Will DMI’s transformation strategy leave dairy unrecognizable?

It was lights-camera-action… but there were barely 25 people, over half of them media and checkoff representatives, attending the DMI ‘tanbark talk’ on dairy transformation at the World Dairy Expo. On the big screens, joining virtually, was Bob Johansen, an author and strategist talking about “the VUCA” world. He was hired by DMI to work through scenarios of the future to arrive at the transformation model. On the stage from left are Dwyer Williams, DMI chief transformation officer; Tom Gallagher, outgoing DMI CEO; Lee Kinnard, a Wisconsin dairy producer; Peter Vitaliano, NMPF vice president of economic policy and market research; and Eve Pollet, DMI’s senior vice president of strategic intelligence. Taking notes at a table in the foreground — seated to the left of the camera man and light-show operator — is Jay Hoyt, a New York dairy producer who challenged DMI’s “bright” transformation picture saying nothing will be bright about the future for dairy farmers, if we can’t provide and promote cold, whole milk to children.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 15, 2021

MADISON, Wis. — A picture of the future of dairy was painted with a boastful sort of “insider” arrogance by dairy checkoff leaders on the second day of the World Dairy Expo during DMI’s ‘tanbark talk’ on transformation. It left me both shocked and uninspired, exasperated.

The very next day, a message of light and inspiration was presented in a meeting hosted by American Dairy Coalition (ADC), talking about inspiring loyal consumers as part of a discussion on the viability of America’s dairy farms in the face of rapidly launching confusion via plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes.

Without necessarily challenging DMI’s assumptions about Generation Z and the “future” of dairy, ADC’s guest speaker, a consumer-packaged-goods expert, painted a different picture. From the marketing surveys shared, it appears that future consumers, those under 23 years old today, are much more apt to be brand loyal than their Millennial parents. 

That’s the hope and light DMI left out of their presentation. DMI is taking their “knowledge” of Gen Z in a different direction.

The question is: Who is inspiring loyalty to milk, whole milk, real milk, real dairy, real beef, real animal protein? Not DMI.

DMI wants to take your checkoff dollars down into the darkness of the gaming world. Their guest speaker and futurist collaborator talked about the Gen Z gamers, the immersive learning, the tik tok generation.

One comment made me cringe. “It’s something parents and grandparents don’t like, but it is good for dairy,” said futurist Bob Johansen about the dark world of gaming that has, in his opinion, claimed the perspectives and choices of the next generation.

Repeating the platitude of “meeting consumers where they are”, the DMI presentation left this reporter in a bit of a shock. Do we really know where consumers are? Who is telling us these things and what is it really based on? So much more enlightening was the next day’s presentation about “inspiring loyalty” by reminding consumers about “what they love.”

I believe most dairy farmers want to inspire consumers to what’s real in life instead of being sucked into the unreal and confusing world of gaming.

Where are my thoughts going and what did you miss in the DMI panel at Expo? Not much, really. I heard the DMI dairy transformation strategist suggest that she “likes saying milk has 13 essential nutrients,” but that she thinks it will be so much “cooler to identify, annotate and digitize the 2500 to 3000 metabolites in milk and then be able to pair them to products and brands in the personalized app-driven diets of the future.”

That’s right folks, DMI paints a picture of future diets digitized by apps and algorithms to match up to the individual metabolic needs and desires of consumers. In other words, they won’t really know WHAT they are consuming, just a mix-and-match of elements as presented by global processing corporations that are “all-in” for this future of food confusion.

DMI is in the self-fulfilling prophecy business. They aren’t meeting consumers where they are. They aren’t inspiring consumers to be better, eat better, and enjoy dairy. They are touting USDA dietary policy to the point that even their fellow GENYOUth board members and collaborators are, in some cases, promoting the competition.

Case in point this week, chef Carla Hall, a longtime board member of GENYOUth, who DMI leaders have touted over the past 10 years, is right now running Youtube videos teaching consumers “how to go plant-based without going vegan.”

And guess what? Hall is targeting milk for the ousting. She promotes almond, oat, cashew etc ‘milks’ and guides consumers on how to replace real milk with these fakes in their diets, their recipes, their lives.

When a Facebook post about Hall’s milk-replacing Youtube videos was posted by a New York dairy producer asking “why is this person on the GENYOUth board?” another dairy producer responded wondering if she really was on the dairy-farmer-founded and primarily funded GENYOUth board.

Yours truly, here, replied on Facebook with a simple “yes she is” accompanied by a link to the listing of GENYOUth board members and a screenshot of the page showing Carla Hall among the GENYOUth board member list. Within a couple hours of my comment on that post, I got a notice from Facebook telling me I had “violated Facebook’s community standards.” They called my comment “fraudulent spam” and deleted it!

Yes, my reply was deleted, and I was warned that if I continued my violation of Facebook’s community standards, action would be taken against me.

Wow, I thought, that’s out of left field, isn’t it? I simply showed the truth with a link and a picture that the plant-based beverage promoter is, in fact, on the GENYOUth board.

Yes folks, DMI wants you to believe that your future viability as dairy farmers relies on playing nice with the plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes – blending in with them – and losing your identity.  After all, they say, just be glad your milk has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated!

They want you to believe that the gaming industry is “good” for dairy while acknowledging that it’s not so good for kids. They want you to partner in that world of unreality and confusion instead of being an inspiration of clarity and a champion for what’s real.

My question is: Do we want to be a beacon of light and inspire Gen Z? Or do we want to stoop to the level of this dark space to “fit in” or “be cool”.

In that space, are those teens and young adults even listening to our story? Or are we being drowned out by the bells and whistles of gaming as it sucks them in and drags them down. The entire gaming world is full of ambiguity and confusion, but this is what DMI and its futurist say the world is going to be, that it is a VUCA world, and we must accept it.

VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It’s a sort of catchall phrase for what we all know. Yes, the world is crazy out there!

In that talk, DMI leaders said they hired futurist Bob Johansen to help them look at four models for the future of dairy from a range of possible scenarios. They chose the transformation model, and that is how they are transforming checkoff dollars.

“Accept it,” they say, Mr. and Mrs. Dairy Farmer, you must accept that ambiguous messaging is the name of the game for the future of dairy, one that assigns the attributes you are selling in a mix-and-match environment.

Farmers have been dealing with VUCA forever. We’ve long understood that markets are volatile, the future is uncertain, the industry is complicated, and yes, the world and its direction are certainly ambiguous.

However, must dairy farmers accept and enbrace this ambiguity in the messages they send to consumers about the milk they produce?

Must they tow the line of 3-a-day fat-free and low-fat dairy as the only message of clarity because that is the edict written by USDA in its Dietary Guidelines?

Should they be pursuing the digitization of 2500 milk metabolites as the way to pair dairy with certain brands and products to fit personalized diets and ignore the backdrop of confusion about what real milk and dairy are?

The first rule of marketing 101 is that ambiguous messages don’t work. They leave the impression that there’s nothing special about one choice over another.

But that’s the point for the multinational global corporations, some of which make up the pre-competitive work of DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

They call it innovation, but it is really subjugation – the act of bringing farmers and consumers under domination and control.

They are asking dairy farmers to give away our precious wholesome true message about milk – especially whole milk — so that processors can mix and match protein sources as they see fit.

Of course, they tell us this is for sustainability’s sake and for saving the planet by keeping diets within planetary boundaries, but we all know the score: It’s about corporate profits and control of food… and land.

We knew that already, didn’t we? The dairy transformation strategy is to be the protein that processors choose to include by being the low-cost producer. 

DMI isn’t interested in promoting whole milk or the nutritional value of whole milk as a superior choice. This is obvious no matter how ardently the outgoing DMI CEO Tom Gallagher repeats the mantra that DMI championed the return to full-fat dairy and whole milk. 

He said this again during the World Dairy Expo discussion when New York producer Jay Hoyt stood up to say none of this “bright” transformation future is going to matter if we can’t promote and provide cold whole milk to kids. Gallagher’s response was that no one would be talking about whole milk if DMI had not been the leader on the full-fat dairy research and whole milk message. (What did I miss?)

The transformation strategy of DMI is to be a versatile, low-cost commodity that can be separated to blend and fit and filter its way into dozens of new products, that it has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated and then selected for personalized diets offered on iphone apps, that it ‘meets Gen Z where they are’ in the immersive learning world of gaming.

This is a game for sure. But who wins?  Certainly not dairy farmers or consumers.

The transformation strategy has no place for promotion of 100% real whole milk and dairy, nor a clear message about what milk is, what it does for you. No place to remind consumers about why they love milk because they’ve helped over the past decade parrot USDA’s propaganda so that Gen Z doesn’t even know they love milk because they weren’t given whole milk – until grassroots promotion efforts started turning those tables.

If we all stand by and twiddle our thumbs — letting the global corporations make the decisions, control the narrative, bow to activist triggers, and define ‘where our consumers are’– by the time DMI and friends are done with dairy, it will be unrecognizable, without a clear message about the real milk diligently produced on our dairy farms.

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DMI umbrella covers seen and unseen

New tax-exempt entities form — some with aliases — as checkoff funds flow to partnerships

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 20, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) umbrella keeps expanding to include a growing number and assortment of tax-exempt 501c3 and 501c 6 organizations, all having addresses of record being either DMI headquarters at 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 900, Rosemont, Illinois, or National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) headquarters at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia.

Several file their public IRS 990 forms under alias names, so these forms are a challenge to find. Some of the boards of these related organizations are not announced except on these IRS forms.

In reviewing IRS 990’s, many of these boards are comprised of the executive staff of prominent multinational dairy supply chain companies as well as executive staff and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives based in the U.S. and from other countries.

In addition to those IRS forms we could find for 2016-17, there are new organizations that are being formed since 2016-17, for which no IRS forms are yet publicly available.

One up-and-coming new organization is the so-called Center for Dairy Excellence, which is the product of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Innovation Center for U.S Dairy under their Dairy Sustainability Initiative and Dairy Sustainability Alliance.

At a recent dairy risk management seminar in Harrisburg, Pa., a panel of DMI staff mentioned the new “Center for Dairy Excellence”, which they said is unrelated to Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, it just happens to use the same name.

An internet search shows the information about this new center is available in the password-protected “members-only” area of USDEC’s website, but the word is that it will be a new hub for product innovation and sustainability.

One point the DMI panelists made really hit home: “We want to move consumers away from the ‘habit’ of reaching for the jug and get them to be looking for these new and innovative products.”

Products that are rooted in what is increasingly the very hands-on work of national dairy checkoff through these proprietary partnerships that are facilitated by this growing series of related tax-exempt organizations that are then able to push decisions about how checkoff funds are used further into the proprietary pre-competitive hands of the global dairy supply chain and multinational corporations that serve on these related boards.

The companies involved benefit from DMI’s ability to use tax-exempt status to conduct new product research and market testing paid for by dairy farmers under entities such as the Dairy Research Institute — a 501c3 organization that files under the alias name of Dairy Science Institute Inc. and includes several university laboratory sites, including Cornell, where the new fake butter made with water and 10% milkfat was recently discovered and paid for by New York dairy promotion dollars (reported in Farmshine Sept. 6, 2019).

The Dairy Research Institute is referenced at the websites for National Dairy Council and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, but most of the links to their work are in a password-protected “members-only” area. Attempts to sign up to view this information were denied.

Yes, dairy farmers pay for the research, the market testing, and so forth, and the companies then bring these products into the marketplace via the national dairy checkoff funding stream via the tax-exempt status of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Having gathered as many related IRS 990 forms as we could find (due to the confusing use of alias names), there are some interesting things to learn about how the vehicle of dairy industry consolidation and trends in promotion and research have been forming since 2008 — right under our noses — and how the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff continues to fuel the global supply chain engine.

IRS 990 forms show how executive staff for large multi-national companies – some of them based in other countries – are influential in charting this course under the mantra of “pre-competitive collaboration”, which of course makes it all confidential and proprietary.

These related organization boards include leaders of companies and cooperatives based not just in the U.S. but also in New Zealand, China, Netherlands, Canada and Denmark as they acquire assets and form joint ventures in the U.S.

The 2011 implementation of the 7.5-cent import promotion checkoff that perhaps gave entities like Fonterra the entitlement to help shape this direction, leading UDIA to transfer ownership of the Real Seal to NMPF, which now charges companies a licensing fee to use the Real Seal. (More on that another day.)

While a main focus of the USDEC and U.S. Dairy efforts is to increase exports, it is interesting to note that these gains have had a reverse effect on dairy farm milk price revenue, according to a recent study by dairy economist and supply chain expert Chuck Nicholson (more on that, too, another day).

Suffice it to say for now that export volumes were higher in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019, while dairy farm level milk prices were lower in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019. In fact, former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called 2018 “a banner year for exporters.” For dairy farmers, 2018 was anything but banner.

Meanwhile, Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC and a primary leader on the board of U.S. Dairy, is heavily promoting two of DMI’s new internal campaigns: 1) The “Next Five Percent” campaign wants to move exports from 15% of U.S. milk production to 20% within the next two years, and 2) The Net Zero Initiative wants the entire dairy supply chain at net zero emissions by 2050.

Let’s open the DMI umbrella with a short summary on some of the DMI-funded 501c3’s and 6’s by their known names and aliases. (We published a timeline for some of the major pieces under the umbrella in Keep in mind that NMPF is intrinsically involved in at least two: USDEC and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. These are the two organizations spawning a growing number of new tax-exempt organizations under DMI’s umbrella.

U.S. Dairy Export Council

USDEC and NMPF share offices at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C., according to forms filed with the IRS. According to financial audits, DMI and NMPF trade and buy services from each other, and NMPF rented offices from DMI in Arlington until 2016 when these offices were sold.

In 2017, USDEC listed NMPF as an independent contractor paid $1.85 million for “trade services”.

USDEC paid DMI $6.5 million for management services in 2017, while also listing $6.4 million in salaries and employee compensation.

USDEC’s total revenue was $24.6 mil in 2017, of which $1.43 mil came from membership dues, $5.7 mil from government grants and $17.1 mil from DMI. This means that USDEC received 71% of its funding from national mandatory dairy checkoff and 23% from government grants with just 6% of its funding coming from the membership dues paid by the corporations and cooperatives that are significantly represented on the USDEC board of 140 directors.

The chief financial officer for USDEC in 2017 was Carolyn Gibbs, who was also listed as the CFO for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Halfway through 2017, she left this position to become a principal officer of Newtrient LLC, another related organization formed under the DMI umbrella in 2017. IRS forms for this organization are not yet publicly available.

Before coming to DMI, Gibbs spent 13 years at Kraft Foods, Inc. Her consulting work today with Newtrient LLC is described as “industry outreach, strategy, Net Zero Initiative, and project continuity.”

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — a 501c6 formed in 2008 — is officially known to the IRS as Dairy Center for Strategic Innovation and Collaboration doing business as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The national dairy checkoff organizations increasingly refer to this organization simply as “U.S. Dairy,” and the website for some of its activities is USDairy.com.

According to DMI’s IRS 990 form, this organization is directly controlled by DMI.

The “collaboration” has a small budget of around $115,000 for each of the past three years and no paid staff. But it is the hub of new tax-exempt organizations as well as trademarked initiatives.

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy describes its reason for tax-exempt status on the 990 forms, as follows: “…to provide a forum for the dairy industry to identify opportunities to increase dairy sales through pre-competitive collaboration. It combines the collective resources of the dairy industry to provide consumers with nutritious dairy products and foster industry innovation for healthy people, healthy products and a healthy planet.”

On its 990 forms, U.S. Dairy lists its board of directors — a who’s who of chief executive officers and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives as well as multinational dairy processors. The board also includes DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and of course Vilsack.

The Dairy Sustainability Alliance

A key subset of The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is The Dairy Sustainability Alliance, trademarked by DMI in June 2017. A search for The Dairy Sustainability Alliance at guidestar.org, a database of non-profits, brings up Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform is a tax-exempt organization formed and incorporated as a 501c6 in 2012 and it lists its physical address as DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.

It describes its tax-exempt justification as follows: “A pre-competitive collaboration of dairy sector organizations, the Global Dairy Platform works with its global membership, scientific and academic leaders and other industry collaborators to align and support the international dairy industry to promote sustainable dairy nutrition.”

Chaired by Rick Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the Global Dairy Platform (GDP), has a board of 12 executives representing the following corporations, cooperatives and organizations: Fonterra (New Zealand), Saputo (Canada-based multinational), Leprino (multinational), Land O’Lakes, Meiji Holdings Ltd. (China), FrielandCamprino (Dutch multinational), Arla (Denmark multinational), China Mengniu Dairy Company and the International Dairy Federation.

Donald Moore was paid nearly $600,000 as GDP executive director in 2016, the most recent IRS 990 form available. Moore currently also serves as chairman of the International Agri-Food Network and the Private Sector Mechanism to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.

DMI senior vice president Dr. Greg Miller is listed as the research lead for the GDP, and he is currently also serving on a food and sustainability committee with the UN World Health Organization. He was the highest paid DMI executive in 2017 at $1.49 mil (including benefit package and deferments).

GDP had revenue of $3.74 million from DMI in 2017 — $2.6 mil for program services and $1.12 mil in the form of grants in 2016. According to the IRS 990, $583,329 of this revenue came from the import checkoff assessment. Research projects accounted for $1.85 million of expenses.

Newtrient LLC

Until July of 2017, Carolyn Gibbs was listed as chief financial officer of USDEC and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, where she assisted with the launch of Newtrient LLC, another tax-exempt 501c6 formed in 2018, according to Gibbs’ bio at newtrient.com.

Newtrient falls under the Dairy Sustainability Alliance (Global Dairy Platform), which comes under the Dairy Sustainability Initiative.

No IRS 990 forms are available yet for Newtrient LLC.

Newtrient is described at its website (newtrient.com) as “an entity focused on turning waste into renewable energy and other commercially viable products, while reducing dairy’s environmental footprint and improving economic returns for dairy farmers.”

Dairy Research Institute

The Dairy Research Institute is a name trademarked by DMI, but the IRS recognizes this 501c3 as Dairy Science Institute Inc. doing business as Dairy Research Institute with a physical address at DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Ill.

The Institute describes its tax-exempt status to the IRS as “created to strengthen the dairy industry’s access to and investment in the technical research required to drive innovation and demand for dairy products and ingredients globally. The Institute works with and through industry, academic, government and commercial partners to drive pre-competitive research in nutrition, products and sustainability on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the National Dairy Council and other partners.”

The Institute is primarily funded by DMI with reported revenue of $1 million in 2016 and $785,935 in 2017. However, from 2013 through 2017, the Institute received a total of $24.3 million from DMI, including it’s first-year startup grant of $19.16 mil. in 2013.

Its officers are listed as Dr. Gregory Miller, president, Tom Gallagher, chairman and Carolyn Gibbs, CFO through July 2017 (before heading over to Newtrient and being replaced by Quinton Bailey).

Dr. Miller is also the research lead for Global Dairy Platform and chief science officer for the National Dairy Council (NDC), a 501c3 tax-exempt organization formed in 1969 and today controlled by United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) and managed by DMI.

GENYOUth

While the sustainability organizational rollouts have been ongoing since 2009-10 memorandums were signed between USDA and DMI, another organization was simultaneously formed while Tom Vilsack was Ag Secretary in 2010 through a three-way memorandum of understanding between National Dairy Council, USDA and the National Foodball League.

This 501c3, of course, is Youth Improved Inc. doing business as GENYOUth, describing its tax-exempt status as “activating programs that create healthy, active students and schools, empowering youth as change-agents in their local communities, engaging a network of private and public partners that share our goal to create a healthy, successful future for students, schools and communities nationwide.”

DMI is listed as GENYOUth’s controlling organization and paid one of its partners, the NFL, $5.6 million for promotion in 2017, according to IRS filings. 

At the same time, in 2017, GENYOUth’s most expensive “charitable activity” was listed as Fuel Up to Play 60, costing $5.4 million and giving considerable advertising exposure to the NFL among future fans. That year, the NFL contributed less than $1 million to GENYOUth, and that year the NFL also received $5.6 million from DMI.

Alexis Glick, a television personality until 2009, has been GENYOUth’s CEO since its inception in 2010. In both 2016 and 2017, she was paid $259,584 as “compensation for services provided under an independent contractor agreement.”

Other employee compensation totaled $517,165, including vice president Mark Block, at $221,000. Pension plans and other employee benefits totaled $110,026 and other professional fees paid to contractors totaled $2.36 million.

Since 2010, the organization has brought donors to the table including some of the multinational dairy and foodservice corporations DMI is working with in other tax-exempt product innovation and ‘sustainability’ ventures.

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