‘One plan marching forward’

DMI leaders give Net Zero, ‘sustainability’ overview

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, September 11, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – A month ago, after Farmshine revealed the background of DMI’s new Vice President of Dairy Scale for Good, questions and concerns voiced by dairy farmers led DMI to announce it would have one of its monthly “open mic” calls specifically on the topic of Sustainability and Net Zero Initiative (NZI).

That was Sept. 2, but unlike previous calls, Farmshine was not included among trade media.

This is not surprising because Farmshine has obtained a copy of a communication sent to dairy checkoff board members stating in print that the DMI board has agreed not to engage with Farmshine, stating that Farmshine articles misrepresent their facts.

This position came after two well-sourced articles were published in Farmshine about Caleb Harper, of Vice President Dairy Scale for Good, who was hired by DMI to work with large farms to scale sustainability practices as part of the Net Zero Initiative. The articles revealed concerns about his background in science, funding and future of food philosophy.

Farmshine has obtained a link to the recording of the Sept. 2 open mic call on sustainability that was part of a DMI e-newsletter. However, only 35 minutes of the hour-long call were shared with farmers. The recording was cut at the end of presentations by DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, President Barb O’Brien and Vice President of Sustainability Karen Scanlon.

Thus the recording excluded the 25 minutes of questions and answers, despite Gallagher’s assertion that he would “make sure to get this information into the trade media to communicate with producers and clear up misperceptions that have been perpetrated.”

During the recorded presentations, Gallagher stated that, “The industry — as an industry — has recently made commitments to be carbon-neutral by 2050.”

While he did not get into specifics, he said he wanted dairy farmers to understand the big picture.

He said the dairy checkoff has been involved in this effort 13 years in the role of science, research, and outreach to the supply chain.

Gallagher sought to assure farmers that the first order of business is to “recognize and promote how dairy farmers have been and continue to be stewards of the environment.”

He said the next thing is to make sure consumers and thought leaders understand that sustainability must be profitable for farmers.

He said that the NZI does not mean every dairy plant or every dairy farm will achieve carbon-neutrality. “We want to say that as an industry we are carbon-neutral. That’s our perch,” said Gallagher.

Lastly, he said, “We want to avoid having farms and companies and co-ops use sustainability as a marketing advantage (in competition with each other).

“We should stick together on this, because our competition is others — cell based ag and plant-based beverages — so let’s not beat each other up on this,” said Gallagher.

(Yet DMI hired a key Net Zero employee with ties to cellular agriculture and digital agriculture and funded a new product “innovation” that is half milk and half almond or oat beverage made by DFA in pretty cardboard cartons using buzz terms like “purely perfect blend.”)

“When we went into this 12 to 13 years ago, it was still emerging what sustainability is — and it is still sometimes vague — but from a consumer standpoint, they are focused on sustainability,” said Gallagher.

Later in the call, he stressed the importance of sustainability saying 80% of consumers are focused on it, but then confirmed a bit to the contrary what various consumer surveys show for actual decision-making factors: Number One is still ‘taste,’ followed by number two ‘price,’ and even Gallagher states that nutrition and sustainability are “tied for third.”

He was vague on that nutrition and sustainability distinction and took issue with anyone claiming consumers need more education on dairy nutrition.

“We have these two great components to our story: nutrition and sustainability,” he said, “I don’t care what others are telling you, we have the data and people already do understand the nutritional value of dairy. Sure, we can remind them, but they know it.

“The piece they are not aware of is the sustainable nature of the dairy industry and dairy farming. They don’t get it, and they’ll buy into the notion that plant-based is more environmentally sound because the consumer – especially millennials and Gen-Z – have made their decision… 80% of them expect companies to invest in sustainability in the next year.”

(Or are 80% of consumers being pushed in this direction by top-down supply chain transformation?)

In fact, even though DMI’s sustainability partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been scrambling to come up with new ways to tie the globalized ‘sustainability’ agenda to pandemic prevention as a hook that gets to the “health” and “economic” concerns consumers really have…. Gallagher went so far as to say: “Covid has had an interesting impact on millennials, Gen-Z and the next generation because the majority feel that Covid is an example of why we need global, big-picture solutions with companies leading the way.

“Covid is not distracting consumers, it is heightening the stakes,” said Gallagher, right out of the most recent WWF and global re-set playbook seeking to get everything back on their track.

O’Brien mentioned the dynamics that are more at play: large global companies like Nestle, Unilever, Danone and Starbucks making sustainability even more important as a priority.

“We at checkoff are positioning U.S. Dairy as a solution to drive a unified approach,” she said. “The good news is we know dairy is and can be a solution with the growing body of research and practice-based proof and an industry-wide plan. We are ready to re-set what people think they know about dairy.”

O’Brien painted a picture of the global landscape in which U.S. dairy will have less access if it is not unified to show industry-wide measurements of sustainable impacts.

Then it became clear. O’Brien said “This is not just about consumers, but also investor groups. They are setting the criteria for measuring sustainable impacts, and they expect companies to more fully disclose impacts that are tied to their businesses.”

She said trillions of dollars are being invested in businesses that can do that, and she said many countries are making legally-binding country-wide commitments to accelerate, and they emphasize the need for the U.S. to voluntarily report its impacts.

“We see our dairy customers like Unilever, Danone, Nestle and Starbucks working to meet these global goals on carbon neutrality, water use, zero waste and hunger initiatives,” said O’Brien. “They need to know where we are at to help them meet their goals against these sustainability metrics.”

(The World Resources Institute, which is inextricably linked to WWF, along with UN benchmarks, are formulating these metrics – a work in progress since 2009 when DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy first established its sustainability partnership with WWF, according to the WWF website.)

Gallagher said farmers have been at the table on this, and he presented an overview of the “the plan.” He took issue with dairy farmers who are “against globalization” and with strong words, stated: “My answer to that is we did not create globalization, but those are the rules, and it’s the world we are living in… with very powerful forces that are very much against dairy at play here in the U.S.”

(There is a difference between international trade and ‘globalization.’ Globalization is a more centralized order of things affecting aspects of life, health, resources and economies at an international scale.)

Gallagher confirmed that companies will drive this, and he said that consumers want corporations to drive this. He and O’Brien both talked about DMI’s sustainability partnerships began with Walmart in 2007.

Where the plan meets the farm, Gallagher said the Net Zero Initiative has three categories: Large farms, medium sized farms, and small farms.

“We’re doing something for each of those. Some staff (Caleb Harper) are focused solely on large farms looking at technologies to see if they are financially sustainable,” said Gallagher. “And we have folks working on mid-sized and small farms too. Our focus is the research, and some of our efforts will be foundational to support all farms.”

He introduced Karen Scanlon, DMI’s vice president of sustainability who said dairy’s diversity is a key in the Net Zero Initiative.

“There is no one right way, no prescription on how to achieve our environmental outcomes along with profitability,” said Scanlon. “We are focusing right now on learning what farmers are already doing, and helping to share that with more farmers, so farmers can learn from each other.

“We also want to work with farmers and supply chain partners on demonstration projects to highlight successful technologies, practices and approaches,” said Scanlon.

She mentioned two examples – one in Wisconsin and one in southeastern Pennsylvania as well as talks with producer organizations in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest – where farmers and their cooperatives and other supply chain partners are already doing things that DMI can come in and be part of to find ways to cost-share the ideas to increase adoption among more farms.

“Founded by dairy farmers 12 years ago through checkoff, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy put us at the table and we find common ground and set a common set of principles that is a difference maker in the supply chain,” said O’Brien.

She went back to a summit with Walmart in 2007, which led to a deepening of the relationship over time. More recently, in 2018, DMI had a similar ‘summit’ with Amazon and that partnership is underway with DMI as category captain.

“Today Walmart proactively uses the FARM program’s animal care and environmental modules. They are using our programs with farms they contract directly,” said O’Brien, adding that DMI starts with relationships and brings in other companies to align with that. She and Gallagher stressed that dairy checkoff now has a “unified Net Zero plan in place and is coordinating with other industry organizations.”

“There is one plan marching forward with each industry organization playing their own unique role,” said O’Brien. She explained that DMI is engaged in science and outreach to the supply chain and telling the dairy story; NMPF is focused on legislative and regulatory as well as on-farm environmental stewardship; Newtrient is focused on viable technologies and practices to produce new revenue streams; and US Dairy Export Council is focused on export markets and aligning targets with DMI’s thinking on measurement and progress.

“What we have created for dairy farmers over the last decade is ready as sustainability increasingly becomes a requirement for doing business,” said O’Brien. “We must continue to lead in this.”

Before opening it up to questions for the last 25 minutes of the call – which were not shared in the DMI newsletter recording – Gallagher told everyone on the open mic call that this was a 30,000-foot view and if they want more details, DMI could do another open mic call on the topic or find other ways to communicate.

How data analytics, supply chain ‘ecosystems’ fit DMI’s global strategy for U.S. Dairy

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher shared this slide with August ‘open mic’ call participants as consumer data confirm a current focuse on health and economics — even though global supply chain transformation is pursued on an accelerating scale.

By Sherry Bunting, excerpts summarized from Farmshine, August 21 and 28, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Early in the pandemic, consumers were initially focused on health drivers in food purchases and then began moving toward economics. But with the resurgence of Covid cases across the country, data insights show “consumers are now back to a focus on health again,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Consumer insights and purchasing patterns pre- and post-Covid were discussed in an early August DMI ‘open mic’ call with Gallagher, as well as DMI president Barb O’Brien, board chair Marilyn Hershey and Inmar Intelligence CEO David Mounts.

Health and value were expressed as big opportunities for dairy. But the underlying message of food transformation was also clear in the discussion of how consumer data analytics and supply chain ‘ecosystems’ are integrated and streamlined to fit the dairy checkoff’s global strategy for the future of ‘U.S. Dairy’ — including new product innovation and the relationship DMI now has as Amazon’s dairy ‘category captain’.

Gallagher sent graphs indicating the percentage of change in fluid milk sales rising during the Coronavirus pandemic corresponds with increased sales of cereal.

“We think this is important, showing there are multiple reasons — no one reason why — during ‘panic buying’ consumers bought what they bought,” he said. “Cereal and milk have historically been tied. Cereal has been on a decline for years.”

Gallagher noted that as more people eat breakfast at home, new opportunities are presented beyond cereal and milk.

“This is an opportunity for us for innovation and marketing,” said Gallagher. “One of the reasons we lost fluid milk consumers is that their spending away from home was a big percentage on breakfast, and the white gallon is not suited to that.”

He said new breakfast ideas are coming out. For example, Kraft is getting into the breakfast game with new “breakfast mac and cheese.”

Gallagher also stressed a statistic he looks at, which is the “velocity” of money.

“This is simply the rate of spending and saving. Americans are at the lowest rate of spending since the 1950s and 60s,” he said, explaining that savings rates show a second reason for opportunity as Americans are on more of a savings trend since the pandemic.

“If we can get into the ‘right product’ and the ‘right positioning’ and the ‘right marketing’, people will want our product, and we’ve got that, but innovation needs to be done too,” said Gallagher. “As the unemployment rates ease, the money will be there for people to pay a little more (for innovative products).”

Dairy positioning for in-home meals is something the industry has not seen for decades, said Gallagher. He explained that before Covid, 10% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. After Covid, 50% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. More people eating at home — even after Covid — presents “huge new opportunities for us,” he said.

E-commerce was highlighted as one of those opportunities.

“Change is happening in an ‘omnichanneled’ world,” said David Mounts of Inmar Intelligence. He described media networks, digital networks for in-store, curbside, delivery and online, and how Amazon is integrating all of these as not just a retailer, but also a merchant, a media company and data company in the ‘strike zone’ of everyday business.

“We saw this opportunity a few years back and did a program on home delivery that was extremely successful,” Gallagher reported.

O’Brien noted that this gave DMI the experience to work with Amazon.

“E-commerce will change the supply chain,” she said. “As of June 14, internet purchasing surged 70%, so we are pleased we anticipated that growth, and now we see Covid has accelerated it.”

DMI has been working with Amazon for two years. Then, a year ago, Amazon named DMI as dairy “category captain.” Since then, DMI has been helping Amazon “navigate the whole dairy category with dairy 101 for their entire grocery leadership team,” O’Brien explained. “From the beginning, we were able to position ourselves as category experts and brand agnostic. We gave them a deep dive into each sector, and in the end, demonstrated the dairy category as a driver.”

As category captain, DMI will work deeper into Amazon’s e-commerce business across 31 sales regions to identify sources and tie consumer shopping experiences online through a promotion portal that puts it right at the internet point of purchase and can measure consumer response.

DMI will work with MilkPEP and other partners on this, she said.

“It was important to first prove the size and value of dairy to Amazon, where placing their investments,” said O’Brien. “Because competition is stiff in plant-based allocation, we now have been able to come back with data, with proof of what dairy can do for their business, so we think opportunities will continue.”

Mounts also highlighted e-commerce.

“This is a time for digital transformation to accelerate in the retail environment,” he said. “The entire retail industry got caught under-invested in digital readiness for what happened in this pandemic. Now massive resources across the retail industry are in catch-up mode.”

‘Real time’ consumer shopping data during the pandemic was also shared by David Mounts of InMar Analytics during the recent ‘open mic’ call. Slide from presentation

Inmar’s analytics show consumer behavior has changed to fewer trips to the store, buying more at each trip with total retail sales up 10% over year ago and some dairy categories up by more than that. Retail sales of fluid milk have settled in at 4 to 5% over year ago and butter up 46%, for example.

Total supermarket baskets are up 15% per trip, and the number of trips are down 6% right through end of July, “so this is real time data,” said Mounts.

Online shopping spiked 6 times higher than year ago in March and is up 2 to 3 times over year ago for the year to date.

Mounts said the number of people who have registered to be online grocery shoppers is increasing at rates of 100%, with the majority seeking value and savings as priorities.

“Consumers are also thinking about in-home health and wellness, ways to boost immunity and stay healthy,” said Mounts.

“Dairy is such a positive for consumers in retail. It is a core part of strong at-home food sales,” Mounts observed. “Dairy is an anchor for at-home meal planning and stock-up trips, and its always part of every shopping list.

“That’s where we think the opportunity exists — right now — as consumers shift from list-buying to ‘solutioning,’ and the occasion now is one that requires planning and thoughtfulness to have more value,” he explained.

Meanwhile, as retailers have been transitioning through their supply issues, “they are understanding new in-home categories and assortments to be more dynamic,” he said. They are being more data-driven to be more agile.”

At the same time, he said “manufacturers are focusing on their core — their most productive products — and are streamlining and trimming.”

These trends set the stage for a more centralized, streamlined and globalized dairy supply chain at a time when consumers are showing they want to be more – not less – connected to where their food comes from and to know more about the nutritional benefits.

“Consumers will deal with fewer players,” said Mounts, emphasizing the point that, “The mindset of the consumer, retailer and manufacturer must adapt to set the right priorities.”

Those priorities are being set within the tools of technology. According to Mounts, investment in technology and data tools support the strategic pillars of DMI and its partners, which Gallagher said are geared for dairy to be “viewed as an industry leader setting the gold standard on environment and animal treatment, and fitting into the efficient and healthy lifestyles of consumers.”

Searchable apps for phones, in-home voice activation systems tied to marketing outlets, namely Amazon, these tools “bring consumer preferences and marketing targets together for effective campaigns that demonstrate super strong value to consumers,” Mounts explained. “By connecting data into such platforms, the advantage for advertisers is they see it generate sales.”

But the conversations will change, and the level of personalization will increase in the food sector around the data, according to Mounts. “The digital assets are more efficient, and you talk directly to people you want to speak with and are going where the buying audience is to capture them.”

“That’s where we need to be,” said Gallagher. “This is the information the industry looks to DMI to share and will be used to create partnerships with industry.

“We won’t get the drinker or eater back if we do not do these things,” he asserts. “Farmers are great and we have a great product, but it still requires innovation. Until whole milk is recommended for kids, and even when it is, we still need innovation to get it to the kids in a style that they like.”

Mounts said innovation is a “team sport, and the key to speeding it up is to create the ecosystem, the environment, that inspires others to come in and bring solutions.”

Where dairy farmers are most familiar with the production playing field, Gallagher sees DMI as the entity that expands the dairy supply chain ecosystem to bring in other resources globally. In short, DMI has identified itself as U.S. Dairy’s supply-chain integrator and expander. Gallagher said checkoff partnerships are regional, national and international — along with the industry and National Milk Producers Federation.

“Working together as one is our hope for the future,” Gallagher insisted. “If we do not have that unity, then we are small players in a big marketplace.”

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Better late than never: Dairy industry makes last-minute pitch for whole fat dairy, but….

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid. A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children,” said Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research for National Dairy Council in his oral comment during Tuesday’s webcast hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Photo is a webcast screenshot

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 14, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The highlight of this week’s webcast oral public comment hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was the last-minute pitch for whole milk by the National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association.

All three pointed to the benefits of dairy – regardless of fat percentage – and cited positive research about milkfat. However, they stopped short of asking for a relaxation on saturated fat limits, seeking instead for USDA to “fit” one serving of whole fat dairy into daily guidelines for healthy eating patterns, saying dairy fat is “complex” and “unique.”

Meanwhile, other organizations as well as private citizens asked for a review of the evidence on saturated fats, seeking relaxation of those limits to include more animal foods in the government’s recommended healthy eating patterns.

Interestingly, ADA Northeast was the very first of nearly 80 commenters accepted onto the public hearing style agenda but made no mention of whole milk or full-fat dairy. In fact, ADA Northeast’s oral comment did not mention anything about the Guidelines. Instead, their comment set the stage for future dairy products by focusing exclusively on food insecurity and how fresh milk and dairy products present nutrition-access issues due to refrigeration and transportation.

At the outset of the five-hour webcast, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps, said the DGA Committee’s Scientific Report is the first step in developing the official Guidelines. His department “co-develops” the Guidelines with the Committee and with Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention.

Lipps described their work as being focused on ending both hunger and obesity through guidelines administered via programs like WIC, SNAP and school lunches.

He thanked the DGA Committee for their “16 months of robust, rigorous and thorough review of the science,” and he noted the public comments numbered over 62,000 throughout those 16 months — a 6000% increase compared with the 970 comments received in the 2015-20 DGA cycle.

When the DGA Scientific Report was published July 15 online, there were 10,000 downloads of the document within the first four hours. The final public comment period underway until August 13 already has thousands of comments in this final phase, according to Lipps, who said public participation was “a key part of the process,” with “increased transparency and new steps for public involvement from the beginning.”

“The Dietary Guidelines are the cornerstone of all federal nutrition policy, including WIC, school lunch and breakfast, SNAP and our food distribution programs,” said Lipps. “We take our work on these Guidelines very seriously.”

A new communications page will be developed for this next and final phase of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process as USDA and HHS pick up the reins.

Also offering eye-opening comments from USDA was Dr. Scott Hutchinson, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education and Economics. This mission area of USDA is comprised of the Ag Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Ag Statistics Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

He mentioned the current pandemic exposing the urgency of improving the nutrition of Americans because obesity and diabetes are co-morbidities with Coronavirus.  

Hutchinson referenced a recent USDA “core component food and nutrition report” that focuses on reducing obesity and diabetes.

He said USDA research is moving toward a “personalized approach to nutrition from a genetic perspective.”

This comment confirms the direction of the federal government through USDA, FDA and HHS in the ‘designer’ or ‘digital’ food frontier, and he said the most important work will be how to “translate” Dietary Guidelines to the public.

“We as humans have the unique ability to choose our dietary path based on our values,” said Hutchinson. “These Guidelines are important so we can make sure all Americans have the opportunity to choose a dietary path with knowledge.”

During the comments presented by 78 members of the public, most representing organizations, the battle lines were clearly drawn between those wanting to reduce consumption of protein, fat and animal foods and those wanting to see healthy eating patterns that include more of the science on dietary animal fat and protein.

Several presenters noted simply that the Guidelines process is not up to par as the number of Americans with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, has grown to a substantial majority since the 1980s when the DGA process began.

Representing checkoff-funded National Dairy Council was scientific Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research. He thanked the Committee for continuing to recommend the consumption of dairy foods at all life stages, for the nutrients of concern they deliver. But he also observed that the Report mentions how limits on fat could depend on the fatty acid profile of the food.

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid,” he said. “A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children.”

Specifically, Torres-Gonzalez, representing National Dairy Council, asked for Guidelines that allow one daily serving of whole fat dairy (as part of the 3-a-day dairy), stating that this can still fit within the DGA Committee’s calories and saturated fat limits.

As a scientist, he said, “emerging evidence indicates that consuming whole dairy fat in a healthy eating pattern is not negatively linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes or weight gain.”

In fact, the research shows beneficial associations for dairy fat in managing or preventing chronic health conditions, he said.

Torres-Gonzalez explained that dairy fat is the most complex fat occurring in a food, and that this complexity might help explain the neutral to beneficial findings regarding milk fat. He confirmed that NDC’s written comment showcases the body of research on this topic.

“Allowing the option to offer both whole and reduced-fat dairy foods in healthy eating patterns would give Americans more chance to meet the nutrient recommendations, which most Americans are not going to meet. The health effect can rely on absorption,” he said. “Dairy foods – regardless of fat levels – are an important source of nutrients in the American diet, and whole fat (3.25%) and reduced-fat (2%) milk can fit within the calorie package of a healthy eating pattern.”

For its part, dairy checkoff-funded American Dairy Association Northeast focused their comments completely on food insecurity and accessibility.

LaChell Miller, nutrition specialist for ADA Northeast, kicked things off by highlighting the dairy checkoff’s 2012 partnership with Feeding America, and the refrigeration, distribution and transportation challenges fresh dairy foods pose for hunger relief organizations.

While offering no comments on the nutritional role of dairy, or the benefits of whole milk in a healthy eating pattern, Miller’s entire statement on behalf of ADA Northeast was about the concern that Dietary Guidelines are often not achievable for all Americans because fresh milk and dairy are hard to distribute.

“Keep food access in mind as you develop these guidelines for 2020-25,” she said.

Representing the nation’s milk cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applauded the DGA Committee for maintaining low-fat and non-fat dairy in meal patterns and maintaining dairy as an essential food group. NMPF’s comment also noted that, “The Committee fell short in recognizing the newer science on the matrix of fat in dairy foods. NMPF urged the USDA to review the scientific literature, and just last week, pushed out an online method for using their talking points to comment on the Dietary Guidelines docket.

National Milk joined ADA Northeast in highlighting the concern about food insecurity and access to healthy, affordable food, stating that “dairy foods are the most nutrient-rich and budget-friendly source of essential nutrition.”

While not making it onto the restricted number of “oral commenters” permitted on the Aug. 11 USDA / HHS hearing agenda, the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC have gathered comments from hundreds of people along with the 25,000+ Whole Milk in Schools Petition signatures. They posted an 1,125-page packet to the Federal Register Docket by the August 13, 2020 deadline. These two Whole Milk 97% Fat Free education and advocacy efforts have been commenting and pushing forward the petition at every interval over the past 16 months of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee process, including sending letters to members of Congress in leadership positions as well as the Secretaries of USDA and HHS, and issuing calls to action on social media for others to do the same.

To be continued

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DMI circles wagons around new ‘Net-Zero’ hire

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. – After last week’s Farmshine cover story, dairy producers across the country have been reaching out to DMI board members and staff seeking answers to questions posed about the Net Zero Initiative, direction of sustainability goals, and the newly hired Executive Director of Dairy Scale for Good, Caleb Harper. He was tapped in May to lead the effort to ‘scale up’ technologies for “U.S. Dairy” to meet its commitment, despite his history of involvement in cellular agriculture and other concerns.

DMI has not yet responded to the questions posed by Farmshine. However, producers are getting some responses. During Wednesday’s “open mic” call with DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, the topic was addressed at the top of the hour to indicate a future “open mic” would be devoted to this topic.

“We’ve been getting questions,” said DMI chairwoman Marilyn Hershey as she opened the call Wednesday. She referred the 350 people on the line — including 50 board members, 80 dairy farmers, along with media and staff — to her blog post at usdairy.com.

“The Net Zero Initiative has pathways for all size farms to be able to stand behind our sustainability goals,” she said.

“Our next ‘open mic’ will focus on sustainability because there is a lot going on in that arena. There is misinformation and good information, and we want to get the details and have National Milk and Newtrient — a company of dairy co-ops and people from the Innovation Center — on where we are going and why,” said Gallagher.

“The industry is focused on being net-zero, but profitable net-zero. That is something that will take time and hard work to get to. We are focused on all size farms — not just large, medium, or small — and on all regions,” he stated. “We know each region has different challenges.

“Most of the small farms are probably net-zero already,” he said.

Gallagher explained that DMI recently added several people in different parts of the organization. “One (new person) is Caleb Harper, and we are really glad to be able to attract him,” said Gallagher.

“We know Caleb is completely a dairy guy. Let’s face it,” said Gallagher. “Cell ag and other competitors are getting well-funded. Caleb is a smart guy, a guy who is pro dairy. He understands the playbook of the other team, so we are miles ahead.”

In the blog post callers were asked to read for answers, Hershey writes: “Caleb Harper joined our team in May to lead Dairy Scale for Good. Caleb is a former principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He has a tremendous background of leading engineers, scientists and educators in the exploration and development of future food systems and technology.”

Hershey goes on to describe his responsibilities as “directing best practice and technology adoption and implementation on a handful of pilot farms. Harper will also develop third-party strategies to generate investments, partners and technologies that will keep farmers from bearing the entire commitment of this endeavor.”

Harper has already been visiting dairy farms in the Southwest and Upper Midwest after his first-ever dairy farm visit to Fair Oaks Farm.

Both in the blog post, and in other responses made in writing to producers from DMI staff, Harper is described as “coming from a family that raises horses and goats on a small ranch in Texas and crops and cows on a fifth-generation homestead in Kansas.”

What isn’t mentioned is that, according to a Sept. 2019  Chronicles of Higher Education story, Harper’s father, Steve Harper, was a grocery executive, actually Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Fresh Product Development, Procurement and Merchandising from 1993 to 2010 for the H-E-B supermarket chain in Texas and northern Mexico, among the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. in sales. He stayed on part-time through 2012 before retiring in 2015.

H-E-B was the first and longstanding partner of Mike and Sue McCloskey, when they were dairying in New Mexico and founded Select Milk Producers. They were working to get closer to the consumer, and the H-E-B alliance was instrumental, Sue explained in her presentation at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2020, where she painted a picture of dairy’s future as seen by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and its food industry partners.

In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle, the McCloskeys worked with H-E-B, supplying their milk and in 1996 to produce Mootopia ultrafiltered milk, an H-E-B brand. This was the pre-cursor to fairlife, the ultrafiltered milk beverage line in which DMI partnered with the McCloskeys, Select, and Coca Cola to market and R&D. (On Jan. 3, 2020, the Coca-Cola Company announced it was sole owner of fairlife LLC after acquiring the remaining stake from its joint venture partner Select Milk Producers.)

Both Caleb Harper and Mike McCloskey currently serve on WWF’s “Markets Institute” Thought Leadership Group.

Hershey writes of Caleb Harper’s involvement in several non-profit organizations, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Economic Forum, as an explorer for National Geographic, and at New Harvest (www.new-harvest.org), a cellular agriculture research institute, which has provided research funding to such startups as Perfect Day.

Meanwhile WWF — the DMI sustainability partner — will stop at nothing in its quest for food transformation away from animal use. WWF is currently using the Coronavirus pandemic and “threat of zoonotic diseases jumping from animals to humans” as the angle for pushing food transformation, with a “stop the next pandemic” campaign at the WWF website stating: “The conversion of land for unsustainable agricultural and livestock use drives wildlife, domestic animals, and humans in closer contact.”

Both New Harvest and WWF support and advocate for rewilding of lands as farms and ranches fold under the pressure of low prices, rapid consolidation, misinformation used to position new plant-based and cellular ag products as future of food replacements for meat, eggs and dairy, using climate change, sustainability and now pandemic fears to prepare people to accept these bio-engineered versions grown in fermentation vats and bio-reactors instead of farms and ranches.

“While (New Harvest) goes against the essence of who we are as farmers, and Caleb no longer serves on its board, his knowledge and insights in this area will be an asset,” writes Hershey. “I am very excited about Caleb’s ability to open new doors for dairy. He brings an astounding depth of relationships with other scientists, organizations and companies.”

New Harvest is more than a “cellular agriculture research institute.” It’s mission is to replace cattle and other livestock by growing portions of animals, separating protein excrement from yeast, and other ‘genetically altered and digitized” methods of displacing farmers and ranchers from the land. In 2017 and 2018, Harper was one of five board members for New Harvest. In fact, though canceled due to Covid, the New Harvest 2020 Conference was scheduled for the M.I.T. Lab in Cambridge, Mass., where Harper was a lead researcher until April 30, 2020.

In her blog post, Hershey writes that, “Earlier this year, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set new environmental stewardship goals to further the progress and commitment that dairy farmers and the broader dairy community have to responsible production.”

She describes it as a “collective effort” expected to benefit all farms with a pathway for farms to voluntarily contribute. She writes that it will not be mandatory. Instead, she notes that it will provide opportunities for farms of all sizes to adopt technologies and practices and create revenue streams.

Stay tuned.

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Fair Oaks, fairlife co-founder paints picture of dairy’s future as seen by partner DMI

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 14, 2020

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The big question Sue McCloskey gets about fairlife is “How did you think of it?”

As co-founder with her husband Mike of Select Milk Producers, Fair Oaks Farms and the fairlife brand, McCloskey spoke about “the spark of innovation” to a crowd of over 500 at the 2020 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in State College last Thursday, Feb. 6. She was among the featured speakers that were sponsored by ADA Northeast.

“We are all innovators in agriculture,” said McCloskey, telling how they learned of reverse osmosis when a well on their New Mexico dairy backed up 25 years ago, and RO membranes were used to separate solids to restore water quality. That experience introduced them to the concept of filtering solids by molecular size, but her larger message was about the concept of innovation in allowing companies to differentiate in a generic category like milk.

For example, she said, who would think, years ago, that water would become the multi-billion-dollar industry that it is today? And coffee? She cited Starbucks as a catalyst for the rise of coffee houses and coffee drinks and blends today.

As in these examples, someone was the first innovator to bring value to those generic categories. She said for milk, the parallel is fairlife.

“Innovation – thinking outside the box — that’s what grabs people,” she said.

McCloskey maintains that as consumers, “We are all waiting for the next new thing. We want more. We want new. That’s where we have seen success with fairlife.”

The journey

McCloskey talked about her husband’s journey from being a dairy veterinarian to a dairy producer and innovator. They started with 300 cows in California and a partner they still have today in Tim DenDulk. One by one they bought dairies, fixed them up and rolled them over.

Once they got to New Mexico with a 3000-cow dairy, that was the real beginning of it, she said. That’s where they founded Select Milk Producers 25 years ago, which is today the sixth largest cooperative on a milk volume basis with 99 members.

They formed to focus on high quality milk with low somatic cell counts and to sell that concept direct to retailers instead of being part of a co-op that commingled their milk to blend-down the somatic cell counts. That’s where they were introduced, she says, to the concept of what has become fairlife through the use of RO membranes to ultrafilter the milk. She explained that the milk going in must be very low in somatic cell counts because the process of ultrafiltration concentrates the solids – including somatic cells.

She pointed to the “incredible success” of building different plants and beginning to build the fairlife brand, which led them to their next opportunity in the Midwest – Fair Oaks Farms.

When the McCloskeys came to Indiana, DenDulk, their original partner in California, was already in Michigan.

McCloskey said the housing technology had developed by that time to where they felt they could do larger dairies in the Midwest climate. They built the first of the original four 2800-cow dairies in 1999. Today, there are 13 separate dairies totaling over 36,000 cows that are owned and managed by a few families on the roughly 30,000 acres, including the new 800-cow robotic dairy that opened at the end of 2019.

In fact, she spent part of her time talking about the innovations coming out of Fair Oaks to recycle and recover nutrients and to address greenhouse gas emissions to improve the “sustainability” and carbon footprint of dairy.

“There are cool things happening and things we are doing that we really need to embrace,” she said.

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(Sue’s husband Mike, who spoke in March at the PDPW virtual business conference on U.S. Dairy’s goals for GHG emissions, was the first chairman of the Sustainability Initiative when it was launched under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2009-10, and the checkoff’s research and development and marketing assistance for fairlife and Fair Oaks came from DMI through the Innovation Center where such partnerships are born.)

The process

Establishing fluid milk supply relationships with large retailers like H-E-B and Kroger, McCloskey said they have worked over two decades to move closer to consumers as they began using RO and ultrafiltration as early as 1995 to reduce the water moving loads of milk to cheese plants, while at the same time beginning the high protein, low sugar milk proposition partnering with H-E-B in Mootopia in 1996, before what is fairlife today.

They saw other protein drinks in the market they could compete with – by concentrating the protein in milk.

So began the process of building the brand from coast to coast as new products have been added continually. While most people are familiar with fairlife ultrafiltered milk, the CorePower fitness recovery drink was among the first that was created as a competitor for Muscle Milk.

Today, there are flavored Yup drinks, snack drinks that pair ultrafiltered milk with oats and honey, new coffee creamers, and a full line of weight management and healthy lifestyle products that are just emerging under the fairlife brand.

While Select Milk Producers sold its remaining half-interest in fairlife to its early partner Coca-Cola a few weeks ago, McCloskey remains a spokesperson for the brand. Also, the research and development teams remain intact and are still located in Chicago.

The spotlight

What Coca-Cola did for fairlife, said McCloskey, is to provide a nationwide distribution network that the Select co-op could not have achieved on its own.

“The hardest thing in consumer goods is to get a product in front of the people who want to buy it,” said McCloskey. “Our challenge was distribution. So, we formed a partnership with Coca-Cola. With Coca-Cola as 100% owner of fairlife, what happens now is that they are just going to run with it.”

This means that, “Milk is in the spotlight. While we hear the bad news from Dean’s and Borden, the good news is that the Coca-Cola, a top-five company, is involved in milk,” said McCloskey.

With an ultrafiltration plant producing fairlife in Michigan, she explained that the east coast and midwestern markets could be served and that the new Select plant in Arizona will serve the west coast market. A plant is also being built in Canada.

Answering a question about whether fairlife, or this direction of milk innovation, would ever “play ball” with the smaller average size farms in Pennsylvania, she replied that any milk supply for fairlife must be very low in somatic cell counts and will have to meet with flying colors all of the new levels of audits and animal welfare requirements that Select Milk Producers and Coca-Cola have implemented since the undercover animal abuse video at McCloskey’s original farm at Fair Oaks this past summer.

When asked how producers are compensated for these additional measures, she did not disclose proprietary information about how producers are paid.

The proposition

She said the fairlife story shows “there is still room for investment and innovation in milk, innovation that makes milk relevant to consumers.”

McCloskey explained how the ultrafiltration process raises the protein and calcium levels, removes the lactose and reduces the natural sugars in milk without adding anything.

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“And it is still real milk… but better,” she says, explaining that fairlife is finding “amazing growth in differentiation,” that fairlife’s entire proposition to consumers is the concept of  “believe in better.”

“Our core tenets of the master brand are better taste, better nutrition, and better values,” she said.

“The brand is created around values, and these values are not new, but they are done in a way that is a little more creative to today’s consumers.”

She explained that Select Milk Producers sends milk that goes into a jug at Krogers and sends milk to fairlife, “but it’s the innovation and sharing the values that leads to growth.”

Sharing consumer surveys showing 90% of fairlife consumers are satisfied and 69% are repeat customers, McCloskey said this growth and innovation “mean bigger things for dairy than just fairlife.”

She said that 45% of the fairlife market share is coming from within the milk category and 55% of their consumers are coming over from outside of the milk category.

While fairlife’s ultrafiltration process is patented, McCloskey said a dozen new products have come on the market since fairlife that use similar technology or other means of delivering high protein, low sugar outcomes.

This allows these products to differentiate themselves next to the gallon of milk as a generic staple, she explained.

“If someone is on food stamps and can’t afford these new products, that’s okay,” McCloskey said. “They can buy milk. People will still buy milk.”

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The next phase

McCloskey stressed the “tremendous value checkoff organizations bring to dairy farmers to promote how to innovate dairy and make it better.”

She explained the next phase, how DMI is sitting down with young urban-suburban consumers to “learn how they make food choices, to learn what they look for. This is leading us into sustainability and carbon footprint,” said McCloskey.

“We also sit down with the different NGO’s (like World Wildlife Fund for example). We all sit at the table and talk about the challenges that face dairy farmers,” said McCloskey. “The Net Zero Initiative coming out of that is one of the coolest things, and we are a collaborator on what is needed for dairy to get to net zero. It’s a big stake in the ground, but it’s got to be the place where we need to go.”

She explained the Net Zero Initiative under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has a catalog of technologies to help producers deal with environmental issues.

“What if 37,000 dairy farmers could have net zero greenhouse gas emissions? This is what we have to chase,” she said. “The innovation can’t stop. The whole genome of the dairy cow has been mapped. Manure can be fractionated. There is innovation that is so exciting for us to think about what dairy can look like in the future.”

The forward-looking picture McCloskey painted for Summit attendees includes even more fractionization and extraction of milk’s elements, more use of specialized GMO crops and more consolidation of farms and processors with fewer cows producing more milk to meet new sustainability benchmarks.

McCloskey said the innovation from fluid milk to cheese to fractionating protein into “all kinds of other products” — while reducing the overall dairy carbon footprint — is the road to 2050.

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The ‘perfect laboratory’

“We have only begun to know milk’s power and the different vitamins and elements we are just discovering how to use and extract,” she said.

“And it all happens in nature’s perfect laboratory – the dairy cow.”

On the flip side, McCloskey acknowledged that DMI has also learned consumer choices come back to this bottom line:

“It’s got to taste good and it’s got to do something for me,” she noted. “This is why dairy is not going away. Dairy is real and it tastes great and it makes you feel good.”

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New face, new position, ties ‘Undeniably Dairy’ to ‘milk without cows’

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 31, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – A new face has “joined” Undeniably Dairy with direct ties to the effort to produce milk without cows.

Caleb Harper is the new hire for a new position via Dairy Checkoff. It was created within the DMI Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Net-Zero project. His title as of May 1, 2020 is executive director of Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G).

On April 30, 2020, as reported last week in Farmshine, Harper left his position as the principle researcher at the M.I.T. Media Lab where he spearheaded the Open Agriculture Initiative, described as a “food computer” project. The lab came under scrutiny last fall for certain financial ties.

According to the May 13 New York Times, Harper’s OpenAg project “was quietly closed amid allegations that its results were exaggerated to sponsors and the public, the university confirmed. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also announced that it would pay a $15,000 fine to the State Department of Environmental Protection because the project… improperly disposed chemicals into a well at a research center outside Boston where it conducted some experiments.”

For dairy farmers, that’s not even the worst of it. Harper has been a prolific writer and speaker touting cellular agriculture – milk, eggs and meat without animals.

Public Disclouser Copy for New Harvest.pdf

According to the most recent IRS 990s (2017 and 2018) for New Harvest Inc., Harper was a New Harvest board member during those two years.

This new DMI executive will head the work of scaling up the ‘climate-friendly’ practices dairy farms will implement in the future, when his past is rooted in cell ag to replace them. His direct association with New Harvest as part of their 5-member board is troubling.

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New Harvest describes its purpose as “support for education and scientific research that advance technologies that make animal products (meat, eggs, milk, etc.) without the animals in order to reduce animal suffering, improve human health, and protect the environment.”

We reached out to DMI through Scott Wallin, vice president of industry media relations and issues management. We also sent questions to the DMI chair.

— We asked whether this newly created position filled by Harper had been advertised and if other candidates had been interviewed.

— We asked what are the responsibilities and qualifications for this “executive director of Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G)”? (For his part, Mr. Harper has the following description listed on his resume at Linked-In, that he is “part of an initiative working to help U.S. Dairies pilot and integrate new technology and management practices to reach net zero emissions or better while increasing farmer livelihood.”)

— We asked whether Harper had prior connections to DMI or any member of staff or leadership before getting this position.

— We asked for confirmation of how Mr. Harper’s salary is paid, through what sub-agency of DMI or partnership?

— We asked to know his starting salary, given his listing with a speakers agency showing he charges between $30,000 to $50,000 as a speaker – a speaker who frequents events side-by-side with the executive director of New Harvest, such conferences sponsored by the United Nations, World Government Summit, EAT Forum and other entities on planetary diets, “future of food” and cellular agriculture – milk without cows, eggs without hens, beef without cows.

— We also messaged Mr. Harper to ask him how a board member of New Harvest that funds research and supports technology specifically for milk without cows gets a job paid by mandatory checkoff funds from American dairy farmers who feed, care for and milk cows?

— We asked him what are his interests and qualifications in dairy?

— We asked if he was tapped for this position by someone within the DMI organization or one of DMI’s “partners” or did he simply respond to a job posting and interview for the position?

— We asked DMI how it came to be that a person who is an obvious supporter of technology to create milk without cows became the person hired by dairy checkoff — with dairy farmer money — to help develop, scale and implement environmental practices for real dairy farmers?

So far, the only response we have received was a brief general email from DMI’s Wallin, as follows: “Caleb Harper joined on May 1 to support U.S. dairy’s growing commitment to environmental stewardship and the development of new, scalable technologies and practices to support U.S. farmers.”

Harper, who goes by the handle @CalebGrowsFood on Twitter, has deep connections to cellular agriculture, a new sector populated with Silicon Valley “tech food” startups that the largest global dairy and meat integrators and food giants are now investing in to ramp up to scale. They use false science on human health and environment, especially climate change, as the angle to push these new product investments so they take root in retail and foodservice sectors across the nation, the world.

In fact, the continuation of status-quo low-fat and fat-free diets via the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s unscientific “Scientific Report,” July 15 is a key in the cell ag arsenal. A primary vegan on the saturated fats subcommittee alluded to “making way for new foods coming” that will deliver the nutrients the government-sanctioned meal patterns leave lacking.

New Harvest has funded and supported research with donations to companies making bovine DNA-altered yeast that excrete “dairy replacement” proteins that companies claim are “interchangeable” with real dairy protein in any food processing application. Companies like Perfect Day tout their B2B model of working with large dairy companies to scale, to provide replacement dairy protein that reduce the need for real dairy protein and thus reduce the need for cows and the “pressure” on the environment.

These “cell ag” companies and non-profits work together to seek from FDA the ability to label their creations as the dairy and meat they replace because they declare them to be biological replicas — achieved through gene-editing and modifying.

They seek the new “healthy” icon FDA is creating with its ongoing development of a Nutrition Innovation Strategy to meet dietary goals, such as low-fat. They say their replacements are superior because they reduce the impact of livestock on the planet and can be genetically customized to meet goals for the low-fat DGA recommendations.

Even the USDA bio-engineered (BE) labeling implemented in January is all set and ready for this, and guess what? Dairy producers helped lobby for it, thinking it applied to the crops they grow. Our industry leaders used producer reactions to non-GMO labeling to get grassroots support for label language that now does not require bio-engineered replacements to be labeled as such unless the engineered DNA is detectable within the final edible food.

A visit to the New Harvest web page at new-harvest.org will make your hair stand on end. Seeing the motto so boldly proclaiming: “Milk without cows. Eggs without Hens. Beef without Cows,” offers the realization that their goal – in concert with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), DMI’s “sustainability partner” — is the end of animal agriculture through cell agriculture.

Don’t get angry and don’t be depressed. Have hope. Be bold.

If every Farmshine reader does some of the suggestions below, maybe the Titanic can be steered away from the iceberg:

1)      Send this article to your Congressional representatives with a short note stating that this is just one example of how your rights as an American dairy farmer are being violated by the 15-cent mandatory dairy checkoff. Ask for his or her help in getting you an exemption from paying the checkoff, or in allowing you to assign your checkoff “tax” to another promotion, research and education entity.

2)      Call, email, or write to the cooperative director who represents you and ask what your cooperative is doing to protect its members from even more FARM requirements, considering an obvious supporter of “milk without cows” will be implementing the “Undeniably Dairy” environmental piece as executive director of DS4G.

3)      Call your state or regional dairy promotion representative or CEO and ask them to keep all of your dime in regional promotion instead of sending those 2.5 to 3 extra cents to DMI’s Unified Marketing Plan. They have the nickel. That’s enough.

4)      Watch for opportunities to support a dairy checkoff referendum. The law states that when 10% or more of the dairy producers and importers subject to the checkoff request a referendum, the Secretary of Agriculture must oblige.

At best, DMI did not do its homework on this, and other decisions that have influence over the future of rank-and-file dairy producers footing the bill.

At worst, DMI’s “pre-competitive” alliances with global food giants and WWF are steering efforts toward dilution in order to meet some ethereal environmental goal.

Meanwhile hard working, conscientious dairy farmers have done and are already doing more good for health, climate, water and soil than the combined efforts of billionaire Silicon Valley ‘tech-food’ startup investors, multinational food corporations, gene-altering animal replacers, plant-based imitators, high-paid future food fast-talkers, sly and cunning dietary do-gooders, cows-and-climate catastrophe exaggerators, and so-called ‘sustainability’ WWFers.

In times like these, dairy checkoff unity could mean circling the wagons to protect dairy farmers with a locked-and-loaded promotion, education and research front that keeps the cunning wolves from getting in, but instead it gives them an opening and some leverage to devour.

Business is business. But dairy farmers should not be forced to fund their own dilution and demise.

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What’s this? DMI hires ‘director of DS4G’, Resume looks impressive if the goal is to keep on diluting dairy

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 24, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – Dairy Management Inc (DMI) has a new hire at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, under the leadership of Tom Vilsack and Mike McCloskey,  as part of the big push to make “sustainability” center of the plate. The definition could surprise us.

We know the goal on climate is to get “U.S. Dairy” to “net-zero” emissions across the supply chain by 2050 or sooner, but for me, this looks like a smoke screen to ramp up the rate at which the dairy food industry giants seek to scale dairy production and fill in the gaps with a little Perfect Day.

No announcement, but an occupation change and new Undeniably Dairy logo’d cover photo on his twitter feed signals that Caleb Harper — the former principle researcher and founder of the now closed Open Agriculture Initiative at M.I.T.’s embattled Media Lab — is the new DMI “Executive Director Dairy Scale for Good,” whatever that means.

Our initial inquiry for DMI’s vice president of media relations and issues management about the position and whether other candidates were interviewed — and other questions — was emailed earlier this week and not immediately answered.

Harper has a long history of advocacy for urban food production in the sense of digitized, software-programmable, particulized and reconstituted food.  He wrote opinion pieces and did TED Talks about how the cutting edge of this movement is agri-‘culturing’ companies making lab-created dairy protein from DNA-engineered yeast and meat replacements from gene-edited muscle cells, stating that these are the food innovations needed to be sure the world does not go hungry.

In a National Geographic opinion piece in 2017, Harper even mentions and advocates for companies like Perfect Day and Modern Meadow, makers of replacement dairy protein from bovine-DNA-altered-yeast, as the future of food production because, according to Harper, people will move to cities and the rural lands will lose population.

Yes, he’s a guy who believes in true factory farms, the kind of factory farms where fermentation vats feed yeast and collect their excrement to separate out interchangeable dairy components, like protein and where gene-edited muscle blobs grow in bioreactors instead of as animals on farms.

All part of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) plan, I might add. They want to move everyone to the cities, re-wild the farms and rural lands, and they’ve already begun.

Harper, who goes by the handle “CalebGrowsFood” on Twitter, is part of the WWF “Thought Leadership Group.” In fact, Mike McCloskey of Fair Oaks, fairlife, and Select Milk Producers as well as a key leader in DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is also on the WWF Thought Leadership Group. Harper’s association with WWF goes back a long way.

For his part, Harper’s OpenAg Project at MIT set out to prove people in cities could grow their own food in LED boxes controlled by computers. Trouble is, it appears that despite the glowing reviews in 2016-18 when models were featured, the boxes never really worked. Some of the photos and demonstrations were allegedly fudged with plants purchased from local stores, according to Oct. 2019 and May 2020 articles in the New York Times, Propublica, WBUR public radio and several reports in science and technology publications.

On April 30, 2020, Caleb Harper left his position as the lead researcher for the OpenAg Project at MIT.

His departure coincides with the Institute’s investigation into the entire Media Lab at MIT amid the brewing scandal that first came to light last fall when the MIT Media Lab’s main director Joichi Ito was found to have financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is the international financier and socialite, who was a previously-convicted sex-offender and committed suicide last year in prison awaiting trial on new charges of human trafficking.

According to the New York Times, and other sources, the OpenAg project, led by Harper, was being used through various meetings between Ito and Epstein to get Epstein to invest more than the half million the MIT Media Lab was already receiving from him in “discretionary” funds — funds MIT was not aware of. As this became known, the work of the lab itself came under scrutiny, and that scrutiny is still in progress even though the lab shut down at the end of April with Harper’s departure.

Here’s the clincher. MIT began a thorough investigation of its Media Lab after firing the director over the Epstein financial ties, and along with that, is investigating Harper’s OpenAg project. Portions of the investigation were reported on in May of 2020 by various science journals and even the New York Times, indicating Harper’s OpenAg project released water from its “computerized plant boxes” with too much nitrogen, well beyond the levels they were permitted to release, and it went to an underground well. When a researcher on-site blew the whistle with local authorities, resulting in a $25,000 fine, he was reprimanded in an email from Harper for jeopardizing the future of the project, the report indicated.

In addition, Harper’s computerized artificial intelligence plant boxes, that were showcased on 60 Minutes and National Geographic as well as other high profile outlets, never really worked, according to researchers in the lab, who were interviewed by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism entity judged high in their accuracy based on evidentiary reporting.

What we are learning is concerning. Harper, in this Undeniably Dairy Scale for Good position, may be the very person to work with Vilsack and McCloskey on what practices dairy farmers (most likely via the FARM program) must implement in order to remain part of “U.S. Dairy” by meeting their environmental benchmarks on soil, air, and water. That’s being funded with your checkoff funds, and there is a big question mark behind the name of the new hire on implementation. Does he really know anything about those three resources – and how to really produce real food while stewarding them?

To be continued in the July 31, 2020 edition of Farmshine

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‘Good for me, good for the planet?’ GENYOUth drives ‘future of food’ to make future ‘Greta Thunbergs’ of our kids

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 29, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Two checkoff-funded vehicles are refining the “U.S. Dairy” machine. They are GENYOUth and the FARM program under the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy (“U.S. Dairy” for short), with a board representing food supply chain stakeholders and NGO’s like World Wildlife Fund.

It has been 12 years since the formation of these checkoff-funded organizations and programs under the umbrella of DMI (Dairy Management Inc).

How many times have we heard that consumers are driving FARM program requirements? Are they?

How many times have we heard that today’s young people – Generation Z – are agents for change, that they are socially and environmentally attentive in their food choices, that they are concerned about the impact of agriculture on climate and the environment? Are they?

The next wave for FARM will be environmental requirements to fulfill a new “sustainability” platform from U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Alliance.

And the next frontier for GENYOUth is to use our nation’s schoolchildren and the climate change conversation as leverage for an emerging industry vision for the “future of food.”

In fact, it looks like they want to make future ‘Greta Thunbergs’ out of our school kids. (Thunberg is the teenage vegan anti-animal climate change activist from Sweden who was recognized as person of the year.)

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According to a checkoff-funded survey of 13 to 18 year olds via GENYOUth and Edelman Insights, 56% of teenagers said they have heard of the idea of “sustainable foods” or never really thought about the idea of “sustainable foods” and in saying so, also checked the box that they want to know more. The “want to know more” is what GENYOUth is hanging its hat on to drive new education and influence shifts from food choices that taste good and contribute to personal health to food choices that demonstrate the ‘good for me, good for the planet’ mantra — a self-fulfilling prophecy of food and dairy system transformation DMI food partners want children to lead.  — Source GENYOUth Insights Spring 2020 

GENYOUth’s tagline is “Exercise your influence,” and in the Spring 2020 edition of GENYOUth Insights — the organization’s newsletter to schools and “partners” — the main article under the headline “Youth and the future of food” connects the dots.

GENYOUth used funding from DMI and Midwest Dairy, under the guidance of Edelman Intelligence, to do a survey of teenagers about their food choices.

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There are 30 primary companies set on transforming the food system through the Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) initiative that is now linked to the EAT Lancet ‘planetary health diets’. Many of these companies are moving into plant-based and lab-cultured alternatives for animal protein.  — Source EATforum.org

Known for its “purpose-driven marketing,” Edelman is the global communications  that receives $15 to $17 million a year in checkoff funds from DMI for contract services. Richard Edelman, himself, is a key member of the GENYOUth board of directors. Many of the global companies getting involved in the EAT Forums, such as PepsiCo and Danone, are Edelman clients. Edelman also ‘loaned’ personnel to work with the EAT foundation from Sweden that launched the now infamous EAT Lancet report, and EAT FReSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health) Forums last year preaching “planetary boundary diets” that represent huge reductions in consumption of meat, milk and dairy products.

The minds of children are the next frontier. In fact, this is something Edelman identified in that pivotal year of change for DMI. That year, 2008, Edelman launched its “Edelman Food and Nutrition Advisory Panel” staffed by “globally known food and nutrition experts,” who “provide strategic counsel to the firm’s food and nutrition staff in the areas of obesity, food ethics, food policy, functional foods, health claims and nutrition communications,” according to the Holmes Report.

Among those Edelman panel members were past Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members as well as a later appointee to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Fast forward to 2020, the recent GENYOUth newsletter article states in large bold type that, “What youth know, care about and do might make or break the future for healthy, sustainable food and food systems… The future of sustainability – which includes the future of food and food systems – will benefit from youth leadership and voice.”

The GENYOUth Insights article identifies the problem as revealed by the Edelman-guided checkoff-funded survey: “Youth are twice as likely to think about the (personal) healthfulness of their food over its environmental impact,” and the GENYOUth newsletter bemoans this finding needing action because “teens aren’t thinking too much about the connection between food and the health of the planet.”

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The GENYOUth / Edelman survey (left) of teens 13 to 18 shows pretty much the same trends as the International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2019 Food and Health Survey (right) of 18 to 80 year olds. Environmental impact is just not the food-purchase driver that global food companies want it to be in order to complete their transformation of global food systems. — Sources GENYOUth Insights Spring 2020 and IFIC 2019 Food and Health Survey at foodinsights.org 

Specifically, 65% of youth surveyed said they regularly think about how healthy or nutritious their food is, but only 33% regularly think about whether the food they eat has an impact on the environment.

In fact, when it came to actual food and beverage choices, a whopping 91% of teens said they think about taste, followed by cost (76%), followed by how personally healthy it is (76%). Whether or not the food is produced in an “environmentally friendly” manner was far behind at 60%. (Teens did say “package recycling” ranked high on their list of considerations.)

What’s wrong with teenagers choosing foods and beverages based on taste, cost and personal health? From this reporter’s perspective, those are logical choice factors for maturing young people. Incidentally, those are criteria that bode well for milk and dairy products.

But GENYOUth and friends want to guide teens to make food and beverage choices based on real or perceived “impact on environment.” This opens the door for partnering food companies to do “social purpose-driven marketing” and for organizations like WWF to further influence them.

This would seem to fall in line with the direction of the next round of Dietary Guidelines, which in 2010 became tied more closely to institutional feeding in schools and daycares through USDA administrative rules and the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

For the 2020 Guidelines, the Committee has ignored good research on saturated fat that was screened out of the process by USDA, and they released a draft report this week that further reduces the recommended level of saturated fat in the diets of children over age 2 and adults.

Back in the last cycle of Dietary Guidelines (2015), the committee attempted to use anti-cattle “sustainability” and “planetary health” as criteria in meal pattern recommendations. At the time, the “sustainability” requirement was directed toward reducing beef (cattle) consumption. The dairy industry was silent, while other animal protein sectors became vocal. One thing to remember is that whatever happens to beef will eventually happen to dairy because cattle are most definitely in the “planetary” crosshairs of anti-animal activists.

The “sustainability” language and framework were ultimately removed from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, but fat is still the tool.

Back to the Spring 2020 GENYOUth Insights article, a new tagline has been coined: “good for me, good for the planet.”

The walk down the slippery slope begins. GENYOUth and friends, including USDA, want today’s teens to place more decision-making emphasis on the impact of food on the environment. In the Insights article, GENYOUth points out to its partnering companies and schools that kids don’t care enough about the environmental impact of the food they choose to eat.

This is where  FARM requirements and checkoff promotion are headed – toward social purpose-driven marketing as defined by the various supply chain partners that have people on these checkoff-influencing boards. The plan is to indoctrinate schoolchildren on sustainable food choices, then adapt what farms have to do to meet new consumer-driven criteria.

Yes, GENYOUth spent 12 years bringing big business into the schools through its non-profit foundation status. During that time, USDA, mainly 2010-2016 under Secretary Vilsack, has tightened the way Dietary Guidelines are tied to school food, NFL has marketed football through FUTP60 (while receiving $5 to $7 million annually from DMI), the NFL’s longstanding beverage partner PepsiCo received the 2018 GENYOUth Vanguard award and has created one of the largest K-12 foodservice companies in the U.S. Meanwhile, the dairy farmers – who started it all and fund the majority of GENYOUth through DMI – are stuck promoting fat-free and 1% milk, fat free yogurt and fat free cheese.

As reported recently in Farmshine, the partnership with DMI also gave Domino’s access to a whole new $63 million a year business making Dietary-Guidelines-correct cheese pizza for schools.

Through GENYOUth, America’s young people are being “led” into their ordained role as “agents of change” to lead the “future of food.”

The GENYOUth Insights article focuses on two examples of climate activism – holding them up as examples of how young people can and should be energized.

First, they reference the recently released report “A Future for the World’s Children?” produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet. Think of this as the youth-version of the now infamous 2019 EAT Lancet report where new “planetary boundary” diets, depleted of animal protein, are recommended for human and planetary “health.”

We’ll call this report “EAT Lancet Junior”, and in GENYOUth’s own description, this report “reinforces the importance of placing children at the heart of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

DMI has been actively working to incorporate these U.N. SDGs into “U.S. Dairy’s” sustainability framework and Net Zero emissions benchmark. This work also began over a decade ago when the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was formed and GENYOUth was founded and the FARM program was under initial development.

Lead the children through confirmation bias, get them to become energized activists, respond with a “U.S. Dairy” plan that aligns with that activism, and implement it through the FARM program – further refining who can and can’t be part of “U.S. Dairy” in the future.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Mike McCloskey.pptx

Under “Non-governmental organizations”, the NGO on this flowchart for U.S. Dairy is World Wildlife Fund (WWF).  Brent Loken is WWF’s lead scientist today.  Previously, Brent worked for EAT, the science-based global platform for food system transformation. He was a lead author on the EAT-Lancet report on Food, Planet, Health and is currently working on the roadmaps for how nations will meet GHG goals through changes in food and agriculture.     — Sources farmfoundation.org and worldwildlife.org

DMI knows full well that not all farms will be able to meet the criteria that are coming. In fact, according to a news release from PDPW covering the virtual presentation by Dr. Mike McCloskey, a key member of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Council, acknowledged this fact.

Meanwhile, GENYOUth quotes from the “EAT Lancet Junior” report, asserting that, “Sustainability is for and about the next generation… We must find better ways to amplify children’s voices and skills for the planet’s healthy future.”

In its Edelman Intelligence survey of teenagers, GENYOUth reveals what it calls the “surprising disconnects and opportunities for stakeholders throughout the food ecosystem to do more to help ensure youth can lead, act and choose wisely in today’s food environment.”

When it comes to this idea of  ‘food that is good for me, good for the planet,’ teens said they currently rely on their families for most of this information and that they trust farmers for information.

But GENYOUth would like to move schools and food companies into this knowledge building arena – using farmers to ‘tell the story’ and teaching kids how to make ‘good for me, good for the planet’ food and beverage choices.

GENYOUth makes the case in its newsletter that now is the time to move toward ‘good for me, good for the planet’ food choice training of youth, which they say “aligns with a growing interest and sense of urgency among the food industry, farmers and others about the future of food and sustainability.”

So far this plan seems like one in which dairy farmers are helping steer the conversation and future choices, right?

Until we read deeper.

“How can the food industry and farmers become helpful and effective messengers around sustainable nutrition information to support youth?” And “How can schools play a bigger role?” These are two questions GENYOUth asks in its spring newsletter.

The answers, according to GENYOUth, are to see schools and food-related sectors become supporters that engage and inform young people about what foods and beverages are ‘good for me, good for the planet.’

Bottom line? The path to the future of food is one that moves the next generation away from prioritizing personal health, cost and flavor to put more emphasis on the importance of how food impacts communities, animals and the planet. DMI executive and former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said as much to the Senate Ag Committee a year ago when he asked Congress to help fund the pilot programs on farms that will get dairy where they believe it needs to be.

It’s not hard to understand why DMI is so slow to want to “educate” consumers about dairy products from a nutrition or comfort-food standpoint and why it is putting its checkoff bets on “sustainability” and “animal care.” Promotion of nutrition puts all dairy farmers on a level playing field. Promotion and implementation of sustainability requirements is a method for refining the U.S. Dairy machine.

GENYOUth says it wants young people to tackle the tradeoffs between health and environment and between taste and environment. They want schools and food companies to reinforce the concept that, “We all must take part in helping to sustain a fragile planet.”

We already see this beginning in our schools. A recent Scholastic Weekly Reader made headlines on social media when fake hamburger was touted as “the meat that could save the planet.” We see it in the vested plans of multi-national companies that are moving toward these products and marketing.

But it was the next part of the GENYOUth spring newsletter that was really shocking. Being held up as the example of youth leadership was Greta Thunberg, the teenage vegan anti-animal climate activist from Sweden, the country from which the EAT Lancet report on new planetary diets originated in 2019.

Don’t forget, the EAT Forum has the backing and participation of most of the top multi-national food companies including the top dairy product companies, as well as NGOs like WWF, and the dairy checkoff’s PR firm Edelman.

According to the GENYOUth newsletter: “We all must take part in helping to sustain a fragile planet. The astonishing power of aware, engaged, passionate youth is being brought home to us daily. As a remarkable example, look no further than Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg as the face of the climate-change movement.

“Aware, informed and engaged youth can be a powerful force for the movement toward food that’s ‘good for me and good for the planet,’” the GENYOUth newsletter continues.

Yes, alongside dairy farmer mandatory checkoff funds that launched and are maintaining GENYOUth administratively are the token funds of so-called “thought leaders” — large multi-national food corporations, sleep companies (because USDA is now interested in sleep studies on kids), technology companies, advertising and marketing companies, as well as celebrities and investor philanthropists.

In the name of breakfast cart donations, they are all riding the GENYOUth school bus to make future Greta Thunbergs of our kids.

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DMI details decent dairy conditions on all fronts during industry, media calls

Exports up, Retail up, Food banks up, Inventories stable, Foodservice down but recovering, Future unknown

By Sherry Bunting, May 22, 2020

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CHICAGO, Ill. – How do dairy industry leaders view the status of dairy sales, marketing and promotion and what insights will they share? A few themes emerged from phone conferences with media and producers.

First, it appears that not only is Dairy Management Inc (DMI) working to move product to “hunger” systems, including schools, food banks and charitable organizations, they are also working to reassure consumers — both domestically and overseas — that the U.S. is producing a reliable supply of milk and dairy products, despite the news of so much milk dumping.

After six to eight weeks of supply chain disruptions, milk dumping news, sparse dairy case shelves and/or purchase limits, DMI says national, state and local teams have worked to get stores to remove limits, keep shelves stocked and assure domestic consumers and export buyers that the milk will keep coming.

The news from dairy checkoff leaders is pretty decent on how dairy looks on many of its marketing and inventory fronts. Exports are up. Retail sales are up. Food bank usage and government purchases are up. Inventories are stable. And the previously plunging foodservice sector is recovering.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers received April settlement milk checks in the $10 to $12 range, many with COVID-19 deductions as high as 87 cents/cwt. Some report milk checks netting a single-digit price for April milk. And for direct shippers to Dean Foods, zero checks or deposits were received in mid-May for April milk.

Top dairy leadership talked Tuesday on a media conference call as well as Monday on a producer ‘open mic’ call about some of the dairy market statistics and insight, and how DMI is “pivoting” during the Coronavirus pandemic to “get more dairy in the hands of consumers.”

On the research front — “We need to maintain the things we have to maintain and alter the things we can alter,” said DMI CEO Tom Gallagher in the May 19 media call. One example he emphasized is “DMI’s commitment to publishing milkfat research to keep that front and center.”

On the “open mic’ call with producers the day before, Gallagher said dairy checkoff has been involved in either funding or publishing 59 studies related to milkfat since 2002. He said that the Dietary Guidelines won’t change until there is a “preponderance” of evidence – a “mountain” that is so large — large enough to overcome 40 years of anti-fat dietary advice.

In looking at the list, most are studies related to full-fat cheeses and the role or impact of dairy consumption, no matter the fat content, on various health indicators. Some are studies of milkfat composition, beyond the saturated fat portion, and a handful of the 59 studies pertained to fluid milk of all fat percentages (more on this in a future edition of Farmshine).

On the foodservice front — Sharing data provided to DMI by Inmar Insights, Gallagher said that the foodservice losses can now be measured by transactions but not by dollars or volume, yet.

At the lowest point in the pandemic, the number of sales transactions in the quick serve restaurants (QSR) was down 42% below year ago, but now these transactions are down 20% from year ago.

For full-service restaurants, transactions were down 80% at the height of the pandemic, and now they are 60% below year ago as more full-service restaurants adopt curbside and contactless meal options.

“At the height of the pandemic, 70% of consumers said they would avoid eating outside the home. That percentage is now 50%, and we believe it will reduce over time,” said Gallagher.

Various fresh dairy products

On the retail sales front — Gallagher shared that fluid milk sales pre-COVID were trending 5% below year ago. “But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, fluid milk sales jumped 34% higher, and now, in the past month or so, fluid milk sales are averaging 10% above year ago,” he said.

Looking at products that surround a milk choice, Gallagher noted that cereal sales have been declining 1 to 3% per year pre-COVID. But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, cereal sales jumped 78% and are now averaging 17% above year ago.

He said milk used on cereal has historically accounted for 3% of all fluid milk sales, so the rise in cereal sales is at least a partial factor in the increased fluid milk sales, according to Gallagher.

Looking ahead, Gallagher noted that DMI expects to receive “deep analysis” this week about “why people buy what they bought” both in the first two weeks of so-called “panic buying” and for the four to six weeks after as conditions stabilized.

“There is a lot of conjecture and a lot of opinions out there,” said Gallagher, “But we can’t be in the business of taking our opinion of nutritional or comfort reasons, we really have to understand what was the motivation.”

Gallagher noted that the total all-beverage sector saw very large increases in sales post-COVID, and that the alternative dairy beverage category showed very high percentage increases but are still a very small percentage of volume.

“On an incremental basis, (non-dairy alternative beverage) increases are nowhere near what the increase was for fluid milk sales,” he said.

Another retail category DMI highlighted was frozen pizza sales. “Historically, frozen pizza sales were flat, pre-COVID,” said Gallagher, adding that in the first two weeks of the pandemic, frozen pizza sales jumped 120% over year ago, with sales over the past month averaging 39% higher than year ago.

“That’s just as important to us as cereal sales,” said Gallagher.

Looking ahead, he noted that the “deep analysis” of why consumers buy what they bought will be used as a benchmark and monitored periodically for changes.

“Ultimately, what happens to sales will not be determined by some great ad or some smart thing that one group does, it will be determined by what is the behavior of consumers after this pandemic,” he explained. “We know going into this pandemic, we have moved from consumers spending 90% of their food dollars in the home in the 1950s and 60s to over 50% spent outside the home. Now, those at-home dollars are way up.

“At the end of this, what will their behavior be? Will they eat more at home? Will they keep eating cereal? Or will they go back to breakfast on the go? Will they still do more baking?” Gallagher wondered aloud.

“The idea that we can just educate and the problem will be solved, it wouldn’t,” said Gallagher. “If you look at the competition up and down the grocery aisle, there are two aisles with no dairy in them in the nutrient-rich niche market for on-the-go (shelf-stable). That could have been dairy, but now it’s not, and we have to play catchup.”

He said consumers “eating at home can be a hope that would be huge for the white gallon, but if we think the white gallon is the innovation of the future, it’s not.”

While Gallagher acknowledged that these current retail buying trends during COVID-19 bode well for fluid milk and butter, and DMI can market toward that once they understand why, he also countered these trends, observing that, “If consumers go back to where they were, then we are back to the same opportunities and issues that were always there. The reality will likely be somewhere between those two extremes.”

Gallagher pointed out that many people believe consumers are responding to messages about dairy nutrition, and that it might seem to be a good idea to “market to nutrition, but it’s not that simple,” he said. “What we do for dairy farmers has to be based on the reality of the data.”

In other words, DMI will market to the why’s behind the sales data once they receive the next layers of  “deep analysis” – to continue a promotion direction of following consumers with partner ‘innovations’ instead of leading them with an emphasis on product information.

On the export front — “The numbers look better than we anticipated for the first quarter of 2020 despite the virus, and we hope this will continue for the year,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

Specifically, Vilsack reported that the U.S. exported 109,000 more metric tons of dairy products in the first three months of 2020 as compared with a year ago, and these exports were worth $528 million more than exports a year ago.

He expects to see a decline in exports into the summer with a rebound later in the year.

He said USDEC is “using aggressive social media in all export markets for U.S. cheese and dairy ingredients to make sure buyers know milk is still being produced here.”

According to Vilsack, export buyers are diversifying their purchases and spreading supply risk, “so some of that market share is coming our way from diversification,” he said. “Our price-competitiveness is good at the moment, and this is something we watch, so our ‘Next 5%’ plan for growth continues even in this much-changed landscape.”

USDEC is marketing with Costco in China and Southeast Asia, including significant advertising about American-made cheeses. In the Middle East, recipes using cheese are being included in grocery bags and hung on doorknobs, said Vilsack. Culinary efforts are also being geared to encourage the next generation of overseas chefs to use American cheeses.

On the inventory front — Vilsack noted that USDEC sent a “warning shot” letter to the European Union and other to be sure any dairy intervention does not lead to a stockpile of powder or dairy products like the EU accumulated in 2015, which had led to three of the past five years of dismal global milk prices.

In a producer call the day before, Gallagher’s guest Jim Mulhern from National Milk Producers Federation described U.S. dairy commodity inventories as “not that bad.”

Mulhern said some dairy product stocks were building at the start of the pandemic, but mostly inventories are “not really burdensome right now. We are not in bad shape (inventory-wise). That’s one reason barrels moved is stocks are not that large right now,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we focused on the need to have USDA buy products now and get them into commerce through feeding programs and into food banks right away. The need is there, and we have the product,” said Mulhern. “We don’t want to go back to holding product in storage and selling it on the market later.”

On the food bank front — Vilsack confirmed that there is a 70% increase in overall food demand by the food bank system, and Gallagher added that fluid milk is still the most requested item.

“Food banks get most of their food from retail, and this is a challenge at a time when the retail sector is challenged by this higher demand,” said Vilsack, who in addition to being CEO of the dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council, sits on the board for the Feeding America national food bank system.

Vilsack noted there is a significant demand for volunteers and for equipment such as refrigeration to handle these higher volumes of food being supplied to serve the expanded need brought on by around 30 million newly unemployed workers during the COVID-19 economic shut down.

National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien talked about the “emergency action team” that was assembled after foodservice and restaurant trade began to shut down with business restrictions.

“We shifted our focus,” said O’Brien, noting that DMI partner Kroger, with its 16 milk plants, got involved in moving “hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk into the hunger system.

“We also worked with other processors on fluid milk, cottage cheese and turning 40-pound blocks into smaller packages, and we worked with processors to solve infrastructure challenges around refrigeration, to get coolers and refrigerated trucks placed at pantries,” O’Brien said, explaining that their teams are looking at the supply chain issues in four quadrants: schools, hunger, foodservice, and retail and then “working with farmers, processors and cooperatives to redistribute product.”

For school feeding, some of the regional checkoffs developed free emergency menu resources, donated thousands of coolers at alternative school feeding sites, worked with school nutrition personnel and USDA to help translate the rules – to understand the waivers that allow bulk or gallon containers for multiple meal service.

On the schools front –  Also on the media call was Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. She talked about the COVID-19 School Fund that was launched on March 30 two weeks into the closure of schools and non-life-sustaining businesses.

The purpose of the fund, which has raised $5.5 million to-date, is to provide grants and resources to help schools package, distribute and deliver meals in the grab and go model. Glick said they have received $33 million in requests so far as 12,000 school buildings, to-date, have applied for individual $3000-grants for equipment needed for such distribution.

“So far, $5.5 million in cash and equipment has been awarded to support over 6000 schools, said Glick. She estimates that these 6000 are collectively delivering 50 million meals per week (two meals per day).

“We are aiming to approve 250 to 500 grants per week by prioritizing schools that are serving the highest number of meals with the highest numbers of (USDA) free- and reduced lunch eligibility,” she said.

Glick noted that “alongside dairy farmers,” support for the COVID-19 School Fund has come from financial institutions, Domino’s, PepsiCo, National Football League, United Healthcare and a recent partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation as well as private donations from chefs, athletes and celebrities.

“We are working with our health and wellness partners, our partners at USDA, the School Nutrition Association, celebrities and media entities to get the word out and draw awareness. Just because the school year ends, doesn’t mean the end for hungry kids,” said Glick.

GENYOUth’s technology partner SAP has developed a “resource locator” called SAP for Kids to connect families to school meal resources in their zipcodes.

Glick also said school meals will convert soon to summer feeding sites and then in the fall, meals at schools will likely change based on CDC recommendations for eating in classrooms instead of cafeterias. “Schools will need our help to buy equipment that they will need for that,” she said.

Moving and messaging — As mentioned in the Farmshine article last week, O’Brien again touted the “deep relationships” dairy farmers have with ‘some of the biggest foodservice partners.” saying those partners “extend what we can do to immediately drive incremental cheese volume.”

An example she gave is an extra two ounces of cheese on pizzas and new national ads to be run by Papa Johns and Pizza Hut now through the end of August about more cheese. She also highlighted Domino’s new concept launching carside delivery full-tilt in July, saying this will move “more cheese.”

Meanwhile, said O’Brien, the “Undeniably Dairy” messaging is focused on “building trust and bringing joy by reassuring people that dairy farmers and the dairy community are essential and working tirelessly to ensure a safe and consistent supply.”

They are also repurposing content to provide virtual farm tours for parents and teachers to access for at-home curriculum and promoting recipes.

“Consumers are still interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said O’Brien. So, these “tell your story” and “sustainability” themes the checkoff has been focusing on pre-COVID will continue, but are changed a bit to conform to stay-at-home communication venues.

Among the planned media segments leading up to June Dairy Month are the one Monday, May 18 on Fox and Friends featuring Maryland dairy farmer Katie Dotterer-Pyle and the 30-second video produced with footage from several dairy farms that will be shown 20 times in the following weeks and will be picked up by other stations through online “streaming.”

She also said that the MilkPEP television commercial that was running about dairy farmers, haulers, bottlers, and store employees has now been “co-branded” with a large Undeniably Dairy logo, it reinforces the essential care of the entire dairy supply chain.

O’Brien hinted at a surprise promotion to happen May 21 in partnership with a major pizza chain on late-night-TV — a ‘pizza party’ celebrating 2020 graduates as their traditional graduation ceremonies have been suspended by COVID-19.

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Consumer trends amid COVID-19 have DMI a bit perplexed

Gallagher skeptical about ‘comfort and nutrition’, wants data from partners, not opinions. O’Brien says ‘future of dairy’ may go fast-forward

Various fresh dairy products
Data shared by DMI in the May 4, 2020 industry call shows all retail dairy sales categories are up significantly year over year. DMI CEO Tom Gallagher noted that the level of increased sales of fluid milk compared with a year ago are “still relatively consistent” as of the end of April.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 15, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Amid the supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Dairy Board are having weekly conference calls. They say 100 to 150 farmers have been participating.

And they are scratching their heads a bit over what to make of the now ‘unleashed’ consumers.

‘Unleashed consumers’ is the phrase I have coined for describing consumers now in control over their food, beverage and dairy choices, now that they are not so completely influenced by away-from-home and institutional feeding that adhere more closely to the dietary guidelines.

This has emerged most notably in the huge increases in whole milk sales that have boosted the fluid milk category well over year ago levels to the first year-over-year increase last month in decades. It has also shown up in the demand for butter, full fat cheeses and other cream products that sell out quickly at retail and prompt spot shortages.

On the May 11 DMI call, Russell Weiner, Domino’s COO and president of the Americas, was a guest and he highlighted his company’s partnership with dairy checkoff since 2008. That is a separate and quite interesting story. One thing he referenced is that pizza sales have been strong through the pandemic, and that consumers historically spend 5% of their disposable income in the quick-serve-restaurant (QSR) sector through recessions and other crises. This appears to be holding true amid the pandemic.

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien also gave updates about what DMI is doing about consumer buying patterns and future trends. It was evident in the discussion that DMI has a future of food concept for dairy based on prevailing insights from its partners and does not want to deviate from this framework unless data from partners points to a true shift in consumer purchasing and unless they have a “why” behind the shift.

Gallagher stressed that DMI, and the states and regions, are collecting every piece of information from every partner they can to “see what it will mean post-COVID or during COVID. There are a lot of opinions out there,” he said, “but it’s too early for us to put our stake in the ground as to this is what it will be.”

He talked about DMI’s data partner Inmar Analytics, which did the recent 2019 “Future of Food Retailing” report. “At no charge to us, they are looking at the buying patterns after the initial ‘panic buying,’” said Gallagher. “We know what people bought, but why did they buy it? Was it because they were interested in comfort food or nutrition? Or were they hoarding? Or were they baking more? I am a data guy. I want to see the data as to why they buy what they bought.”

In a skeptical tone, Gallagher went on about these so-called “opinions” on the buying patterns revealed by COVID-19 impacts.

“Some say, ‘Oh, it’s a return to nutrition.’ And some say, ‘Oh it’s a return to comfort food.’ But what really drove their behavior? And what strategies should really influence our thinking about the future? We don’t know. In the meantime, we will collect information,” Gallagher said. “We all have opinions, but we want to be informed with data, not opinions, to design how we move forward.”

Gallagher mentioned a study coming out this week on what food companies are thinking will be the patterns after COVID. When pressed later about how to hang on to the new-found bump in purchases of certain dairy products at retail (such as whole milk and butter), given that some of these purchases may be relatively new for some consumers, Gallagher was steadfast on not changing the future plan because of current “opinions.”

He stated — again — that Inmar Analytics will be able to tell DMI “exactly what shoppers put in their baskets and compare it to what they put in prior to COVID. They will be able to tell us what changed and through technology, why did that change occur, that’s the data I want,” he said.

One ‘why’ for ‘what changed’ (in this reporter’s opinion) may be too subtle for the Inmar Analytics surveys to detect — that is the nuances of just how much consumers have been controlled by the Dietary Guidelines pre-COVID, without even realizing it. There is rarely any talk from DMI about what those flawed guidelines — set by the government with very little opposition by the dairy industry — actually do to buying patterns when people are consuming 54% of their calories away from home and much of that in schools, workplaces, quick-serve-restaurants and other institutional settings where food choices are more “formulated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly unleashed consumers nationwide from the fat-restrictive Dietary Guidelines. Now, consumers are able to use more of their own discretion and choice apart from institutional food settings, guidelines and formulas. Some experts ‘reading the tea leaves’, such as Nielson Global Insights, observe that after a significant event like a pandemic of this magnitude, consumers can be expected to stay with some of the choices that made them feel healthy and safe during the pandemic, once the world gets back to a new-normal. That could be significant for dairy — but it may not line up with the ‘future of dairy’ pathway set by DMI and its partners.

O’Brien explained that dairy checkoff teams are actively involved in both long-term and immediate efforts.

“We are looking at the future of dairy. COVID-19 may fast-forward some of that future to happen more quickly,” she said. “In the immediate term, our retail teams are working with MilkPEP, to keep stores stocked and address the concerns people have about value, and we’re doing things with e-commerce to offer recipes that extend the use of the dairy products they bought.”

DMI’s ‘future of dairy’, as we know, is built on partnerships, innovation, and promotion of dairy farmers and sustainability and animal welfare practices, not education and promotion about milk and dairy products. It is well known that the innovations over the past decade have been focused on consumers eating dairy, not drinking it; and in the fluid space, these innovations emphasized through DMI partnerships have focused on ultrafiltered, shelf stable, lower-fat dairy beverages and blends and away from the whole milk gallon jug.

But we also can see that in their time of freedom to choose for their families amid the pandemic, consumers are reaching for the whole milk gallon jug. In fact, prices are rising on whole milk by $1 to $2 per gallon, while other fat content milks have remained the same, and still sales of whole milk are strong.

A producer from Wisconsin on the call asked Gallagher to make sure to track convenience store purchases when gathering the data, not just grocery retail, noting that many consumers buy their milk at convenience stores. Gallagher responded that they may have to check with another data partner for that piece.

O’Brien also stressed that while they gather data about consumer patterns, DMI will continue to chart the path it has set. That is to “gain the trust of consumers and celebrate dairy’s role in sustainably nourishing families and communities,” she said, adding that a media segment is being prepared for Fox and Friends next Monday morning, May 18 that will feature Katie Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Maryland.

“That piece will help bring to life our dairy farmers’ commitment to sustainably producing nutritious food,” said O’Brien. An estimated 2.5 million viewers will see the spot, and it will be supplemented with “live-streaming” on two other network stations where farmers will be interviewed to “tell their story.”

“That piece is supported by a 30-second video drawing footage from many farms and will run this week to the end of the month in streaming venues,” said O’Brien. She also explained that DMI has been working extensively with MilkPEP (fluid milk processors promotion) and that MilkPEP’s ‘Love what’s real’ ads are on television right now during the COVID period (when everyone is at home). The ads review the essential role of dairy farmers, and others involved in the dairy supply chain, she said.

“We co-brand these ads using the Undeniably Dairy logo, and design ways to help them reach consumers with these interests,” said O’Brien. “That’s our runway into June Dairy Month.”

While Gallagher said he expected to have some data insights from Inmar Analytics as early as next week, he added that it will begin a process to use technology to interact with consumers to learn more of the why’s behind their choices so that DMI — and its partners — can “appeal” to those drivers.

Stay tuned.

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