milk consumption plummeted and waste skyrocketed since USDA’s 2012 fat-free/low-fat milk rules were set for both ‘served’ milk and competing a la carte offerings. Studies by USDA and others show milk is now one of the most discarded items at school. In fact, USDA did a plate waste study comparing 2011 to 2013 (pre-/ and post-change) They focused on fruits and vegetables, but saw milk decrease significantly, waiving it off as though it were due to an “unrelated policy change.” Technically, it was the smart snacks rules for beverages and it WAS related to the 2012 standards as both were implemented together.
See the losses in Tables 2 through 4 below in ‘selection’ and ‘consumption’ of milk from the USDA study reflecting a 24% reduction in student selection of milk (offer vs. serve) after the 2012 fat-free/low-fat implementation and 10 to 12% reduction in consumption among those students being ‘served’ or selecting the restricted fat-free/low-fat white milk option or fat-free flavored milk option. That’s a double whammy for childhood nutrition and for dairy farm viability. Since 2012, at least one generation of future milk drinkers has been lost.
MADISON, Wis. — A picture of the future of dairy was painted with a boastful sort of “insider” arrogance by dairy checkoff leaders on the second day of the World Dairy Expo during DMI’s ‘tanbark talk’ on transformation. It left me both shocked and uninspired, exasperated.
The very next day, a message of light and inspiration was presented in a meeting hosted by American Dairy Coalition (ADC), talking about inspiring loyal consumers as part of a discussion on the viability of America’s dairy farms in the face of rapidly launching confusion via plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes.
Without necessarily challenging DMI’s assumptions about Generation Z and the “future” of dairy, ADC’s guest speaker, a consumer-packaged-goods expert, painted a different picture. From the marketing surveys shared, it appears that future consumers, those under 23 years old today, are much more apt to be brand loyal than their Millennial parents.
The question is: Who is inspiring loyalty to milk, whole milk, real milk, real dairy, real beef, real animal protein? Not DMI.
DMI wants to take your checkoff dollars down into the darkness of the gaming world. Their guest speaker and futurist collaborator talked about the Gen Z gamers, the immersive learning, the tik tok generation.
One comment made me cringe. “It’s something parents and grandparents don’t like, but it is good for dairy,” said futurist Bob Johansen about the dark world of gaming that has, in his opinion, claimed the perspectives and choices of the next generation.
Repeating the platitude of “meeting consumers where they are”, the DMI presentation left this reporter in a bit of a shock. Do we really know where consumers are? Who is telling us these things and what is it really based on? So much more enlightening was the next day’s presentation about “inspiring loyalty” by reminding consumers about “what they love.”
I believe most dairy farmers want to inspire consumers to what’s real in life instead of being sucked into the unreal and confusing world of gaming.
Where are my thoughts going and what did you miss in the DMI panel at Expo? Not much, really. I heard the DMI dairy transformation strategist suggest that she “likes saying milk has 13 essential nutrients,” but that she thinks it will be so much “cooler to identify, annotate and digitize the 2500 to 3000 metabolites in milk and then be able to pair them to products and brands in the personalized app-driven diets of the future.”
That’s right folks, DMI paints a picture of future diets digitized by apps and algorithms to match up to the individual metabolic needs and desires of consumers. In other words, they won’t really know WHAT they are consuming, just a mix-and-match of elements as presented by global processing corporations that are “all-in” for this future of food confusion.
DMI is in the self-fulfilling prophecy business. They aren’t meeting consumers where they are. They aren’t inspiring consumers to be better, eat better, and enjoy dairy. They are touting USDA dietary policy to the point that even their fellow GENYOUth board members and collaborators are, in some cases, promoting the competition.
Case in point this week, chef Carla Hall, a longtime board member of GENYOUth, who DMI leaders have touted over the past 10 years, is right now running Youtube videos teaching consumers “how to go plant-based without going vegan.”
And guess what? Hall is targeting milk for the ousting. She promotes almond, oat, cashew etc ‘milks’ and guides consumers on how to replace real milk with these fakes in their diets, their recipes, their lives.
When a Facebook post about Hall’s milk-replacing Youtube videos was posted by a New York dairy producer asking “why is this person on the GENYOUth board?” another dairy producer responded wondering if she really was on the dairy-farmer-founded and primarily funded GENYOUth board.
Yours truly, here, replied on Facebook with a simple “yes she is” accompanied by a link to the listing of GENYOUth board members and a screenshot of the page showing Carla Hall among the GENYOUth board member list. Within a couple hours of my comment on that post, I got a notice from Facebook telling me I had “violated Facebook’s community standards.” They called my comment “fraudulent spam” and deleted it!
Yes, my reply was deleted, and I was warned that if I continued my violation of Facebook’s community standards, action would be taken against me.
Wow, I thought, that’s out of left field, isn’t it? I simply showed the truth with a link and a picture that the plant-based beverage promoter is, in fact, on the GENYOUth board.
Yes folks, DMI wants you to believe that your future viability as dairy farmers relies on playing nice with the plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes – blending in with them – and losing your identity. After all, they say, just be glad your milk has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated!
They want you to believe that the gaming industry is “good” for dairy while acknowledging that it’s not so good for kids. They want you to partner in that world of unreality and confusion instead of being an inspiration of clarity and a champion for what’s real.
My question is: Do we want to be a beacon of light and inspire Gen Z? Or do we want to stoop to the level of this dark space to “fit in” or “be cool”.
In that space, are those teens and young adults even listening to our story? Or are we being drowned out by the bells and whistles of gaming as it sucks them in and drags them down. The entire gaming world is full of ambiguity and confusion, but this is what DMI and its futurist say the world is going to be, that it is a VUCA world, and we must accept it.
VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It’s a sort of catchall phrase for what we all know. Yes, the world is crazy out there!
In that talk, DMI leaders said they hired futurist Bob Johansen to help them look at four models for the future of dairy from a range of possible scenarios. They chose the transformation model, and that is how they are transforming checkoff dollars.
“Accept it,” they say, Mr. and Mrs. Dairy Farmer, you must accept that ambiguous messaging is the name of the game for the future of dairy, one that assigns the attributes you are selling in a mix-and-match environment.
Farmers have been dealing with VUCA forever. We’ve long understood that markets are volatile, the future is uncertain, the industry is complicated, and yes, the world and its direction are certainly ambiguous.
However, must dairy farmers accept and enbrace this ambiguity in the messages they send to consumers about the milk they produce?
Should they be pursuing the digitization of 2500 milk metabolites as the way to pair dairy with certain brands and products to fit personalized diets and ignore the backdrop of confusion about what real milk and dairy are?
The first rule of marketing 101 is that ambiguous messages don’t work. They leave the impression that there’s nothing special about one choice over another.
They call it innovation, but it is really subjugation – the act of bringing farmers and consumers under domination and control.
They are asking dairy farmers to give away our precious wholesome true message about milk – especially whole milk — so that processors can mix and match protein sources as they see fit.
Of course, they tell us this is for sustainability’s sake and for saving the planet by keeping diets within planetary boundaries, but we all know the score: It’s about corporate profits and control of food… and land.
We knew that already, didn’t we? The dairy transformation strategy is to be the protein that processors choose to include by being the low-cost producer.
DMI isn’t interested in promoting whole milk or the nutritional value of whole milk as a superior choice. This is obvious no matter how ardently the outgoing DMI CEO Tom Gallagher repeats the mantra that DMI championed the return to full-fat dairy and whole milk.
He said this again during the World Dairy Expo discussion when New York producer Jay Hoyt stood up to say none of this “bright” transformation future is going to matter if we can’t promote and provide cold whole milk to kids. Gallagher’s response was that no one would be talking about whole milk if DMI had not been the leader on the full-fat dairy research and whole milk message. (What did I miss?)
The transformation strategy of DMI is to be a versatile, low-cost commodity that can be separated to blend and fit and filter its way into dozens of new products, that it has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated and then selected for personalized diets offered on iphone apps, that it ‘meets Gen Z where they are’ in the immersive learning world of gaming.
This is a game for sure. But who wins? Certainly not dairy farmers or consumers.
The transformation strategy has no place for promotion of 100% real whole milk and dairy, nor a clear message about what milk is, what it does for you. No place to remind consumers about why they love milk because they’ve helped over the past decade parrot USDA’s propaganda so that Gen Z doesn’t even know they love milk because they weren’t given whole milk – until grassroots promotion efforts started turning those tables.
If we all stand by and twiddle our thumbs — letting the global corporations make the decisions, control the narrative, bow to activist triggers, and define ‘where our consumers are’– by the time DMI and friends are done with dairy, it will be unrecognizable, without a clear message about the real milk diligently produced on our dairy farms.
Doing so means walking away from DMI and NFL constraints
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, September 3, 2021
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Rather than dilute its rejuvenated milk performance messaging in NFL athletes’ own milk stories, the national Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) walked away from its quest for a fall promotion partnership with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Football League (NFL).
According to leaked emails dated August 27 and 28, the decision was made when NFL feedback required removal of references to fluid milk hydration, recovery and performance due to infringement on the territory of a prime NFL sponsor, PepsiCo.
Rather than dilute the campaign’s message to gain NFL approval, the email indicates MilkPEP will use its own creative content with NFL athletes, without the NFL branding. Separate Farmshine requests for official statements from both MilkPEP and DMI were not immediately answered.
Some history is in order.
MilkPEP is funded by the mandatory 20-cent per hundredweight assessment that is included in the Class I price and is paid by fluid milk processors on all fluid milk that is processed and marketed in consumer type packages in the U.S. DMI, on the other hand, is funded by a portion of the 15-cent checkoff paid on all milk hundredweights sold by all U.S. dairy producers and the 7.5-cent per hundredweight equivalent paid by dairy importers.
MilkPEP, under the leadership of CEO Yin Woon Rani since October 2019, has brought back and revitalized milk education messages with an up-to-date modern focus on the nutritional and performance benefits of milk.
For example, MilkPEP revived ‘got milk?’ in 2020, and even more recently started a related slogan ‘you’re gonna need milk for that.’
At the gonnaneedmilk.com website, Milk is positioned as “fueling athletes for centuries” and as “the original sports drink” with tabs for milk facts, why milk, and milk vs. other beverages. In fact, some state and regional checkoff programs, including the southern Dairy Alliance, are using some of MilkPEP’s fluid milk promotion pieces. MilkPEP also partners with DMI on some projects related to fluid milk promotion.
DMI leaders often point out that their role is research and instead of generic advertising, they focus on innovation via proprietary strategic partnerships that include DMI’s 5-year-old Fluid Milk Revitalization Initiative; while MilkPEP focuses on consumer-facing fluid milk education and promotion. DMI often claims to “further the reach” of MilkPEP promotions through partnering and social media.
A central theme in MilkPEP’s ‘gonna need milk’ campaign is how milk’s unique nutritional attributes fuel extraordinary accomplishments. Through science-based information and the stories of Team Milk athletes, this campaign comes right out to proclaim “Milk: The Original Sports Drink.” So far this year, the milk stories of Team USA Olympians have been featured.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t get it done with the NFL, but we’ll find a way to get it done,” said Everett Williams, a MilkPEP board member at-large and Madison, Georgia dairy producer when called for his thoughts on the matter. “I have been impressed with what MilkPEP is doing, and it looks like we’ll still be working with the athletes, just not with the NFL branding.
“But we will still get the message out that ‘you’re gonna need milk for that,’” he said.
The fall promotion work had reportedly been underway for months creating content. Given DMI’s partnership with MilkPEP and with the NFL in schools via the GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 since 2009, the thought was these MilkPEP promotions could associate the athletes’ stories with the NFL and FUTP60.
However, in the email leaked to many, including to Farmshine, over the weekend, MilkPEP apparently thanked DMI’s teams for working with them on this, but said the organization would follow a different pathway for the fall promotions already created. The email noted that MilkPEP worked with DMI “in an attempt to make compelling content for Gen Z to help us achieve our objective of positioning milk as a valuable performance drink that helps athletes do extraordinary things.”
This created conflict with the NFL.
According to the email, the feedback that was sent back was “very stringent prohibiting this type of content.”
This feedback would have included editing every player’s authentic testimonials and removing all messaging from the gonnaneedmilk.com website that related to hydration, performance, recovery and sports drinks.
MilkPEP indicated in the email that it was unable to accommodate this level of feedback because the information is fact- and science-based.
In the email, MilkPEP’s continued support was emphasized for GENYOUth, the non-profit formed originally by DMI and the NFL. MilkPEP will pay for the distribution of nearly 4000 flag football kits to schools in October, which will feature the Team Milk NFL and nutritional posters along with the ‘got milk?’ branded pinnies, according to the email.
Outside of the schools, MilkPEP will essentially move forward on their own with their own content and will only use this content featuring attire without NFL or team brands and without any FUTP60 branding and no connection to the NFL.
“I am disappointed that we weren’t able to find a special place for milk in NFL promotion,” said Rob Barley, a MilkPEP board member at-large and dairy producer from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when asked for his observations.
Barley noted that MilkPEP staff worked very hard on this promotion, and he indicated DMI worked with them, but in the end, the promotion was denied by the NFL as infringing on the areas of other sponsors.
He noted that this decision does not represent a break in the partnership between MilkPEP and DMI on fluid milk promotion, and it does not affect their school participation. Instead, it means MilkPEP is choosing to continue its fall promotion plan, using the unedited milk stories of football players. They just won’t have the approval of the NFL and therefore will not be able to associate with the NFL brand or FUTP60 logo.
“We lack the financial resources of other NFL partners,” Barley said. “It’s that simple.”
NFL sponsorship deals are huge. According to an NS Business report last year, the NFL brought in a combined $1 billion through sponsorship deals from 30 brands during the 2019-20 season. At $100 million, PepsiCo was the fourth largest, allowing it to use the NFL logo and branding on its advertising campaigns for soft drinks as well as its other beverage and snack brands including Aquafina (water), Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana and Quaker Oats.
By comparison, the entire annual budget of MilkPEP is less than that, estimated at $85 million.
Also in comparison, according to IRS 990 forms, DMI pays the NFL approximately $7 to $8 million annually and provides the staffing and infrastructure for the partnership with the NFL in GENYOUth, where state and regional checkoff organizations, collectively, outspend all other individual donors, including the purchase of breakfast carts and equipment and educational materials for schools.
Over the past decade, GENYOUth’s in-school materials have evolved well beyond the original realm of nutrition and exercise as more multinational corporate donors from the technology, financial and consumer packaged goods sectors have boarded the school bus.
In 2020 and 2021, GENYOUth has focused its out-of-school messaging on raising funds for delivering school meals amid pandemic disruptions.
Through GENYOUth and FUTP60, DMI targeted Generation Z over the past 12 to 13 years. In a press conference in May, Anne Warden, DMI’s executive vice president of Strategic Integration, said dairy checkoff “has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition (in 2008-09).” She stated that Gen Z is “not interested in facts like vitamins and minerals. They want to know how foods and beverages will make them feel.”
The FUTP60 partnership between the NFL and DMI began in 2009. By 2010, DMI had created the 501c3 non-profit Youth Improved Incorporated, operating as GENYOUth. Its formation includes USDA as an original partner. USDA blog posts and Flickr photos depicted the ceremony where the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was publicly signed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick, and National Dairy Council President Jean Regalie during the 2011 Superbowl.
Also in 2011, PepsiCo renewed its longtime partnership with the NFL in a 10-year deal that ESPN reported to be over $90 million per year with additional spending in marketing and promotion of its ties to the NFL.
In 2018, the GENYOUth Vanguard hero award was presented to PepsiCo during the New York City GENYOUth Gala, at a time when dairy farmer heroes were encountering one of their most difficult milk price margin years and whose checkoff had been contributing far more millions to the GENYOUth effort over the previous 10 years than the one-year, one-million PepsiCo had pitched in for Spanish translations and 100 breakfast carts. (PepsiCo has a school foodservice company and website touting USDA-compliant products.)
PepsiCo’s North American CEO accepted the award that evening and indicated the company had “admired the Play 60 program for years.” He then used the dairy-farmer-founded GENYOUth venue to tout Pepsi’s focus on healthy new beverages, including the Quaker brand oat ‘milk’ he announced had arrived in stores (a brand that was subsequently discontinued).
Looking ahead, PepsiCo announced in Feb. 2021, its joint venture with Beyond Meat called The PLANeT Partnership to make and sell plant-based alternative drinks and snacks. In July 2021, Beyond Meat filed to trademark “Beyond Milk.”
(Author’s note: NFL is big business, and its sponsorship deals understandably require rules for the road in which competing sponsors — especially those such as dairy producers with their smaller ‘altruistic’ investments as ‘partners’ in a youth program — are apparently expected to stay in their lane (getting meals to food insecure kids at school; not promoting milk’s nutritional profile in performance, hydration and sports recovery). On the other hand, pay attention… if / when the PepsiCo / Beyond PLANeT Partnership brings forth a Beyond Milk beverage to go with the trademark application they just filed, dairy farmers will certainly expect the NFL to remember who the MILK lane belongs to.)
DMI gets more aggressive in launch of ‘blending’ vision
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 27, 2021
CHICAGO, Ill. – The future of dairy is “blending”, according to recent messaging and product innovation launches supported with dairy checkoff dollars.
In 2019, the Live Real Farms, “purely perfect blends” – Dairy Plus Almond and Dairy Plus Oat beverages – were launched in test markets in Minnesota. Earlier this year, the roll-out arrived in Northeast markets, including Pennsylvania. For example, in Lancaster County, Pa., certain Giant stores are handling the drink.
According to USDA FMMO definitions for Class I fluid milk, the either/or protein or total solids percentage of this “blend” does not meet the Class I standard, and an official from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board also confirmed in a phone interview that the 50/50 blended products are not regulated as Class I under the PMMB.
This is another aspect of the move toward blending in fluid milk products. Some of these new checkoff-funded fluid milk “revitalization” products classify the milk used in them at manufacturing class prices.
But that’s another story. This article focuses on how DMI is positioning future dairy messaging and supply-chain innovation through blending.
First, many farmers will recall the words of Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships when he spoke in a Center for Dairy Excellence call last fall and again in a webinar during the February 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.
In those settings, Ziemnisky gave a look at the future of dairy beverages, going so far as to say new processing facilities will “need to be built as beverage plants able to handle all kinds of ingredients for the blended products of the future.”
“We will see the beverage space set up differently and our manufacturing plants will need to be set up as dual plants to make milk-based beverages because that is where the consumer is going, and it is our job to keep them where dairy is front and center,” Ziemnisky explained, noting that these blends “are shelved with milk. We’re adding plants to dairy, making lactose-free dairy to address gut health. Our partners have led, and we have driven growth by over 1 billion pounds.”
But where is the sales data on the blends? The dairy industry identity shift has been in the making for the past 12 to 13 years, and ramping up in the past five, with the opening, expanding and planned construction of huge dairy ingredient facilities, processing cheese and “nutritionals”.
Ultrafiltration and low-fat or fat-free milk figure prominently in these blends.
‘Best of all milks?’
So, how is DFA / DMI marketing the checkoff-partnered fluid milk innovation that is Live Real Farms “purely perfect blends”? The evolving liverealfarms.com website, as well as social media platforms, tell the story.
These “blends” of milk plus plant-based beverages, these 50/50 blends, are touted as “the best of all milks,” and “the milk for modern tastes.”
Interestingly, the Live Real Farms “about us” page demonstrates that its marketers may be even more confused about whose farm products they are promoting because the photo is clearly that of a farmer standing in a field with BEEF cows – Hereford and Charolais. There’s not a dairy breed in the bunch on the full screen photo at DFA’s Live Real Farms “about us” page.
Across the beef cow and farmer photo are the words “Keeping it real.” (We have to wonder how the photo of beef cows and a blended product keep it real, but that’s a question for another day.)
Moving down through the verbiage, beneath the photo are the words: “Live Real Farms is owned by a co-op of real farmers (DFA) with one really tasty goal: to create deliciously modern dairy products bursting with goodness. Nothing fancy. Nothing artificial. Nothing we wouldn’t put on our own tables.”
Underneath this verbiage, we finally do see a Holstein, and below that picture are these words: “Love Milk Like Never Before: Something so delicious happens when you blend real milk with real almond or oat drink. We love the luscious texture. We love the subtle sweetness and nutty flavors. We love the health benefits too. And so will you.”
Various consumer spots are included touting this blended drink as healthier because you can “sneak more plants into your diet,” or because the blending with oat drink make it better in coffee, and on and on.
The instagram account even urged putting 50/50 Dairy + Almond blend out for Santa last Christmas Eve. (Sorry, but Santa prefers 100% real milk).
A milk identity crisis?
The chocolate dairy plus almond product was recently reviewed by Afoolzerrand.com – the saga of a man traveling the world tasting and reviewing brands of chocolate milk – over 1500 of them to-date.
Even he was confused about the ‘blend’, stating in his video review that he was “curious about who this (blended) product is for…
“Is there crossover between people who buy almond milk and people who buy regular milk? Maybe? Is it some sort of a compromise? I don’t know. I’m sure they did research to back up putting out the product, but I find it strange who the target market is,” he said.
“It is amusing that at the website for Live Real Farms, about us, it talks about ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘we believe in eating food the way nature intended. It’s funny for me to think about nature intending on a 50/50 almond milk / cow milk blend, let alone a chocolate flavored one. To consider that to be the way nature intended has some comedy value for me,” the chocolate milk connoisseur said in his video review of the product.
He noted that, “It sort of tastes like you would expect sun block to taste,” observing a “dusty” flavor that’s “more sweet than chocolatey”.
He talked about the other 50/50 blends in the line-up, saying “I’m baffled a bit. I’ve certainly tried worse things, it’s less creamy, which you would expect with half low-fat milk, half almond milk… texture-wise it doesn’t do any favors.”
Rating it a 3 out of 10 (Poor), Afoolzerrand went on to note that it offers a lactose-free claim, but he was quick to point out (and show pictures of) the many other lactose free chocolate milks on the market that are made with 100% real milk, that he said are really good.
Whose healthy halo?
So, what does DMI – the purveyor of the blending vision for dairy farmer checkoff dollars – say?
A recently posted “Undeniably Dairy” video at the USdairy.com website sought to explain the blending direction of dairy “to answer questions raised by recent headlines.”
In the video moderated by Scott Wallin, DMI’s communications director, Kristiana Alexander, director of DMI’s Knowledge and Insights, discusses how “consumer desires are influencing the beverage category and how dairy innovation can encourage more fluid milk use. One of the newest innovations are blended products, which combine the goodness of dairy with other ingredients,” she said.
Alexander is asked to give a definition for ‘blended dairy’ in the DMI video entitled ‘Why Fluid Milk Innovation is Important.’
“We are talking about products that are combining dairy with other ingredients or foods that is then made into a single product,” she said.
Wallin notes that Alexander’s team is “constantly monitoring consumer trends” and asks what they are finding when it comes to blended dairy. “What is it that they are looking for?” he asked.
“Today, people are focused on living a ‘holistic lifestyle,” said Alexander explaining what she called DMI’s “overarching framework.”
The holistic lifestyle is “a lifestyle that emphasizes the connection of the mind, body and planet. It encompasses the well-being of the individual, the family, and everything around them. People want to know, is this good for my body? Will I enjoy it? Will I feel good about buying it?,” Alexander says.
She talked about how blended products are showing up in the marketplace, saying: “It’s all about nutrition and flavor experience. It’s about bringing the foods and ingredients that people want more of … and bringing them into dairy. This can include fruits and vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants, functional foods that boost immunity, healthy grains – think like oats and quinoa, nuts, and ‘super powders’ like matcha and turmeric that have a perceived ‘health halo’ around them. And beyond nutrition, it’s flavor experience. Consumers are looking to step out of their comfort zones,” said Alexander.
(Author’s note: Who is promoting milk’s natural healthy halo? The vitamins, minerals, high quality protein, hydrating water, electrolytes, healthy matrix of fats, important fatty acids, essential nutrients of concern in today’s diets, and more? Does dairy suddenly need other ingredients to improve its health halo, according to DMI consumer research? Because consumers do not know much about the health and nutrition of real milk and dairy, blending is the answer?)
Everyone’s doing it?
Alexander went on to say this “blending” trend is not just happening in dairy.
“We see it in meat and poultry,” she said, flashing brands of blended products always using the word “plus” on the screen (like the Live Real Farms does with dairy) and touting chicken-plus-grains blends and beef blended with pea-protein as “great new products” that meet consumer desires.
“We are tapping into consumers’ desires for enhanced nutrition and flavor exploration,” Alexander explained.
“The big question for farmers is, ‘what does it mean for the dairy industry?’” asked Wallin.
Alexander responded to say: “Bringing it home, what it means for dairy and looking at blended dairy… first, we know people are always looking to consume more vegetables, and we are seeing this take place in meat and poultry, and now in dairy.
“It’s not about eliminating foods,” said DMI’s Alexander. “It’s having different options available, and these hybrid foods that provide dairy and vegetables, they do that. There’s ice cream, cheese crackers, dairy beverages that all let consumers get more vegetables in their diets. And then there’s dairy blends that incorporate grains and nuts, meeting different consumer needs.”
She noted that Live Real Farms milk plus almond and oat, in particular, “provide that blended enhanced nutrition.”
(Author’s note: Enhanced nutrition? Over real dairy milk? Really?)
She also noted the “indulgent” blends, such as Shamrock’s milk swirled with almond drink and chocolate as being a new “comfort food” for people looking to indulge and “be comforted” after a stressful year.
Alexander also noted the blended cheeses with lentils and chickpeas providing new textures and … you guessed it… “enhanced nutrition.”
This ‘blending’ discussion has not even publicly touched upon the bioengineered yeast-excrement makers already talking with the largest global makers of ice cream, yogurt and cheese to blend their dairy protein analogs at a starter rate of 5%.
As Alexander noted in the DMI video, it’s happening in meat and poultry also.
Bottom line, dairy farmer checkoff dollars are using the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supply chain leverage model to move consumers and producers in a direction that certainly appears to be one that transforms food by diluting animal-sourced foods like real milk and dairy.
Business will do what business will do, but should dairy farmers be paying to promote, launch, create, and foster the blending and dilution of their milk and dairy products, including the reclassification of the milk in these beverages at manufacturing class prices? Are they funding their own demise? Should they be funding the education and promotion of dairy’s own superior healthy halo so that consumers know what 100% real dairy provides and can make informed decisions as the lines get blurred?
HARRISBURG, Pa. — As part of the 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, virtual attendees had the option of ‘attending’ a zoom session sponsored by American Dairy Association Northeast (ADANE), entitled What has dairy checkoff done for you lately? Moderated by Jayne Sebright, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, the guests included Rick Naczi, CEO of ADANE, Barb O’Brien, DMI president, Karen Scanlon, senior VP of sustainability, Paul Ziemnisky, executive VP of global innovation partnerships, and Marilyn Hershey, DMI chair.
The first part of the program was a history lesson on how and why DMI (Dairy Management Inc) was formed to “bring greater efficiency” to how checkoff dollars are used. Leaders stated that DMI “eliminates millions spent in redundant money.” A graph was displayed showing that since the formation of DMI in 1995, total dairy disappearance has risen, along with milk production, to record levels.
A key point made is that DMI leaders see the unified and integrated plan “has helped the dairy industry grow, to help fulfill the dairy producers’ goal of growth.”
Leaders acknowledged that consumers trust farmers, but they believe checkoff’s role is defined as “educating consumers about that trust.”
Paul Ziemnisky gave a look at the future of dairy beverages, going so far as to say new processing facilities will need to be built as beverage plants able to handle all kinds of ingredients for the blended products of the future. In essence, he said, the future of fluid milk is “dual purpose” processing plants.
“We have taken milk to the energy arena, the cold brew with milk arena. We’re adding plants to dairy, making lactose-free dairy to address gut health. Our partners have led, and we have driven growth by over 1 billion pounds,” he said.
Touching on full fat dairy, O’Brien said DMI is “leveraging” the growth in full fat science.
A pressing question of farmers was asked: “Why do we not see television ads?”
The answer, said O’Brien, is “We are going to market differently from the consumer standpoint with less traditional TV ads and shifting to social and retail media channels like other companies are doing. We are looking to our partners, dairy brands, and foodservice brands to elevate their presence and elevate dairy’s presence within that,” she explained.
Ziemnisky pointed out the significant growth in foodservice investment in promoting products that highlight cheese within their own advertising channels.
“For the fluid milk category to be successful,” he said, “Brands need to establish the relationship with consumers.”
Hershey noted that the list of companies that advertised in the Super Bowl 10 years ago include Blockbuster video, Gateway computers, companies that are not in business any more, indicating that television ads are a large investment of ‘past’ industries (even though this year’s Super Bowl had ads by milk’s up-and-coming new competitors).
O’Brien and Hershey explained that DMI and MilkPEP (the fluid milk processor checkoff fund of over $90 million a year) work in “lockstep on consumer understanding, messaging and coordinating with the science.”
“We (DMI) are investing in thought-leadership and university partnerships while they (MilkPEP) have a consumer-focused charter,” said O’Brien.
An example she gave is Amazon launching into groceries in 2017 and ramping up in the last 12 months.
“They won’t settle for being second or third in 10 years, and we (DMI) get to be the ones to educate them on dairy,” she said, stating that Amazon Fresh dairy offerings today are 90% cows’ milk. “That could have been 50/50. We are a voice for dairy in the category.”
This led into further discussion of DMI’s target and the move to blended product partnerships.
Ziemnisky said “90% of consumers who buy plant-based drinks also buy milk today. The urban/suburban mom trying to get in shape is looking for low fat and looking for flavor. We have to give her more flavor. She is looking for advanced nutrition and things to energize her. She’s buying 27 gallons of traditional milk and 5 gallons of plant-based beverage a year because we did not give her almond flavor and oat flavor. She has to trust that we will give her the products she is looking for.”
Toward that end, said Ziemnisky, “We are blending to specific consumers around their dietary needs.”
“We will see the beverage space set up differently and our manufacturing plants will need to be set up as dual plants to make milk-based beverages because that is where the consumer is going, and it is our job to keep them where dairy is front and center,” he explained, noting that these blends “are shelved with milk so that the consumer is not walking over to the plant-based aisle.”
(In most stores, the plant-based is shelved in the dairy aisle so it’s hard to know how these blended products pull sales from solo-dairy or solo-plant.)
Ziemnisky noted, as farmers have heard before, that, “We have to be relevant, to develop formulations that make sure dairy is front and center, but provide the taste, nutrition and sustainability consumers are looking for.”
O’Brien said DMI’s mandate has been to “build trust” and address “shared priorities” while streamlining dairy promotion to be more efficient.
“We know accountability is absolutely critical,” said Hershey. “Farmers make the program and budget decisions through the significant farmer input” of United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA), the portion of the national branch that represents the state and regional promotion entities.
The bottom line, DMI leaders explained, is that the national decisions, strategies and unified marketing plan are ultimately governed by DMI’s board of 15 farmers, with two-thirds of dairy funding still residing with local leadership, but aligning with the “unified marketing plan” as all the state and regional organizations making up UDIA giving 2.5 cents of the local dime to DMI.
DMI works on two levels, said O’Brien, one being as a “global umbrella that farmers have created to address threats over time.”
The other level, they talked about was the domestic side, focused on youth wellness, developing a “deep bench” of nutrition experts and organizations to work with, and engaging on hunger with the food bank system.
On that “global umbrella” level, they explained that the U.S. Dairy Export Council, formed in 1995 receives $20 million annually in checkoff funds and is made up of the membership of 125 dairy companies, including cooperatives.
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was later formed in 2008-09, with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at the table right from the beginning “to bring farmers, cooperatives, manufacturers and customers around common sustainability metrics.” Essentially, WWF has been involved from the beginning in the shaping of the FARM program and the sustainability metrics that are part of DMI’s Net Zero Initiative.
O’Brien and Hershey talked about GENYOUth (formed in 2008-09), saying it was “founded by farmers and brings tens of millions of dollars in from other sources to support dairy’s commitment to youth wellness in schools.”
O’Brien noted that since its founding, GENYOUth has “brought in” $100 million from companies outside the dairy industry to achieve the goal of what they calculate to be over 800 million servings of milk per year, and accounting for what they say are school sales of 400 million “incremental” pounds of milk.
In existence for 12 years, with an annual budget of around $10 million, $4 million of which is line-item national and regional checkoff funding, the percentages show the GENYOUth budget now includes more outside money than inside money; however, there is no clear accounting for the ‘vehicle’ costs of the various staff and fixtures, which would likely be additional. Furthermore, there’s the $6 million paid annually to the NFL, which is DMI’s GENYOUth ‘partner’. The purpose of this money was not divulged by DMI leaders during the session.
Leaders also spent a good portion of time talking about how GENYOUth “worked tirelessly” to raise $17 million of “other people’s money” to support the distribution of milk to schools as cafeterias shut down during the pandemic. They maintained that without these efforts by GENYOUth, milk and dairy products would not have flowed steadily to children through schools. They said GENYOUth grants were given to 14,000 schools to pay for things like coolers for off-site meal distribution.
“We have insured milk and dairy products got to schools during the pandemic,” said O’Brien. She and Naczi both shared how they believe their organizations “pivoted and kept milk flowing” through schools, food banks, CFAP food boxes and other government feeding programs as well as “educating” schools on how to use the waivers for milk and dairy food sizes and packaging during the pandemic. They described national and regional checkoff organizations as the logistical coordinators for the flow of dairy to hunger channels – even though much of this was connected to the USDA CFAP programs.
They also explained how ADANE staff worked with stores to get the purchase-limit signs removed and to keep the dairy cases stocked during the height of the pandemic shut down last spring.
“We knew foodservice channels would get disrupted and looked at how to be sure dairy was going with and through the industry. With the retail influx of volume (purchases), we looked at how we can work across the supply chain,” said O’Brien, adding that dairy outperformed the growth in the rest of the retail sector by three percentage points during the pandemic.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — In addition to the ‘DMI-led’ launch of DFA’s new ‘teen milk’ called siips, DMI is also working with processors, retailers, foodservice and technology companies to develop other ‘milk innovations’ for schools, foodservice and retail.
On a recent Center for Dairy Excellence industry call, Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of global innovation partnerships described DMI’s five-year-old fluid milk revitalization committee as a collaboration between the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, MilkPEP, NMPF and IDFA, using DMI’s insights to “make milk relevant.”
In the retail sector, Ziemniskhy talked about how plant-based beverage sales grew by a large percentage since the Coronavirus pandemic, but ‘value-added’ milk sales (such as fairlife, dairy-plus-plant-blends and other milk-based beverage innovations) grew by an even larger percentage than plant-based alternatives alone.
When asked whether dairy farmers’ are paying to fund checkoff research on non-dairy alternative products, DMI president Barb O’Brien said: “We are not doing any ‘dedicated’ research on alternatives. What we are doing has been done from a new product development standpoint,” she said.
“There has been exploration of blended products as consumers look at new flavors and options,” O’Brien defended. “Instead of letting that market walk away from dairy, we have looked at blended or ‘milk-based’ opportunities. We have looked at alternative milk-and-oats, milk-and-nuts to bring flavor and excitement to those new products.”
O’Brien stressed that all of this work has had “farmer oversight.”
“I want to assure you that 85 dairy farmers from across the country sit on the DMI board for approval of our plans,” said O’Brien.
On fluid milk, for example, she said the “dedicated fluid milk committee includes 10 farmers. They were asked to go deep and monitor the specifics of the work and the investments. They see the confidential, proprietary information from investors and make recommendations to the board.”
Ziemnisky did admit that whole milk sales — on a volume basis – topped the growth volume of other beverages in the dairy case, but he and O’Brien both focused on the value-added side of the equation. They revealed how DMI’s focus is to prove to retailers that they will reap sales growth by devoting more space to dairy innovations.
“Our partners have made capital investments of over $1 billion to help us win in retail, foodservice and school channels,” said Ziemnisky, explaining that the large and expanding dairy cases at retail are now confined to a 4 x 6 phone screen because more consumers today are choosing to shop for groceries online. “We are making sure milk is front and center in their media programs. As a result, online sales of fluid milk products are up $500 million year-to-date.”
O’Brien said DMI works “to ensure we keep dairy products moving into markets.”
“Our work covers the spectrum from consumer research to retail marketing and education of dairy case managers,” she said. “When the fluid milk revitalization alliance was formed, we learned brands do a better job of advertising. We built up the category with facts that prove to retailers how the value-added section in milk is growing more than the plant-based alternatives.
“We help them see that we’re the future, that they are getting more growth from us, and we show them: here’s how to grow the category,” O’Brien explained. “Retailers are now activating and using this knowledge to build-out additional space for new milk-based product launches.”
Case in point — the Dairy Plus/Milk Blends made by DFA’s Live Real Farms — is touted as ‘a new taste experience’ (in which the first listed ingredient is lowfat milk, second ingredient is water…)
The line of 50% lowfat, lactose-free milk and 50% almond or oat drink was launched over a year ago in Minnesota and is expected to hit the Northeast in January. Ziemnisky said the milk plus oat and milk plus almond beverages are examples of ‘relevant’ innovation, based on DMI insights.
“The urban and suburban consumer today is trying to get into shape. They are making smoothies. They are flavor explorers. They are putting habanero on cheese. They don’t want basics. We have to bring on the flavor and the innovation,” he said.
“Millennial moms are leaking out of dairy in the low-fat and nutrition space,” Ziemnisky explained. “We did a test of ‘real dairy’ with new flavor blends like oat. We thought, let’s add (oat beverage) to dairy and test it. This added to the retail basket, creating new usage occasions for dairy and grew the overall dairy sales compared to the stores that did not have the new (DFA Dairy Plus/Milk Blends) product.”
Retail sales growth on a dollar basis is very much the focus as Ziemnisky and O’Brien said they are showing retailers that adding these innovations to their offerings will drive category growth and sales revenue.
“We want consumers to experiment with new flavors that are occurring,” Ziemnisky said, using cheese as an example that applies to the fluid milk sector. “Think about cheese, of adding wine and nuts to cheese. You see that massive flavor blending. On a global landscape, we see this flavor thing as an international trend.”
Ziemnisky mentioned Kroger’s new cherry milk and the new ‘cereal milk’ launched recently by Nestle. He said there are “some other things that will launch that we can’t talk about, but think of what ice cream does (with flavor). That’s a hint.”
“To keep consumers from running to plants, we have to add some plants to dairy,” said Ziemnisky, citing this as an example of innovation he said is needed to compete.
“Our piece of that investment is very small,” he added. “Our partners are drawing on our expertise and investing ten times our investment, ultimately, in packaging and marketing at the end day.”
A dairy farmer submitted a question wondering, ‘What percentage of the total DMI budget comes from farmer funds and what portion comes from corporate partners?’
O’Brien replied that, “100% of DMI’s budget comes from America’s dairy farmers.”
(Technically, that’s not entirely accurate because importers pay a 7.5-cent checkoff per hundredweight equivalent. Importers are not dairy farmers, except when the importers are farmer-owned cooperatives.)
As regards DMI’s corporate partnerships, their funds are not mixed into one budget.
“What this plan has been designed to do is to bring partners of all types — foodservice, manufacturing, foundations, government grants — to align other people’s money with and execute against the shared values and shared priorities,” said O’Brien.
She noted earlier that the shift to a partnership planning model occurred in 2008-09, at the same time that the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was formed (and a year or so after the importers were required to start paying a 7.5 cent checkoff).
“We have calculated the value of corporate dollars — what I like to call ‘other people’s money’ — to combine with our dollars to become $3 billion for the execution of ‘in market’ plans,” said O’Brien. “This takes into account partners like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and others. In marketing, they spend 10 to 20 times what we spend in the years we do that.”
O’Brien stated that this partnership plan is a “critical multiplier of farmers’ investments to make a greater impact on farmers’ behalf.”
When asked if DMI considers itself a top-down or bottom-up organization, O’Brien said the fundamental philosophy is “the most powerful partnership I have ever seen. It starts at the farmer level with national and local boards aligning behind shared values and priorities and a plan. That translates to staff sitting nationally and planning and driving strategies, building relationships and implementing the science.”
According to O’Brien, the annual planning process of DMI involves staff leadership and farmer leadership from national and local levels. It is a 9-month process that starts with the consumer insights DMI provides on how the marketplace is changing. Out of those insights, the strategies are brought forward. Then there is agreement on the strategies and tactics. Then the plans are ultimately implemented together.
“The marriage makes it a system that works for farmers,” O’Brien opined.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Without checkoff-funded promotion, regular whole milk sales grew by 14% on a volume basis year-to-date, according to USDA. Paul Ziemnisky confirmed that whole milk sales are 41% of total dairy case sales on a volume basis, so the gains continue to make whole milk the volume growth leader in the dairy case. Meanwhile DMI fluid milk revitalization is aimed at ‘relevance’ and showing retailers and other partners the sales growth (in dollars) that dairy innovation can deliver.
In that same June 2019 hearing, animal scientist and greenhouse gas emissions expert Dr. Frank Mitloehner of University of California-Davis explained the methane / CO2 ‘biogenic’ cycle of cows.
He said that no new methane is produced when cow numbers are “constant” in an area because methane is short-lived and converts to CO2 in 10 years time, which is then used by plants, cows eat the plants, and the cycle repeats.
Dr. Mitloehner also said that this cycle changes when cattle concentrations move from one area to another.
The milk produced and bottled in the Northeast and Southeast milksheds is not just carbon neutral, it’s already carbon negative, producing not just no new methane, but less than prior-decades’ methane.
Bear in mind, these new dairy-‘based’ — blended — beverages are NOT Class I products. I have been informed that the 50/50 blends, for example, do not meet the standard of identity for milk, nor do they meet the milk solids profile that requires Class I pricing. This means that even though milk is part of a fluid dairy-‘based’ beverage, it is not priced as Class I.
The milk used in these emerging products that combine ultrafiltered solids with water, additives and maybe an almond or two, fall into Class IV, some are Class III if whey protein is used. Examples include products like DFA’s Live Real Farms ‘Purely Perfect Blend‘ that arrived recently in Pennsylvania and the greater Northeast after its first test-market in Minnesota.
Think about it. Unity is great on many levels, and is to be encouraged in an industry such as dairy, but when it comes to marketing, who is calling the shots for future viability within the DMI integration strategy, otherwise known as unity?
Pre-competitive alliances and ‘proprietary partnerships’ working on food safety are wonderful because all companies should work together on food safety. But animal care? Environment? Climate? Why not just offer quality assurance resources and pay farmers certain premiums for investing as companies would like to see and pay them for providing the consumer trust commodity — instead of implementing one-size-fits-all branches in programs like F.A.R.M.?
These so-called voluntary programs have the power to negate contracts between milk producers and their milk buyers even though consumer trust is a marketable commodity that producers already own and are in fact giving to milk buyers, and their brands, without being compensated.
Instead, producers are controlled by arbitrary definitions of the consumer trust commodity that the producers themselves originate. This goes for Animal Care, Worker Care, Environment, and Climate.
The pre-competitive model used in food safety is applied to all four of the above areas today. This is exactly the supply-chain model World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — DMI’s ‘sustainability partner’ — set in 2010 to “move the choices of consumers and producers” where they want them to go.
In the 2019 Senate hearing referenced at the beginning of the above op-ed, Dr. Mitloehner stated that the mere fact there are 9 million dairy cattle today compared with 24 million in 1960 and producing three times more milk shows that dairy producers are collectively not only emitting zero new methane, they are reducing total methane as old methane and carbon are eradicated by the carbon cycle and less new replacement methane is emitted.
The problem may be this: Year-over-year cow numbers for the U.S. are creeping higher. While still much lower than four to five decades ago, the issue emerging for DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is how to accommodate growth of the new and consolidating dairy structures to attain the checkoff’s expanded global export goal and to accommodate massive new dual-purpose plants if dairy farms in other areas remain virtually constant in size, grow modestly, or decline at a rate slower than the ‘designated’ growth areas are growing.
DMI is at the core of this, you see, to reach it’s new collective net-zero goal, cow numbers would have to decline in one area in order to be added in another area, or they will all have to have their methane buttons turned off or the methane captured because now the emissions are being tracked in order to meet one collective “U.S. Dairy” unit goal under the DMI Innovation Center and F.A.R.M.
At that 2019 Senate hearing,Dr. Frank Mitloehner testified that dairies already create zero new methane but this can be tricky when cattle move from one area to another (as we see in the industry’s consolidation).Then we have DMI’s Dairy Scale 4 Good claiming the dairies over 3000 cows can be net-zero in 5 years and ‘spread their achievement’ over the entire milk footprint. Do we see where this is going?
Will all dairy farms have to meet criteria — set by organizations under the very umbrella of the checkoff program they must fund — to get to a ‘collective’ net-zero using the GHG calculator developed by the checkoff-funded Innovation Center in conjunction with its partner WWF (12 year MOU)? This GHG calculator has been added to the FARM program. These are the big questions.
By Sherry Bunting, both parts of a two-part series in Farmshine, July 2021
The dairy industry continues to wait for USDA to provide details on three areas of dairy assistance already approved by Congress or mentioned as “on the way” by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The fly in the ointment, however, is the record-high 2021 milk production (Table 1) and accelerated growth in cow numbers (Table 2) at a pace the recent USDA World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) expect to continue into 2022.
USDA is reportedly looking at production reports — up vs. year ago by 1.9% in March, 3.5% in April, 4.6% in May — to determine how to assist without adding fuel to expansion that could threaten late 2021 milk prices in the face of rising feed costs and a worsening western drought. (The latter two challenges could temper those forecasts in future WASDEs.)
May milk production a stunner
U.S. milk production totaled 19.9 billion pounds in May. This is a whopping 4.6% increase above 2020 and 2018 and a 4.1% increase over May 2019.
Let’s look at year-to-date. For the first five months of 2021, milk totaled 96 billion pounds, up 2.3% vs. the 93.8 billion pounds for Jan-May of 2020, and it is 4.4% greater than the 91.9 billion pounds of Jan-May milk produced in pre-pandemic 2018 and 2019. Of the four years, only 2020 had the extra production day as a Leap Year.
Milk per cow was up 3% over year ago in May. Compared with 2019, output per cow is up 2.2%, according to USDA.
Cow numbers vs. 2018 tell the story
Milk cows on U.S. dairies in May 2021 totaled 9.5 million head, up 145,000 from May 2020’s 9.36 million, up 172,000 from 2019’s 9.33 million, and up 83,000 head from 2018’s 9.42 million.
Counter to the national trend, Pennsylvania had 48,000 fewer milk cows than May 2018 — dropping 30,000 into 2019; 10,000 into 2020, and 8,000 into 2021.
Elsewhere in the Northeast and Southeast milksheds, among the 24 major monthly-reported states, New York had 4000 more milk cows in May 2021 than 2018, Vermont 8000 fewer. Georgia dropped 1000, Florida 12,000, and Virginia 11,000. In the Central states, Illinois was down 10,000 head.
The total decline in cow numbers for the 24 lesser quarterly-reported states, the collective loss in cow numbers is 59,000 head from May 2018 to May 2021
Accelerated growth is coming from three key areas where major new processing assets have been built or expanded.
In the Mideast, where the new Glanbia-DFA-Select plant became fully operational in Michigan this spring, there is a net gain of 32,000 cows for 2021 vs. 2018, Ohio’s cow numbers that had been declining 2018-19, began recovering in 2020-21. Indiana had 18 months of substantial growth, and Michigan returned to its growth pattern in 2020. Taken together, the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan region had a loss of 8,000 cows heading into 2020, but gained a whopping 40,000 cows over the past year.
In the Central Plains, where new plant capacity is starting up this spring and summer — Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa, combined, added 40,000 cows May 2018 to May 2021.
In the Southern Plains, where joint-venture processing capacity continues to grow, Texas has continued full-steam-ahead, gaining 87,000 cows from 2018 to 2021, along with 29,000 added in Colorado and 17,000 in Kansas. New Mexico regained earlier losses to be 2000-head shy of 2018.
The growth patterns in these regions somewhat mirrored dairy exits from other areas — until Jan. 2020 (Table 2). The past 17 consecutive months of year-over-year increases in cow numbers leave the U.S. herd at its largest number in 26 years (1995).
However, the assumption that ‘dairy producers are okay because the industry is expanding’ ignores several essential factors. The playing field has become more complicated and inequitable. There are four main factors at play. We’ll look at them one at a time.
Factor #1 — Milk dumping and base programs
A year ago in April and May 2020 — at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic disruptions — the dairy industry saw dumping of milk, stricter base programs and bigger milk check deductions. Producers culled cows, dried cows off early, changed their feeding programs, even fed milk in dairy rations.
But milk production still grew, according to the USDA data.
Some cooperatives and milk buyers, like Land O’Lakes, had base programs already in place and triggered them. Others made changes to prior programs or implemented new ones.
Dairy Farmers of America — the nation’s largest milk cooperative, largest North American dairy processor and third-ranked globally by Rabobank — quickly implemented a new base program in May 2020, seeking 10 to 15% in production cuts from members, varying by region, with overage priced on ‘market conditions.’
It is difficult to assess the ‘equity’ in these base programs and the cross-layers among producers between and within regions, or to know how these ‘bases’ are being handled presently. When questioned, spokespersons say base decisions are set by regional boards.
Meanwhile, product inventory and pricing schemes affect all regions, and milk rides between FMMOs in tankers and packages — with ease.
According to USDA, the 11 FMMOs dumped and diverted 541 million pounds of milk pooled as ‘other use’, priced at Class IV, during the first five months of 2020, of which 350 million pounds were in April alone. This is more than three times the ‘other use’ milk reported by FMMOs during the first five months of pre-pandemic 2019 (171.4 million pounds). By June, the amounts were double previous years.
Of this, the largest amount, by far, was the 181 million pounds of ‘other use’ milk in the Northeast FMMO 1 during Jan-May 2020, comprising one-third of all the dumped and diverted milk pooled across all 11 FMMOs in that 5-month period.
In the Southeast milkshed, the Appalachian, Florida and Southeast FMMOs 5, 6 and 7, together pooled 88 million pounds of ‘other use’ milk in the first five months of 2020. The Southwest FMMO 126 had 106.2 million pounds of ‘other use’ milk; Upper Midwest FMMO 30 had 46.1 million pounds; Central FMMO 32 had 36.7 million pounds; Mideast FMMO 33 had 30.7 million pounds; California FMMO 51 had 28.9 million pounds; Arizona FMMO 131 had 21.7 million pounds; and Pacific Northwest FMMO 124 had 1.3 million pounds.
The dumping had begun the last week of March 2020 and was heaviest in the month of April. Producers also saw deductions as high as $2/cwt. for balancing costs, lost quality premiums, and increased milk hauling costs. Unaccounted for, were the pounds of milk that had reportedly been dumped on farms without being pooled on FMMOs.
All of this against a backdrop of pandemic bottlenecks and record-high March-through-August imports of butter, butteroil, milkfat powder, and blends — adding to record-high U.S. butter inventories and contributing to the plunging Class IV, II and I prices vs. Class III (PPD).
Meanwhile, not only did production growth in key areas move ahead, so did strategic global partnerships. Just one puzzling example in October 2020, after eight months of deflated producer milk checks, depressed butterfat value, burdensome butter inventory, record butterfat imports, and a plunging Class IV milk price that contributed to negative producer price differential (PPD) losses, Land O’Lakes inked a deal to market and distribute cooking creams and cream cheeses — Class II and IV products that use butterfat — from New Zealand’s Fonterra into United States foodservice accounts.
The New Zealand press reports were gleeful, citing this as a big breakthrough that could be followed by other of their cheeses entering the “huge” U.S. foodservice market through the Land O’Lakes distribution.
Factor #2 — Class price wars and de-pooling
As reported in Farmshine last summer, dairy farmers found themselves in uncharted waters. As Class IV prices tumbled from the get-go with all of the ‘other use’ dumping and diverting, butter inventory building as butter/powder plants tried to keep up with diverted loads at a disruptive time, the USDA Food Box program started drawing products in the second half of May, and really got going by July 2020.
Cheese, a Class III product, was a big Food Box winner. The cheese-driven Class III milk price rallied $7 to $10 above Class IV, and massive volumes of milk were de-pooled by Class III handlers, which has continued through May 2021.
Reviewing the class utilization reports, an estimated 80 billion pounds of Class III milk normally associated with FMMOs has been de-pooled over the past 26 months.
At the start of this ‘inequitable’ situation, academic webinars sought to explain it.
“We’re seeing milk class wars,” said economist Dan Basse of AgResource Company, a domestic and international ag research firm in Chicago, during a PDPW Dairy Signal webinar a year ago.
He noted that under the current four-class pricing system, and the new way of calculating the Class I Mover, dairy farmers found themselves “living on the edge, not knowing what the PPD (Producer Price Differential) will be” (and wondering where that market revenue goes).
“A $7.00 per hundredweight discount is a lot of capital, a lot of income and a lot of margin to lose with no way to hedge for it, no way to protect it, when the losses are not being made up at home as reflected in the PPD,” Basse said in that summer 2020 webinar.
What does this have to do with year-over-year milk production comparisons?
Two words: Winners. Losers.
Some handlers, and producers won, others lost — between and within regions.
Here’s why all of this matters from a production comparison standpoint: Dairy economists — Dr. Mark Stephenson, University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Marin Bozic, University of Minnesota — are both on record acknowledging that USDA NASS uses FMMO settlement data, along with producer surveys, to benchmark monthly milk production.
So, on the one hand: How accurate are these data for comparison over the past 26 months, given the inconsistent FMMO data from dumping, diverting and de-pooling?
On the other hand: Did the negative PPDs and de-pooling, resulting in part from the 2018 Farm Bill change in the Class I Mover, allow Class III handlers to capture all of that additional market value and use it to fuel the 2020-21 accelerated milk growth for regions and entities connected to the new Class III processing assets?
Factor #3 — New dual-processing concentrates growth
Accelerated growth in cow numbers is fueling record production in 2021. It is patterned around ‘waves’ of major new processing investments in some areas, while other areas — largely fluid milk regions — are withering on the vine or growing by smaller margins with fewer cows.
In the 24 major milk states, production growth was even greater than the All-U.S. total — up 4.9% vs. year ago. In part one, the breakdown was shown vs. 2018.
Here’s the breakdown for just the 12 months from May 2020 to May 2021 — a time in which the industry dealt divergences that created steep losses for some and big gains for others, while FMMOs became dysfunctional.
In just one year, over 40,000 cows were added in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, combined, and milk production was up in May 2021 by 12.6, 3.2 and 5.1%, respectively. The draw is the massive new Glanbia-DFA-Select joint-venture cheese and ingredient plant that began operations late last year in St. Johns, Michigan. Sources indicate it reached full capacity this spring. Add to this the 2018 Walmart fluid milk plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana and other expansions in Ohio and Michigan.
Ditto for the Central Plains, where new cheese and ingredient line capacity became operational this spring and summer. Supplying these investments, Minnesota grew production 6%, South Dakota 14.6%, and Iowa 6.2% over year ago.
Number two Wisconsin grew by 5.6% in May 2021 vs. year ago.
Milk production was up 5% in number one California, even though cow numbers were down by 1000 head, and dairy farmers in a referendum voted recently by a slim margin to keep their quota system. They are also dealing with a devastating drought that news reports indicate is now impacting both the dairies and the almond growers.
Then there’s Texas, where growth continues to be a double-digit steamroller, up 10.8% in May 2021 vs. 2020 — pushing New York (up 4.2%) to fifth rank.
The Southern Plains has had several strategic investments, starting in Texas and New Mexico (up 6% vs. year ago).
In Colorado, where production was up 5.3% in May, DFA’s joint ventures and strategic partnerships with Leprino, Kroger and others have fueled growth.
Kansas grew milk production 7.3% vs. year ago. In 2018, a state-of-the-art whole milk powder and ingredient plant became fully operational in Garden City, Kansas. The plant was to be a joint-venture between DFA and the Chinese company Yili but ended up as a joint-venture between DFA and 12 of its member farms that are among the 21 Kansas dairies shipping milk to it.
DFA’s Ed Gallagher gave some insights on this during a May 2021 Hoards webinar. He said, “We went through a period of investing in powder plants in the U.S. It seems like there is a follow-the-leader approach when deciding on investments, and it goes in waves. The industry just completed a wave of a lot of investment in Class IV manufacturing plants, and now… it’s flipping to Class III.”
Looking back on the Class IV ‘wave’ 2013 through 2018, there were several times in those years that Class IV beat Class III, leading to FMMO de-pooling, but not to the extreme extent seen in the past 12 months as Class III now beats all other classes, including Class I, leading to negative producer price differentials (PPDs).
Gallagher sees Class III and IV prices “coming together” in the “next period of years” because the ‘wave’ of capacity investment has flipped from Class IV to III. He predicted more Class III capacity will be added.
Are these past 26 months of PPD net losses for producers the industry’s answer to, in effect, increasing processor ‘make allowances’ without a hearing?
The average PPD value loss (see chart) across the seven multiple component pricing FMMOs was $2.57 per hundredweight for 26 months, which began with implementation of the new Class I pricing method May 2019 through the most recent uniform price announcements for June 2021 milk.
Applying a conservative 5-year average PPD (prior to Class I change) for each FMMO, only the few gray blocks on the chart represent ‘normal.’
This means even positive-PPDs show margin loss for farm milk pooled on FMMOs. In fact, the CME futures markets as of July 14 show August through December divergence between Class III and IV above the $1.48 mark, indicating Class I value loss and negative PPDs or smaller positive PPDs could return after barely a two-month reprieve.
Many handlers that don’t pool on FMMOs also use the uniform prices as a benchmark.
This $2.57 net loss for seven MCP FMMOs across 26 months represents almost a doubling of the current make allowance levels.
Current USDA make allowances and yield factors add up to a processor credit of $3.17 per hundredweight on Class III and $2.17 on Class IV. This already represents 11 to 25% of farm milk value, according to 2018 analysis by John Newton, when he was Farm Bureau’s chief economist.
Why is this important? Because we are already seeing additional margin transfer from Class I to Class IV as the industry moves to blended beverages that mostly use ultrafiltered (UF) milk solids. Blends using whey would fall under Class III.
Looking ahead, DFA now owns most of the former Dean Foods’ Class I fluid milk plants since May 2020. New manufacturing synergies are undeniable, considering the direction of dairy checkoff’s fluid milk revitalization plan emphasizing these dairy-based-and-blended beverages and ‘dual-purpose’ processing facilities.
As low-fat UF milk solids are blended with other ingredients in a manufacturing process to make new combined beverages, the result is a competing beverage, and the milk in the beverage drops from Class I to Class IV.
Meanwhile, these beverages cost more at the grocery store, and the ingredients are not part of the USDA end-product pricing ‘circle’. Therefore, no new make allowances should be requested because processors are already getting a reduced class value, and a higher margin.
DMI’ vice president of global innovation partnerships, Paul Ziemnisky, gave some insights into this “future of dairy beverages” — and how it ties into new processing plants investments during the virtual Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February.
Ziemnisky went so far as to say new processing facilities will “need to be built as beverage plants able to handle all kinds of ingredients” for the blended products of the future. In essence, he said, the future of fluid milk is “dual purpose” processing plants.
While 11 of the top 24 states had milk production increases of 5% or more in May, the 13 states with increases below 5%, or negative, are mainly located within traditional Class I fluid milk marketing areas: Florida, up 0.5%, Georgia up 2%, Virginia down 2.3%, Illinois up 1.9%, Arizona, down 0.5%, Washington, down 0.9%, Pennsylvania and Vermont both up 1.8%, and New York up 4.2%.
Idaho and Utah, up 2% and unchanged, are outliers and largely unregulated by FMMOs. Some beverage assets are coming to that region in the form of ultra-filtration and aseptic packaging, including a plant renovation to make Darigold’s FIT beverage. Additionally, a new Fairlife filtration membrane plant was opened near Phoenix, Arizona in March, and Kroger is doing filtration and aseptic packaging in Colorado.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is often described as a ‘fluid milk state’ with a Milk Marketing Board setting minimum prices for fluid milk, and a string of independent milk bottlers that figure prominently in their communities.
Ranked fourth in milk production in 2006, Pennsylvania was passed by Idaho in 2007. By 2016, Michigan had pushed Pennsylvania to sixth. The very next year, in 2017, Texas leapfrogged both Pennsylvania and Michigan. Now, Minnesota has pushed the Keystone State to eighth.
How does the future of dairy affect traditionally ‘fluid milk’ states like Pennsylvania, or the Southeast for that matter?
New dairy-‘based’ beverage innovations can be made anywhere and delivered anywhere, often as shelf-stable products. Most are not Class I products unless they meet the strict FMMO definition which was last spelled out in the USDA AMS 2010 final rule.
For now, this also includes the Pa. Milk Marketing Board. Executive secretary Carol Hardbarger confirms that the 50/50 drinks are not regulated under PMMB, which generally uses federal classification, but that a legal interpretation of the Milk Marketing Law with regard to blends may be in order.
The 50/50 blends are already in some Pennsylvania stores and elsewhere in the Northeast, which is the second phase of the ‘undeniably, purely perfect’ marketing plan for fluid milk revitalization.
Factor #4 — USDA, industry coalesce around climate
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has been outspoken from the outset about using and aiming every available USDA program dollar in a way that also addresses the Biden administration’s strategies for equity, supply chain resiliency, and climate action.
Speculating a bit as to why USDA is taking so long to announce details about already funded dairy assistance, it could be that Sec. Vilsack is looking at the fit for ‘climate impact.’
Paid around a million a year in dairy checkoff funds to serve 4 four years as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council — between prior and current Ag Secretary posts — Vilsack understands the future plans of the dairy industry’s checkoff-funded proprietary precompetitive alliances on a global scale.
Vilsack has been privy to the DMI Innovation Center’s discussions of fluid milk revitalization through ‘dual purpose’ plants and blended beverages. He is no doubt looking at the accelerating growth in milk production that is occurring right now for ways to tie dairy assistance to measured climate impacts in the net-zero file.
Producers on the coasts and fringes of identified growth areas have a target — fresh fluid milk and other dairy products produced in regional food systems for consumers who have a renewed zeal for ‘local.’ Fresh fluid milk will have to find a path outside of the consolidating system and cut through the global climate-marketing to directly communicate fresh, local, sustainable messages about a region’s farms, animals, environments, businesses, economies, jobs and community fabric.
Good morning Honorable Chairman Scavello and Senate Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify on whole milk choice in schools. My name is Sherry Bunting. As an ag journalist 40 years and former Eastern Lancaster County School Board member 8 years, not to mention as a mother and a nana, I see this from many sides.
From the dairy side, fluid milk sales had their steepest decline over the past decade as seen in the chart (above) with my written statement. There was a decline slowly before that, but you can see the drop off after 2010.
That was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Two years prior, the national dairy checkoff, which farmers must pay into, signed a memorandum of understanding with USDA to advance the department’s Dietary Guidelines using the checkoff’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program in schools — promoting only fat-free and low-fat dairy.
(Note: This was confirmed in a May 2021 dairy checkoff press conference, stating that “DMI has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition in 2008,” and that Gen Z is the generation DMI has been working on since the launch of Fuel Up to Play 60, which was followed by the formation of GENYOUth and the signing of the memorandum of understanding, MOU, with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in that 2008-10 time period.)
By 2011, USDA had their data showing schools that voluntarily gave up whole and 2% milk were meeting the Department’s Dietary Guidelines more consistently — on paper — as far as fat content across the ‘served’ meals and the ‘a la carte’ offerings, combined.
With this data, USDA targeted whole and 2% milk, specifically, for mandatory removal from school grounds during school hours by 2012.
In fact, the ‘competing foods’ regulatory language at the time stated that even if you wanted to have a vending machine (with whole milk) as a fundraiser for FFA, it could only be open for two weeks for the fundraiser, maybe three. The rest of the time it had to be closed between the hours of midnight before the start of the school day and 30 minutes after the end of the school day.
This is how we are treating whole milk.
That looked good on paper, but the reality? Since 2008, the rate of overweight and diabetes has climbed fastest among teens and children after a decade of stipulations that you can only have whole milk until you’re 2 years old — and in the poorest demographics, who rely the most on school lunch and breakfast. This fact was acknowledged during a U.S. Senate Ag hearing on Childhood Nutrition in 2019, where senators even referenced a letter from 750 retired Generals sounding the alarm that young adults are too overweight to serve.
This is a federal and state issue, and I might add, a national security issue. Our state has an interest in the outcomes.
While Pennsylvania school doors are closed to whole milk — a fresh product most likely to be sourced from Pennsylvania farms — their doors are wide open to processed drinks profiting large global beverage and foodservice companies.
What the kids buy after throwing away the skimmed milk does not come close, as you’ve heard, to offering the minerals, vitamins and 8 grams of complete protein in a cup of whole milk. What’s on paper is not being realized by growing bodies, brains and immune systems. Not to mention the milkfat satiates and helps with absorption of some of those nutrients. A wise foodservice director who saw this coming told me in the late 1990s, while I was serving on the School Board, he said: “when too much fat is removed from a child’s diet, sugar craving and intake increase.” Some of the latest data show he was right.
School milk sales are 6 to 8% of total U.S. fluid milk sales. However, this represents, as you’ve heard, the loss of a whole generation of milk drinkers in one decade.
The Northeast Council of Farmer Cooperatives looked at school milk sales from 2013 through 2016 and reported that 288 million fewer half pints of milk were sold in schools during that period. This does not include half-pints that students were served but then discarded.
This situation impacts Pennsylvania’s milk market, farm-level milk price, and future viability — a factor in Pennsylvania losing 1,974 farms; 75,000 cows and 1.8 billion in production since 2009 – rippling through other businesses, ag infrastructure, revenue and jobs. We are, actually now, 8th in milk production in the U.S. If you go back 15 years, we were 4th. As of last year, we were passed by Minnesota.
The fat free / low fat push devalues milkfat as a component of the price paid to farms, making it a cheaper ingredient for other products. Our kids can have whole milk. There is no shortage of milk fat because if there was, producers would be paid a fairer price that reflected its value.
While the flaws in the Dietary Guidelines process would take a whole hearing in itself, Pennsylvania consumers see the benefits of milk fat in study after study and are choosing whole milk for their families. Redner’s Warehouse Markets, for example, reported to me their whole milk sales volumes are up 14.5%. Nationally, whole milk sales surpassed all other categories in 2019 for the first time in decades. So parents are choosing whole milk, and we saw that during Covid, and even before Covid.
Today, children receive one or two meals at school, and there’s a bill actually being considered by Congress to make three meals and a snack universal at school. Then what?
Many parents don’t even know that whole milk choice is prohibited. Even the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, during a listening session on various issues, had a request brought up to legalize whole milk in schools. Three of the senators expressed their shock. One asked the person testifying — who is both a dairy farmer and an attorney — how could this be true? They thought she was joking.
(In fact, skepticism prompted Politifact to investigate. They confirmed, indeed, Lorraine Lewandrowski’s statement — “Make it legal for a New York state student to have a glass of fresh whole milk, a beautiful food from a beautiful land” — received the completely true rating on Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter because, yes, there is a federal prohibition of whole milk in schools.)
There’s just not enough people understanding that this is happening. Many people think the kids do have the choice, but they don’t.
My petition, that I started in late 2019, has nearly 25,000 signatures online. The links are with my written statement — and 5000 were mailed to me by snail-mail — so over 30,000 total. Nearly half of those are from Pennsylvania, and New York would be second as far as signatures, but we have signatures from every state in the nation.
When I looked through to vet it, to balance it and make sure we didn’t have people from other countries in these numbers, I started to see who was signing, from all walks of life — from farmers, to parents, to teachers, doctors, and on and on. Even state lawmakers, I recognized some names on there. The whole milk choice petition has opened eyes.
Thank you for this hearing, and please help bring the choice of whole milk back to our schools. Our children and dairy farmers are counting on us.
If I could just have a couple more seconds here, this is personal for me, as a grandmother. One of my grandchildren is lactose intolerant, or I should say, that’s how it would seem, but she has no trouble drinking whole milk at home. Her doctor says she may be lactose intolerant because she keeps coming home from school and having stomach problems at the end of the day. She now is not drinking the milk at school, just drinking whole milk at home. She can’t drink the skimmed milk, and there’s really some science behind that.
A professor in North Carolina (Richard C. Theuer, Ph.D.) mentioned this role of milk fat actually slowing the rate of carbohydrate absorption — which is the lactose. (As a member of the National Society for Nutrition and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, Theuer addressed this in at least two public comments on the Dietary Guidelines Federal Register docket, once in 2018 and then again in 2019.)
I’ll end my comment here, sorry I went a little over.
— At the conclusion of my time, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman Mario Scavello said this was a good place for me to end my testimony because “what we’ve heard here today is children are not drinking the skim milk and the low-fat milk. We’ve got to get this corrected, the more I listen to this,” he said. Then, turning to Nelson Troutman on the panel in regard to the 97 Milk education effort, Scavello added: “By the way, I did see that 97 percent bale. Thank you for explaining it because I thought, what is this about? I could see the bales while driving on I-80.”
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Strategic integration. Gen Z Gamers. Point of origin for innovation. Dairy-‘based’ positioning. Virtual authenticity. Over a decade of planning.
My head is spinning after a DMI press conference this week on three new “activations” for June Dairy Month in the digital world of video games, including “Beat the Lag,” a gamer-recipe contest and the integration of Fuel Up to Play 60 into the virtual world of video gaming exercise.
Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has been on a 12- to 13-year path to streamline, dilute, blend and innovate dairy with a focus squarely on Gen Z since 2008 in the schools, now integrating rapidly into the digital spaces where dairy checkoff leaders say Gen Z is changing the world of marketing for companies globally.
According to DMI, Gen Z is not interested in facts like vitamins and minerals. They want to know how foods and beverages will make them feel.
On the other hand, DMI leaders described Gen Z as “very capable of discovering facts,” of “looking deeper” for “authenticity” and “relatability,” that when communicating with Gen Z “you want to be really factual and transparent and tap into the emotions that they care about.”
(The paradox of virtual authenticity is hard to overlook.)
Dairy-based or ‘sprinkled’ is the future, some cheese on a pizza or snack. Butter in a cookie, splash of milk in a smoothie, a bit of cream added to a soda, a half ultrafiltered low-fat milk / half almond beverage blend. A little here, a little there. Don’t confuse or interrupt DMI’s ‘strategic integration’ flow by talking about having a glass of whole milk or a piece of cheese. DMI’s website has a few posts lately talking about how blending is the future of dairy — tailor-made for flexitarian messaging in the confusing and not-quite-factual climate-impact comparisons and discussion.
It’s all about innovation of new products, integrating (and diluting) milk as a component of beverages. Looking deeper, it’s really all about increasing margins for processors beyond the farmgate in the ramped up $100 billion dollar global “functional beverage” space, also known as ‘designer beverages.’
Gen Z has been DMI’s target for over a decade as the gateway, the point of origin for how strategic integration innovation will be accomplished with dairy farmer checkoff funds.
Anne Warden, executive vice president of Strategic Integration for DMI spoke in the zoom press conference May 26, explaining how DMI has been “focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition (in 2008).”
In fact, in a May 25, 2021 blog post by Warden, she talks about the future of dairy in schools, that Gen Z wants flashy packaging, unique combinations and sustainable dispensers.
According to Warden, Gen Z is the generation DMI has been working on since the launch of Fuel Up to Play 60, which was followed by the formation of GENYOUth and the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with USDA under Secretary Tom Vilsack in that 2008-10 time period.
This is the very same time period in which the option of whole milk as a beverage choice was removed from schools, even in the Smart Snacks rules governing ala carte beverage purchases and vending machines – paving the way for strategic integration. Put some milk in that soda, maybe? (That will make sense in a few minutes).
Last fall, Farmshine reported on the “partnering” DMI did with Gen Z ‘gamers’ in the popular Minecraft game, which included three dairy farms hosting three gamers to see how dairies operate. But the partnership that is now moving into integration warp-speed through three June Dairy Month “activations” has been years in the making.
Warden was hired by DMI in May of 2019 to head the strategic integration. Prior to that date, she spent three years at Edelman with DMI’s strategic integration as her primary project for Edelman. Warden’s resume at Linked-In notes DMI as one of Edelman’s largest and most integrated services clients.
This means ‘strategic integration’ — courtesy of all-knowing Edelman — has been underway at DMI for more than 5 years. Have we ever heard of it before now? No, because this is what the ‘precompetitive’ Innovation Center works on, where future strategies are decided upon via DMI’s ‘industry partners’ and quietly implemented with dairy farmer dollars.
Warden laid out the rationale for the three activations aimed at using Gen Z’s “love of video games to capture their attention and show how dairy products fit well within their gaming occasions during the day.”
DMI president Barb O’Brien stressed the point that DMI is looking at gaming as a platform with the objectives of communication and “research.”
“The work that’s coming through now with new product concepts, make this a consumer research method to understand where Gen Z will place their dollars in considering new products,” O’Brien related. “So it’s fantastic. (Gaming) is a channel, an occasion and a communications vehicle. It’s all about contemporizing how we do the work of the checkoff. It is the new advertising. Television is one-way. This is interactive.”
(Authentic, relatable, interactive content is deemed the key to communicating with Gen Z in a virtual digital world of gaming to bring forth new products. Let that paradox sink in.)
One of three activations discussed was “Beat the Lag.”
Lag is a term used to describe the frustration that happens when a video game’s graphics won’t load fast enough so the gamer has to wait (like the frustration of your computer screen freezing). DMI is taking that concept, partnering with Jordan Maron, known as Captain Sparklez to his 11 million followers to address “human lag.”
Over the past six weeks (ending May 29), DMI has been running a gaming recipe conest through Maron, soliciting “dairy-based” snack, beverage and recipe ideas from his followers, what do they eat to ‘Beat the Lag?’
DMI wants Gen Z to bring the ideas. “We don’t want to tell them what to eat (or drink),” said Warden.
During the press conference Maron noted that he got involved when approached by DMI because he “eats a lot of dairy.”
“One of my favorite foods is pizza,” said Maron. “I’m an especially huge fan of drinks that have added milk or cream in them, like sodas with cream added… They’re delicious. I love them.”
(A splash of milk or cream in a soda is something that had a hey-day three generations ago. Apparently, it’s making a comeback.)
Maron talked about doing some focus group work for DMI on “new product innovations” last fall along with a virtual farm tour.
“Me, and a few people who are followers of mine, got together in a call, and DMI shared their ideas for products they want to roll out down the line,” said Maron. “We took it to my focus group of three people and then turned that into Instagram story slides I was able to share out with a wider range of followers, and they were able to give their feedback as to what products would interest them, that they would buy or eat in the future.”
Maron said he hoped that his focus group gave DMI “some good insight.”
The press conference moderator, Scott Wallin of DMI, promptly steered away from the product innovation revelation and brought the conversation back to the farm tours and sustainability, saying DMI hopes to show Gen Z gamers the dairy story through Captain Sparklez and others.
Wallin introduced Gen Z dairy farmer Nevin Lemos of California. The 24-year-old fourth generation dairyman started his own 400-cow Jersey herd on a rented farm near his family’s dairy at the age of 20. Lemos admitted he doesn’t have much time for gaming over the past 10 years as his time and passion are spent working his dairy business.
Lemos observed that Gen Z is a generation able to “look behind the façade, to look deeper.”
Calling Gen Z a “savvy audience,” Warden said they exist almost entirely in the digital world, moving between multiple devices and media platforms daily, with 90% of Gen-Zers gaming.
They are aware of what companies are doing for good – beyond making money — and will turn away from products that “don’t match their values and their desire for authenticity,” said Warden, emphasizing Gen Z’s interest to know what companies are doing for the environment.
“We’re going to make sure farmers they can relate to (like Lemos) are showing up in their social media feeds to tell that story,” she said.
Gen Z gamer Maron talked about what it was like last fall to do the virtual farm tour with Gen Z dairyman Lemos, seeing how cows live and are fed and having one named after him: Sparklez.
The activation of DMI’s “Beat the Lag” is aimed at more than sustainability, said Warden, it is to “help re-position milk and dairy to meet Gen Z’s wellness needs.
“It’s about balance,” she continued. “Gen Z is less interested in the particulars of vitamins and minerals in their food or beverage. They are more interested in what that food is going to do for their bodies, how it is going to make them feel.”
Warden said DMI’s research shows that, “Some of dairy’s biggest opportunities with Gen Z are positioning as a food that will sustain their energy throughout the day or let them feel relaxed and recharged while doing the things that they love.”
“Beat the Lag” is themed around “dairy-based foods and beverages giving gamers an energy boost or a tasty pick-me-up after a long stretch of gaming,” said Warden. “We’re not going to tell them what to eat, we’re letting Jordan Maron (Captain Sparklez) and Rosanna Pansino, a gamer and culinary influencer, get gamers suggesting the ideas in ways they can relate to.”
Maron talked about ‘gamer fuel up’ youtube videos he did with Pansino, one being pizza pockets (with cheese).
“This is a contest, and when the (Beat the Lag) contest is all wrapped up, we’ll look at the recipes submitted,” he said, indicating that the winners will be shown in stages through the Minecraft game and win gaming prizes.
In addition to pizza pockets, other snack recipe ideas at the usdairy.com website under “Game On” and “Beat the Lag” include a bowl of vegetables and avocados, with the tiniest sprinkling of grated cheese. A demonstration is posted there also for making “Pixel Jam Heart” cookies.
During the videos, Maron and Pansino talk about the contest suggesting smoothies, dips, protein drinks and things made with yogurt as ideas for creative contest submissions.
DMI’s O’Brien said: “This is today’s new form of advertising. It’s an opportunity to set the record straight on the nutritional side (vs. major advertising in all venues by plant-based dairy alternatives.)”
She said this avenue allows for “the exchange of factual information,” but was quick to point out that those nutrition facts “are not what is driving Gen Z’s choices.”
Bottom line? The virtual digital world of Gen Z gamers is, according to DMI president O’Brien, “the forum for putting forward innovation, for putting forward innovative products that are relevant to today’s lifestyle. We will be leading with products that are designed for gamers, by gamers, we know will have a much bigger appreciation beyond just gamers…
“We’ll see those products at retail. We’ll see those products at traditional foodservice. This is the point of origin for that innovation, and the inspiration,” she stated matter-of-factly.
There’s a lot to digest here, pieces of a dairy transformation agenda funded by farmers through checkoff. It’s important to know what checkoff dollars are doing in the integration phase of a 12 to 13 year plan to join the milk-disruptors with dairy-based innovations, now putting Gen Z gamers virtually in charge of how DMI’s products that are ready to roll down the line, come to market.
Meanwhile, a Hartman Group survey recently showed Gen Z prefers fast food and familiar tastes with a much lower attention paid to local, fresh products than prior generations. It’s no wonder. This generation has been worked over by PepsiCo, Domino’s, Sodexo, General Mills, brought into schools by USDA via the MOU marriage of low-fat / high-carb Dietary Guidelines and low-fat / high-carb promotion through Dairy Checkoff’s ‘school wellness foundation’ GENYOUth.
In this game, the obvious questions are: Who plays? Who pays? And who wins?
After that trip into virtual authenticity, I need a tall cold glass of real whole milk to relax and recharge.