DMI CEO on fluid milk

‘Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next.’

Schools represent more consumer touch-points for milk than all other sectors, combined

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 22, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The fluid milk category is receiving much attention after a decade of rapid declines in sales. What does the CEO of the national dairy checkoff organization DMI have to say on the topic?

For starters, he says the dairy industry should stop blaming the alternative beverages and start looking at its own failures.

In his CEO’s Report, delivered at the February DMI board meeting, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher addressed the fluid milk question. While no press release or public statement or copy of the CEO’s Report was provided to Farmshine, a video was posted to the private Dairy Checkoff facebook page and was subsequently provided to Farmshine by a dairy farmer participant.

Since Gallagher states while giving his “CEO’s Report” that this information is ‘public’ and that “we want you to take pictures of it and share it, do what you want with it, it’s yours.” So we are sharing with Farmshine readers what was shared with us by dairy farmers what was shared with dairy farmers via the closed facebook group.

Gallagher began his report talking about farmer engagement. 

“The power of the industry is within the industry, it’s the farmer,” he said. “We can commit to activating the dairy farmer at the local and national levels, then we can have a big voice, especially, on what it is that your checkoff really does.”

He talked about the changing world of consumer influence, saying that, “When you think about the things we need to do, more and more they are moving away from the things we are familiar with.”

From there, he referenced a presenter for the following day who would be talking about the future, about 3-D printing of food.

“Well, it’s not the future because you can go on Amazon today, and for $2000, buy a 3-D printer that will print dessert for you,” said Gallagher. “We think, why would people eat that? They don’t like processed foods. But the people who make those and the food production people — and hopefully dairy protein will be in that, not plant protein — they don’t need the 90% of people consuming your product. They just need 5 or 10 or 4% to have a very successful business. If that’s what people are going to be doing, we need to be there.”

Gallagher announced that DMI will be buying a 3-D printer, a few of them. “We’ll buy one, and we’re going to figure it out and we’ll figure out how to approach these 3-D printing companies with dairy-based proteins in foods to be used in them,” he said. “We can’t afford to be nickeled and dimed with 4% of consumers here and 5% there.”

He went on to observe that just 4% of consumers identify as vegan and that vegetarians are also a small number. “What is really driving plant-based foods and beverages is not predominantly the vegan movement, it’s because these companies are investing  hundreds of millions of dollars and are getting really good at taste, are phenomenal at marketing and great at innovation.”

He referenced diets that promote being vegan or vegetarian before 6:00 and other consumer trends.

“I think our goal is it is not either-or, it can be both… We have to be honest with ourselves, there will be plant-based beverages out there, and people will buy them, and they will gain share, not because people are vegan or concerned about sustainability… it’s because the food and beverage companies are doing a great job at what they do,” Gallagher said.

“If we do the same job in the dairy industry, we will be just fine. But if we sit back like we did with fluid milk, we will be where we are with fluid milk,” he added.

Referencing a report in the 1980s before the checkoff was authorized by Congress, Gallagher said: “That report laid out everything that needed to be done for fluid milk, and that same report would be valid today because none of it was done — not until fairlife and a few other things.”

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do,” said Gallagher from a marketing, not policy, standpoint. “Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry.

“Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s were we need to be,” said Gallagher. When it comes to policy, nutritional values and sustainability discussions, that’s another discussion we need to enter into.” 

In the breakdown on sales, he said foodservice milk is up slightly even though retail and other sectors are down. The data was by servings, and he explained how sales figures are pieced together and how program evaluations fit into those.

He also talked about a meeting DMI had with the top persons from the five top coops for packaged fluid milk salesn — DFA, Select, Prairie Farms, Darigold and Maryland-Virginia — along with Jim Mulhern of NMPF, Tom Vilsack of USDEC, Rick Naczi of ADANE, Marilyn Hershey, president of DMI, along with a former CEO of fairlife with some insights. 

“We came out of that meeting as positive about fluid milk as ever on how the industry can work together to change the trajectory,” said Gallagher, explaining that they looked at how much of fluid consumption is really pushed down into Class II, and to see if getting and including that number, what that would do to the per-capita fluid milk consumption numbers. 

“The group focused on kids. Kids is the deal — at 6 billion containers a year, when everything else is 5.3 billion,” said Gallagher. “So while schools only represent 7.7% of consumption, it represents more touch-points with consumers than everything else combined. So, they, on their own, quickly came to the conclusion that we have got to deal with the kids for a variety of reasons — sales and trust. And they asked DMI to put together a portfolio of products for kids inside of schools and outside of schools. What are the niches that need to be filled? What’s the right packaging? What needs to be in the bottle? And we can do that,” he said.

Depending on the results of the next meeting, the circle could be expanded. And regulatory, legislative and standards of identity issues were brought up that DMI can’t be involved in, but NMPF can. 

Author’s note: Meanwhile, all of those kids in school, those 6 billion touch-points for milk every year that surpass all other touch-points for milk, combined, are forced to consume (or discard) fat-free or 1% milk. The simple answer would be to give them whole milk that tastes good so they know what milk is vs. trying to re-invent the wheel. As an industry, we can’t know what the per-capita fluid milk consumption figures would look like today if the 60 billion touch-points over the past 10 years had been permitted by the government to consume whole milk. Before reinventing some pre-competitive proprietary wheel, shouldn’t those touch-points (schoolkids) have an opportunity to try real whole milk?

To be continued

Are we going to keep zigging? Or is it time to zag?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 8, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — In Part 7 last week, we looked at some of the questions still unanswered by DMI regarding GENYOUth. As noted, a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created in 2009-10 and signed in 2011 by USDA, National Dairy Council and the NFL has not been provided.

Data requested on the “before” and “after” purchases of dairy by FUTP60 schools has also not been provided.

The question about total funds provided by DMI in addition to what appears on the GENYOUth 990 form has also not been answered. However, the 2016-17 DMI audit reflects amounts that are almost double what appears on the GENYOUth 990s.

And the question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth and any knowledge or concern DMI may have about Edelman’s role in the EAT FReSH Initiative was simply not been acknowledged, let alone answered.

This is the concern that is perhaps most vexing, and here is the what the public record tells us.

Richard Edelman sits on the board of GENYOUth and as previously mentioned, he is credited with recruiting GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick in a marketing publication’s story about her taking this position.

The Edelman firm is listed as a corporate sponsor of GENYOUth, including the board seat held by Richard Edelman, but the firm is not listed as a donor of funds on the GENYOUth IRS 990s, except that Richard Edelman, himself, is on record donating $25,000 in both 2016 and 2017.

Edelman is widely considered the world’s largest and leading public relations and marketing firm with offices worldwide. Based in Chicago, the firm, according to the writings of Richard Edelman himself, has been involved in work for DMI (Dairy Checkoff) for 20 years.

The firm is listed among the 41 corporate sponsors (logos pictured below) of the EAT FReSH Initiative. This Initiative is an extension of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

And, in Edelman’s own words in a May 2018 blog post, “Edelman has partnered with FReSH to help accelerate transformational change in global food systems.”

As reported in Part 6 of this series, Danone and PepsiCo are just two companies among the 41 corporate sponsors that are Edelman clients, and both companies planned new plant-based non-dairy “look-alike” product launches to coincide with the EAT Lancet Commission and EAT FReSH launch in the first quarter of 2019.

Edelman is best known for its annual Edelman Trust Barometer shared with the world’s leading business CEOs each year at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland.

Purpose driven marketing is their thing.

DMI will not acknowledge our question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth. Our question about the link between Edelman and the marketing of the EAT FReSH Initiative was also not acknowledged.

However, on the secret Dairy Checkoff facebook page, we have received screenshot copies of answers given to farmers who have asked the checkoff staff questions about this. In those one-to-one facebook group replies, DMI staff are stating on the one hand that “Edelman is not involved in EAT Lancet.” On the other hand, stating that, “we should be glad we have someone representing us there.”

So which is it? And who is representing whom?

What we found in the public record is that Edelman is not, technically, on record as “the” marketing firm for EAT Lancet. The situation is far more subtle, and clever, because Edelman “loaned” their Amersterdam office account director, Lara Luten, to the EAT FReSH initiative for at least one year prior to 2019’s EAT FReSH launch.

This was confirmed in Richard Edelman’s blog post at the company website in May 2018 where he did a series of questions and answers about the work Luten was doing with the EAT FReSH Initiative during her second 6-month “secondment” with EAT FReSH.

A “secondment” is defined as the detachment of a person from his or her regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere. 

In the blog post, Richard Edelman asks the firm’s Amsterdam account director on loan to the EAT FReSH Initiative what has been most interesting in her work with FReSH.

Her answer: “The current (2018) preparations for the EAT Stockholm Food Forum and the EAT Lancet Commission Report. But also: Setting a basis for communications for the FReSH team.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

He asks her what she has learned from this partnership that can be applied to other work, and Luten replies: “Working in a pre-competitive environment on a project (EAT FReSH) that is driving impact by leading the change. I’m also gaining in-depth knowledge about the food system (its topics and stakeholders) that will definitely be useful for other projects.”

So not only was the Edelman firm involved, but their involvement is “leading the change.”

In mid-January 2019, at precisely the point in time when the EAT Lancet Commission report was released and the EAT Forum and EAT FReSH Initiatives were launched, Luten left her employment with Edelman to take the job as manager of communications for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

What is the WBCSD? It is described at its website as “ a CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business.” It is made up of the 41 corporations, including the Edelman firm, that have launched the EAT FReSH Initiative.

In her new employment as WBCSD communications manager, Luten now carries on the public relations, social strategies and marketing she began planning, organizing and laying the groundwork for during the time that she was employed by Edelman “on secondment” to this 41-corporation group now launching the EAT FReSH Initiative.

It all fits together with how Edelman does business. This is not in any way a question of ethics. Plenty of marketing agencies work for competing accounts in the world of advertising and public relations. There’s nothing new about that.

There’s also nothing new about this concept of working in “pre-competitive” environments where products and marketing are developed in a way that all corporations involved can utilize in their own new product campaigns.

This is, in fact, a signature way that DMI has also functioned over the past 10 years. In addition to GENYOUth, the Sustainability and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy began similarly with an MOU between DMI and the USDA, and it also includes the participation of dairy processors in a pre-competitive environment to develop and initiate innovations and sustainability measures. One example to come out of that pre-competitive environment is the innovation of ultrafiltered milk known as fairlife. Another example is the F.A.R.M program.

The goal of these pre-competitive collaborations is to give all corporate participants something they can use in a way that takes away a competitive edge.

What is concerning for dairy producers — who are mandatorily funding DMI — is that this has folded dairy promotion into a broader setting of corporations working in pre-competitive environments to pass back through the supply chain requirements about how things are done on the farm.

Toward that end, Edelman has actually played an even larger role in DMI projects over the past 20 years and especially in the past two years in coming up with the design of the Undeniably Dairy campaign. Again, purpose-driven marketing is an Edelman specialty.

And it seems noble to drive marketing with a social purpose. More companies today engage in purpose-driven social marketing, aiming to win consumers by showing what they are doing to address social concerns, such as the environment. In fact, they create problems to fit the solution they want to market.

In its own way, each corporate member of pre-competitive collaborations then capitalizes by introducing products that solve a real or “created” need in this realm of social purpose.

Here’s where it gets cloudy for dairy farmers. The government mandates that dairy farmers pay 15 cents per hundredweight for education, research and promotion. DMI administrates the use of the national portion of these funds and even sets the direction for regional funds — under the ever-more-micro-managing-oversight of USDA via two key MOU’s (GENYOUth and Innovation and Sustainability Center for U.S. Dairy).

DMI’s association with Edelman over 20 years has increased its alignment with purpose-driven marketing via pre-competitive environments with food supply chain corporations. On its surface, that doesn’t sound so bad.

But here’s another way to look at this trend. As one creative strategist, Zac Martin, stated recently in his opinion piece for an ad agency publication, “purpose” was 2018’s “most dangerous word.”

Martin defines “purpose” in marketing in the context of “brands aligning with and promoting social causes, almost always seemingly out of nowhere.”

This is most definitely the road we are on. We are being told that consumers don’t want to know what you know, they want to know that you care. We are told that consumers make brand choices based on the “why” not the “what.”

Some of this comes from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer and other research where consumers are surveyed about who they trust in their buying decisions.

But what information do consumers actually use when they buy? Price, flavor, freshness, perceived nutrition. 

Are we part of the problem? Are these alignments helping or hurting the promotion of actual milk?

Think about this. EAT FReSH is just the newest and most transformational example of how a “why” – climate change and the environment – are being used to sell new food products based on their fulfillment of a created “why”.  

What could be more perfect than to use unsubstantiated “science” to make untrue claims about certain food and agriculture impacts and then use that as a selling point for a whole new product answering the “why” that has first been created?

The EAT Foundation even has the new “planetary” diet patterns outlined (1 cup of dairy equivalent a day, a little over 1 ounce of meat/poultry/fish a day, and only 3 ounces of red meat per week, and 1 ½ eggs per week for examples). Within that context, the participating corporations are now coming out — simultaneously — with a whole bevy of new beverages, snacks and staples that do not contain any animal protein. Protein is played down and favors plant protein (incomplete proteins) and refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup is just fine.

They’ve created the “why” (planetary boundaries that they have set) and now they can sell consumers the products (fake meat and fake dairy) that fulfill that social planetary purpose that they themselves have convinced us we need!

Looking at this ‘social purpose’ trend in marketing, Zac Martin states the following: “The fad (of purpose-driven marketing) seems to driven by the likes of Simon Sinek, who notoriously said: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ But Simon is wrong. It’s a claim made without substantiation.”

In fact, Martin observes that purpose-driven marketing to is made up of “feel good” stuff that promotes and aligns with social causes while doing little as a sound marketing strategy.

Undeniably Dairy feels good. Telling our “why” feels good. Do consumers need to understand more about what happens on a dairy farm, why we do what we do? Of course! But this does not substitute for sound marketing of the dairy farmers’ product: Milk.

Martin says this trend amounts to “brand noise” that is “a sign of desperation”.

He defines purpose-driven social marketing as “fabricating an experiment, presenting pseudoscience disguised as research,” and all the while appearing “authentic.” (Think EAT FReSH).

He makes the point that when everyone is zigging, maybe it’s time to zag. I could not have said it better myself.

This series of articles is not meant to question the good intent of good people doing what they believe is good for their industry. Rather, the point is to show the direction dairy promotion dollars have taken since 2009 and some of the guiding principles that are not working.

Going back to part one, the graph showing fluid milk consumption trends could not be more clear. What we are doing is not working — unless the objective is to sell less fresh fluid milk, especially whole milk, that returns the highest value to farmers and keeps dairy farms relevant in communities, especially in the eastern states, while selling more global dairy commodities, at cheaper prices, fueling rapid expansion of more consolidated and integrated dairy structures in the western states.

Dairy Checkoff has been aligning more closely to USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines when nothing in the Congressional Act establishing the Checkoff states that it must. Dairy Checkoff has been aligning in pre-competitive environments with corporations that turn around and push us right out of the dairy case with non-dairy alternatives that fill a social purpose of their own creation.

Dairy Checkoff has partnered with fast food chains that help sell more cheese, and yet one pre-emptive cheese company is a primary beneficiary, and rapid milk production expansion in certain states follows with that.

Dairy Checkoff has bought-in to the idea that rapid expansion of exports is a primary mission, when that actually lowers the farm-level milk price because the focus of those sales is the lower-value commodity dairy.

Meanwhile, the marketing largely ignores the best selling point we have: Nutrition and Flavor in the domestic market.

Now the pressure is on for Dairy Checkoff promotion to draw more farms into “telling our story.” As noble and wonderful as this may be, what’s the 15 cents doing to actually sell milk, to win back the milk market we’ve been losing in the process?

We have a simple product. It doesn’t have a list of additives to make it look, feel and sort of taste like milk, it IS milk.

We have a nutritious product. Nothing else on the market comes close.

We have a delicious product. But we have to market the tasteless version and train our children to dislike milk by doing so… because somehow we have ended up in a place where the government’s dietary police are in charge, and we either must obey, or we just think we must.

Telling consumers our ‘why’ can be a good thing, but with 15 cents per hundredweight forked over by farmers by government mandate, the question remains, what is being done to truly sell the “what” — the actual milk that comes out of the cow because of all the good things farmers do. 

Consumers don’t know squat about milk. That’s being proven over and over again, despite over $300 million a year in mandatory promotion funds deducted from farmer milk checks for promotion.

We’ve been zigging with the ziggers long enough.

Maybe it’s time to zag.

(The graph below shows us what has happened to per capita real fluid milk consumption since 2010 while we increased the amount of zigging, suggesting it is time to zag.)


This graph illustrates what has happened to fluid milk consumption and the steep drop-off since 2010 while the dairy industry has increased the amount of zigging with the ziggers. It may be time to zag, especially when we see that consumers — where given a choice — are CHOOSING whole milk more frequently since 2014 even though the checkoff message is still fat-free / low-fat.

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‘Consumers are smarter than us, they are buying more fat.’

Covington more optimistic for dairy in 2019

(Above) Calvin Covington is the retired CEO of Southeast Milk, Inc. and formerly with American Jersey Cattle Association and National All Jersey. He has published many articles in Hoards Dairyman and other publications and is respected for his insights on milk marketing. Covington came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from his home in North Carolina on Jan. 29 to talk about dairy markets — from the Northeast perspective — at the R&J Dairy Consulting winter dairy meeting. The previous week, Covington spoke at the Georgia Dairy Conference in Savannah, giving the Southeast outlook and perspective there. He also shared with producers that butterfat is driving milk check value because consumers are smart, they are choosing whole milk, butter and full-fat natural cheeses. He urged producers to hold their industry organizations accountable on selling and promoting fat and flavor. He encouraged farmers to focus on pounds of components to improve milk prices at the farm level.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, February 1, 2019

EAST EARL, Pa. — Bringing a bit of good news, along with good understanding, of dairy markets, Calvin Covington kicked off R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy seminar Tuesday (Jan. 29) talking about what needs to happen for milk prices to improve.

He had the full attention of the 300 dairy producers who gathered at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl for the meeting, where they learned that Covington anticipates 2019 Federal Order blend prices in the Northeast to improve by $1.00 to $1.50 in 2019 compared with 2018.

“But it’s going to be a walk, not a run. they will move up gradually,” he said. “Last year, I was pessimistic. This year, I am a lot more optimistic.”

Covington also talked about the “4 C’s” that need tochange as the major factors to improve farm level milk prices: Consumption, Cow numbers, Components and Cooperation.

“The most important is consumption,” said Covington. “What is the consumer telling us?”

He showed a graph of how overall dairy consumption has steadily increased on a solids basis from 2000 though 2018, and he displayed a chart (above) showing that the consumer is telling us they want the milkfat — that it’s the solids in the milk — the bufferfat and protein — that give milk value.

“Exports are growing. That’s where most of our growth in demand has been coming from… but we export commodities — milk powder, whey, lactose,” he said. “We export very little butter and cheese.”

While he said exports are of course important to the milk check, he emphasized the need to focus on domestic demand, which has been overlooked and “presents real opportunity. What can we do to lift domestic demand and make that happen?”

In a word, said Covington: “Milkfat. That’s number one. We in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers are a whole lot smarter than we are. They are figuring it out. They are buying more fat… and we need to sell thatt.”

He said that the average fat content of all types of fluid milk sales from fat-free to whole milk — nationwide — is 2%.

“If that moved up by just 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 percent, the difference in farmer milk checks would be substantial. Fluid milk sales have been declining (in total), but whole milk sales are up three years in a row,” Covington explained.

“Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it.”

He also pointed out how per capita butter consumption is at its highest point in over 10 years.

“That’s big, and that’s why the butterfat price in your milk check is double the protein price,” said Covington, explaining that in addition to butter, natural cheeses are one-third fat, that we forget about.

“Natural cheese consumption is higher, but it’s the processed cheeses, that contain less fat, that are moving lower,” he said.

He noted that for many years, the research said fat is bad for us.

“Now smart people are showing this to be false and we have books and articles about how butter, cheese and whole milk are good for us.”

Covington noted that what the industry needs to focus on is giving consumers more of what they want and not being afraid to “sell more fat. That will up your milk price,” he pointed out, encouraging producers to focus on pounds of components because this is the majority of how their milk price is determined.

He shared a story about meeting Queen Elizabeth in England with one of the oldest Jersey herds in the world. Those cows produce more than 6% fat, and that’s what she drinks and she’s 92 years old.

He also observed that the Queen knows as much about cows and agriculture as about anyone he’s met.

Look for more highlights and details from Covington’s fascinating discussions and his 2019 market outlook for the Northeast and the Southeast in a future Farmshine.

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Global thoughts Part 4: As exports grow, who benefits from ‘new math’?

GlobalThoughtsPart4_Chart#2 (1).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine, June 7, 2018 and examines the utilization of domestic Class I fluid milk vs. exported commodities during the worst three months of pricing at the beginning of 2018, but the trends show how FMMO pricing no longer provides the value to farmers for their milk as exports increase. Read Global Thoughts Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — U.S. dairy exports posted record-high 2018 first-quarter volumes (see Chart 1), representing 17.3% of U.S. milk utilization on a milk equivalent basis, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). (Note, the average Jan. through Oct. was 16.3%, still a record high.)

This, against the backdrop of Class I milk utilization falling to 29% of Federal Order pooled milk but just 18.9% of total milk production in the first quarter of 2018 (Chart 2).

In fact, Federal Order pool reports for first quarter 2018 showed Northeast marketings 1.8% below year ago as pool receipts fell due to reduced production. At the same time, other FMMO pools recorded declines in pool receipts, which USDA confirmed by email were largely due to shifts in pooling or strategic despoiling to prop up Class I utilization percentages. (For example the pooled first quarter receipts in the Appalachian Order were up 6% while down 5.5% in the adjacent Mideast Order.)

globalthoughtspart4_chart#1The total “official” U.S. Class I utilization for 2017 was 26.1%, down nearly 10% from 35.9% in 2009, according to USDA figures.

However, the Northeast Market Administrator’s most recent bulletin (April) observed that the real percentage of total U.S. milk production used for Class I fluid sales in 2017 was just 22.3%!

Bob Younkers, chief economist for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), analyzed fluid milk trends, reporting in February that the 2017 fluid milk losses, alone, represented 20 million fewer pounds (2.3 million fewer gallons) of milk sold daily – nationwide – in 2017 vs. 2016. In addition to the blow dealt to producer milk checks, Younkers points to how the fixed costs of bottling increase when spread across fewer gallons of milk sold.

Coming into 2018, not only have first quarter Class I sales declined 1.5% compared with first quarter 2017, the Class I utilization percentage fell by even more — down 2.5% below year ago — in part because exports grew to this new first quarter record of 17.3%.

Left unchecked, the current math trend shows that as U.S. exports reach the goal of 20% set by the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), the percentage of milk utilized in export sales will very soon equal and surpass Class I utilization as a percent of total milk production.

Who benefits from this new math?

If the current classified pricing system — and its Class I regulation — must continue, perhaps the growing export utilization should have its own class formula tied directly to export pricing and representing growth milk in the U.S. system so that the other 80% of milk pricing can be more stable and reflective of serving that large anchor-base of domestic consumption?

Survey the experts on this idea and they’ll tell you an export class for U.S. milk pricing is a non-starter because of trade agreements and WTO. But trade agreements are being renegotiated and others in the global markets have mechanisms in play.

Perhaps instead of going after Canada’s export class implemented because of expanded production due to higher consumer demand for fat, the U.S. could learn from what’s being done north of the border with this pricing mechanism to match exports prices and products to growth milk that goes into products strictly for export?

This is not an idea that goes against free trade, but one that recognizes the U.S. as a free-trader in need of fair trade leverage for producer pricing.

The U.S. must be competitive enough to have its products arrive at other ports, so that it can remain competitive enough to keep other products from arriving at its ports — where a large market for dairy already exists. In Part Three, we looked at some of the product differences.

 But there’s another catch to this romance with export markets. They can be unstable and unpredictable, and while we make more of the globally significant products today than in 2008, our product mix and flexibilities are different than other successful exporting nations.

Would an export class allow pricing of growth milk — a percentage of the nation’s production or a percentage of production in high growth areas — to be aligned to the fluctuating global markets for globally-significant products with a margin to attract necessary investments in manufacturing flexibility and innovation? Such alignment could, at the same time, allow a more stable and profitable base price for milk going into dairy products for domestic consumption?

After all, we are increasing exports to levels that are approaching the falling Class I utilization percentages and yet NONE of the globally-significant products and/or prices are even used in the arbitrary U.S. Federal Order pricing formulas, to which location differentials are added to ensure the Class I price is always higher (more on this when we tackle logistics in a future part of this series).

As dairy exports become the new epicenter of U.S. marketing, a different light is cast on these regulatory pricing structures.

Let’s look at the differences between global and domestic pricing and trading platforms.

 For starters, price announcements to dairy producers in New Zealand are based on the actual value of global sales with producers buying shares of processing capacity for the quantity of milk they expect to produce. As milk falls short or exceeds those pegs, payout announcements are adjusted based on the relationship of the production to the sales.

In Europe, producers also see milk prices that reflect the value of what is sold not a formula like in the U.S. that leaves key products, prices and markets out of the math equation.

While Europe’s quota system has ended, the EU commission intervenes with purchases. Processors more nimbly shift between products to adapt to market changes. And if they miss in their projections — as they did in the shift to making more powder when the Russians stopped buying cheese and butter due to the economic sanctions — the EU commission intervened to buy and stockpile that powder to a degree that still is blamed for suppressing the global market for powder and holding back the U.S. milk price recovery.

In addition to differences in pricing, there are big differences between global and U.S. price discovery and trading platforms.

While the CME daily spot market in Chicago went electronic last year, the Global Dairy Trade (GDT) biweekly internet auction has always been an electronic platform.

The GDT engages more buyers and sellers, offers contract sales that are near-term and forward-looking to create what is essentially a 2-month ‘spot’ price, according to Bialkowski and Koeman’s November 2017 study at the University of Canterbury New Zealand of spot market design in relation to the success of futures markets.

They explain the GDT biweekly auction is a vehicle for Fonterra to market 30% of its production and to provide a global exchange for other sellers like Dairy Foods of the U.S. and Arla of Sweden.

The GDT auction includes many products and ingredients — from bulk cheese and butter to whole milk powder, skim milk powder, anhydrous milkfat powder, buttermilk powder, lactose powder, milk protein concentrate, rennet casein and occasionally sweet whey powder. Whey protein concentrate is another globally-significant product, which the U.S. makes and exports a lot of – but that price is never considered in the FMMO classified pricing scheme either.

By contrast, the CME futures markets provide a hedging opportunity for Class III and IV milk and futures markets for the four Federal Order pricing commodities: Cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey. The CME also operates a daily cash “spot” market primarily for three of the four Federal Order commodities – butter, Cheddar and nonfat dry milk.

The CME trades only those specific Federal Order commodities. It is thinly traded with few buyers and sellers, although volume has increased 1 to 3% in the past year since the change to an electronic trading platform.

As a spot market for hedging, Bialkowski’s analysis described the CME cash market as one that is less well-designed because daily ‘spot’ prices are market-clearing and used retroactively in government pricing formulas, with a pricing delay built in, while GDT auction contracts offer pricing points for delivery one to four months forward.

The biweekly GDT prices are always based on actual sales because all product offered is sold. And those sales are weighted to calculate a weighted average for each product as well as an overall weighted performance index for the dairy trade.

The CME spot market, on the other hand, pegs its daily spot prices on the activity occurring in the final moments of its 15-minute daily trading session.

As we saw on a few occasions earlier this year, a CME trading session had multiple loads change hands at specific prices, but the daily spot price was determined by a lower last-minute offer.

Access to the market is also different. CME traders must simply have product to sell and meet payment and delivery terms to buy. The GDT, on the other hand, has a more controlled process where buyers and sellers are vetted and approved by Fonterra of New Zealand because they run the platform.

How will the U.S. dairy industry adapt to competitively manage export growth and volatility? Are changes needed in the mix of commodity pricing and milk utilization formulas that govern the regulatory pricing structures?

If industry leaders want to focus on export market growth and bring home the message that dairy farmers must accept lower prices “because we are in a global market,” then why is the government involved in regulating prices on the shrinking piece of the expanding pie (Class I) and calculating component value from just four commodities while ignoring the globally significant products and their mostly higher prices?

This is new math and it is not adding up.

A national hearing with report to Congress would help examine new thinking and take a closer look at current regulatory pricing schemes. How is price regulation affecting milk movement and location? Do these schemes return enough component value to the farms? Are the arbitrary make allowances creating winners and losers? Would truly free market forces do a better job? Or if classified pricing is here to stay, should we be aligning milk growth in the U.S. with export market growth and price it accordingly?

In Part Five, we’ll look at U.S. dairy imports and why volume is not the only important factor.

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New PMMB consumer rep sees dairy crisis from outside-in

Dr. Carol Hardbarger is digging in and looking at all angles of PA dairy crisis.

Hardbarger9825 (1).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Sept. 7, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Solving problems, bridging gaps, making connections, bringing different interests together – these are skills Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D. has been using throughout her career in education. Today, she brings a unique combination of skills and background to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB). She was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in May and confirmed by the Senate in June.

“It is a tremendous honor for this to come at the end of my career, to be asked by Governor Wolf, to meet with Senators during confirmation, and to have this opportunity to do something for the state and the dairy industry I love,” Hardbarger said in a recent interview with Farmshine at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg.

She reflects on that call from the Governor’s office, telling her she had been nominated and asking if she would serve. She promptly began looking at the information on what the PMMB does.

“There is a crisis in the dairy industry,” says Dr. Hardbarger. “Oftentimes, when there is a problem, there is a solution that can be obvious to someone looking at the problem from the outside, to go back to what the objectives are of an organization or project at hand, looking at what has been done and why it hasn’t worked.”

She talks about the smaller steps that may be missed in trying to get to an end goal.

“That’s how my brain is wired,” the intense, but easy-to-talk-to Hardbarger says with a smile. She is a big-picture thinker with an obvious knack for process details.

In every job before retirement, she was brought in to help solve a problem and was able to deal successfully with those situations.

The dairy industry issues go well beyond the regulatory aspects of the PMMB. As the board’s consumer representative, Hardbarger seeks a broader role in marketing and advocacy that is refreshing.

She has rolled up her sleeves to dig in, confessing that she loves an intellectual challenge.

Her intention to spend one day a week at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg, quickly became two days a week and has now evolved into a full-time 40- to 50-hour work week.

Hardbarger serves on the board with dairy producers Jim Van Blarcom of Bradford County and Rob Barley (chair) of Lancaster County. They are also putting more time in their roles.

“That’s okay,” she says. “In order to accomplish what the Governor and Senators have communicated, that level of time and organization is necessary.”

She spends her time combing through records, meeting with government and industry entities, opening lines of communication, and being helpful to staff, which has been reduced in recent years by unfilled retirements.

Hardbarger sees external communication and a visible, accessible board on “advocacy things” as vital for developing the relationships that lead to solving problems.

She started the PMMB facebook page and twitter feed (@PAMilkBoard), as well as an email newsletter to legislators and industry that will eventually broaden to consumers. She also helped organize upcoming listening sessions. There is no need to pre-register or pre-submit comments, and the board urges those who can’t attend to send comments electronically to ra-pmmb@pa.gov.

The first listening session was held Sept. 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. in western Pennsylvania. The second will be Oct. 16 at Troy Fairgrounds in northern Pennsylvania, and another is being planned for southeastern Pennsylvania, potentially in Lebanon in November.

In the office with staff through the week, Hardbarger says Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is lucky to have these individuals, who are “highly capable and dedicated in jobs that are not easy.”

On the road forward, she sees a starting point is identifying where there is agreement.

“We have to start with what we all agree are issues to address. Otherwise, we are just putting on band-aids,” says Hardbarger, explaining that such a “holistic approach” is a way for deep-rooted past, present and future issues to be addressed for the long-term.

“I have some concern as I listen to the various constituency groups in the dairy industry — the farmers, the dealers, the retailers, the consumers — that when they speak, for the most part, I hear a lot of individual agenda,” she relates. “I believe strongly that we must be able to look at the agendas of all the groups and somehow integrate them to come up with solutions and prioritize them.”

When Hardbarger talks about “systemic solutions,” as she did in her Senate confirmation hearing, she means the longstanding parts of the system that are “built into how the industry operates.”

She gives the example that some are talking about “temporarily suspending” the minimum milk price, which would require changes in the law.

“We told the Senate that we want to look at some legislative items and see what makes sense for 2018 and 2019,” says Hardbarger.

Another example is some want the over-order premium to end.

“They believe it is not working the way it needs to,” she says. “We are not hearing many suggestions to raise the over-order premium. It will be interesting to see what comments and ideas we get at the upcoming listening sessions.”

The challenge is, according to Hardbarger, “how do we blend a holistic approach to a problem and how it developed systemically over the years with legislation and regulation that was implemented in a time very much different from today.”

She says the board is taking a neutral approach as they look at impacts.

“There are some misconceptions about what the board can and cannot do… so I hope the newsletter and outreach will develop good lines of communication with the legislature while correcting misconceptions and give us the ability to come back to the Assembly with information they need,” Hardbarger relates. “We obviously have the two laws we are responsible for with the associated regulations. But as our name implies, we are ‘marketing.’”

Through facebook and twitter, Hardbarger posts things she sees every day of interest to dairy. The newsletter will eventually include a calendar, an information piece from the chairman, questions and answers by staff, and the school nutrition aspect will be discussed.

Asked why the PMMB’s facebook and twitter profile picture is the PA Preferred logo, Hardbarger responded simply: “We want to promote Pennsylvania dairy products.”

She gave the example of a recent step — sending information to retailers and processors on how special milk promotions can legally be done, and suggesting such promotions be linked to PA Preferred milk.

Hardbarger says she wants PMMB’s communications to be an information clearinghouse between the industry and the legislature and ultimately the consumer.

In developing her role as consumer representative, she is already pursuing relationships with consumer groups and civic organizations to provide information about the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products and what the industry means to Pennsylvania and its communities.

For example, Hardbarger has already reached out to school nutrition officials with ideas about how milk and dairy are nutritionally assessed within the USDA meal profile for school breakfast, lunch and after school programs.

“If milk and dairy products were separated from the nutritional analysis… we may see schools offer more milk and dairy in the morning and after school programs without having to fit into a total nutrition analysis,” she suggests, adding that this idea is being provided to Representative G.T. Thompson, who sits on the Congressional workforce and education committee as well as to U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey.

“We are also communicating with USDA on this issue of getting whole milk (unflavored) in the schools along with now flavored 1% milk,” she said.

PMMB also sent official comments to the FDA docket to enforce and uphold milk’s standard of identity, and sent emails encouraging others to do so.

Hardbarger understands the nutritional tightrope schools walk to serve foods and milk that students enjoy and will consume. She is aware of the steady drumbeat of scientific studies showing dairy as a complete protein and complete source of vitamins and minerals children today are lacking, as well as the positive dietary revelations about whole milk and full fat dairy, especially for children.

She remembers her youth and spending much time on her grandparents’ dairy farm in northern Maryland, of making and consuming everything from homemade cottage cheese, butter and farmers cheese to whipped cream pies.

And she reminisces about doing just about every chore on that diversified farm, pointing out a decades-old framed photo of her son as a child milking one of four Jersey cows the family kept at that time.

While her career has been in education and technology, she is quick to point out that she has been around farmers and agriculture all of her life.

“There is a passion people have for this life, this business. And the dairy industry is vital to the economy of our state and a big part of what defines us, of who we are,” the proud mother and grandmother two-generations removed from dairy farming explains.

Since her first day on the PMMB in early July, Hardbarger has encountered “no real surprises” but a fuller understanding of issues that have swirled for years.

What surprises her is “the differences of opinion among constituent groups and their differing opinions about what needs to be done,” and seeing how far the industry is from dealing with differences over coffee and a handshake.

“Now we have groups with lawyers and CPAs and very strong individual agendas,” Hardbarger observes. “That has surprised me. I wasn’t aware of how fractured it is. This is an observation, not a criticism, because each constituency has a business interest to protect.”

From staff development to planning a staff retreat, to emailing staff for their ideas, Hardbarger says the momentum is “forward,” even though it’s “frustrating” to learn that state bureaucracies do not move as quickly as desired and there are regulations for literally everything.

“We can’t” are words she does not like to hear.

“There are very few things in this world that cannot be done. It may be that we need to do them in a different or particular way,” says Hardbarger. “We have to fix this dairy crisis, and we can, if we get all the players involved.”

Toward that end, Hardbarger says her next goal is to have the PMMB work with other agencies in forming a “rapid response team” for dairy.

“We hear stories about how a vital bridge can be fixed within 40 days… how the state government made it easier to deal with regulatory processes and provided waivers to make something happen, fast, because it was economically feasible to do that,” she says. “Pennsylvania has a Dairy Development plan… and we need the same ‘rapid response’ in dealing with our dairy crisis.”

Looking ahead, she is most hopeful that, “We can get a working group together of one or two representatives of each constituency group… and start hammering out solutions to our problems, to talk honestly face-to-face about the issues and come up with a few solutions that will work, and that my time here will be productive.”

Adds Hardbarger: “The most rewarding thing so far is the people I’ve met. There is nothing like coming into the office in the morning and seeing smiles and enthusiasm among the staff and having positive responses and feedback from Senate and House staff, to see us moving in a direction.”

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PHOTO CAPTION Hardbarger9825

Retired education and technology expert Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D., of Newport, talks about the dairy crisis and her role as the new consumer representative on the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board during a recent interview at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg. She says the Bonnie Mohr painting behind her is a favorite reminder of youthful days spent on her grandparents’ dairy farm. “It also reminds me that the number of dairy farms throughout Pennsylvania help define who we are as a state,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

Global dairy thoughts Part I: Whirlpool of change. Who’s minding the store?

Part One of Six-part “Global Dairy Thoughts” Series in Farmshine

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, April 27, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Even though U.S. per-capita milk consumption is in decline, consumption of other dairy products is strong. As the industry devotes resources to new milk markets abroad and puts the fluid milk market here at home on commodity autopilot: Who’s minding the store?

While it is true that the U.S. dairy market is ‘mature’ — not offering the growth-curve found in emerging export markets — the U.S. consumer market is still considered the largest, most well-established and coveted destination for dairy products and ingredients in the world.

As U.S. milk production continues to increase despite entering a fourth straight year of low prices and market losses, industry leaders look to exports for new demand that can match the trajectory of new milk.

The U.S. has already joined the ranks of major dairy exporting nations, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) has set a goal to increase exports from the current 15% (milk equiv) to 20%. Keep in mind that as our percentage of exports increases while our milk production also increases, the volume of export markets required to meet this goal is compounded.

On one path at this fork in the road is the mature domestic market with its sagging fluid milk sector that is increasingly filled in deficit regions by transportation of milk from rapidly growing surplus regions.

This dilemma of getting milk that is increasingly produced away from consumers packaged and moved toward consumers was cited as a “tricky challenge” by Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Markets and Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his presentation on Changing Dairy Landscapes: Regional Perspectives at the Heartland Dairy Expo in Springfield, Missouri earlier this year. In this presentation, Stephenson pegged the Northeast milk deficit at 8 bil lbs and the Southeast deficit at 41 bil lbs. (More on this in a future part of this series).

On the other path at this fork in the road is the industry’s desire to expand exports within a global market that needs a 1.5% year-over-year global production increase. But, as the USDEC reported in its February global dairy outlook, global milk output is growing by twice that rate, mainly from gains in Europe.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulatory pricing structures are based on milk utilization. As the total dairy processing pie grows larger, the neglected fluid milk sector becomes a shrinking piece of the expanding pie, and income is further diminished for dairy farms.

The emerging export markets are rooted in the demographic of rising middle-class populations improving diets with dairy. And yet, just because these new markets offer new growth curves for new milk production, the anchor for this ship is still the U.S. market, still No. 1 as the largest dairy consumer sector globally, and still moving milk via Federal Order pricing that hinges on that shrinking piece of the expanding pie: Class I.

What are the obstacles to improving this sagging fluid milk sector? How are regulated promotion and pricing constraining restoration of declining fluid milk sales?

Over the past three years, two prominent and longstanding milk bottlers in the New York / New Jersey metropolis have either closed their plants (Elmhurst in New York City), or sold their dairy assets (Cumberland Dairy in New Jersey sold to DFA). Amazingly, the former owners of both plants are expanding into the alternative beverage space — adding new plant-based beverages to the proliferation of fraudulent ‘milks’ that already litter the supermarket dairy case.

GlobalThoughts(Chart1).jpg

While dairy milk sales decline, plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed.

At the Georgia Dairy Conference in January, Rob Fox, Dairy Sector Manager of Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisors, talked about big picturedairy trends, and he showed graphically the way these alternatives are eating into the U.S. dairy milk market. While dairy milk sales decline, the plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed. (See Chart 1)

Fox also showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil., with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil. (Chart 2).

GlobalThoughts(Chart2)

Rob Fox showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil.

Doing the math, Fox remarked that the plant-based alternatives now represent 8.9% of the combined dairy and plant-based ‘milk’ market. He said that in other countries with mature dairy markets, these alternative beverages tended to level off in growth when reaching 10% of total dairy market share. But at the same time, the combined dairy and plant beverage sector has also declined from 6.4 billion units in 2013 to 6.1 in 2017, according to Fox.

He noted the alternatives are also infiltrating other dairy product categories and that these ‘next generation’ products are offering much better nutrition than earlier versions. “But they will never compete with dairy milk, nutritionally,” Fox said.

What these alternative beverages have going for them, said Fox, is very high margins for processors and investors.

He explained that plant-based dairy products have low ingredient costs, are easier to manufacture, package, market and distribute and are seen as ‘greener’ and animal friendly. They are better positioned for e-commerce and kiosk-type retail outlets and are made by innovative marketing companies and startups with a market and margin profile that attracts investors.

Meanwhile, dairy milk is a highly regulated market with a prevailing commodity mindset worn down even more-so by supermarket price wars at the retail level, making it difficult for the dairy milk sector to adapt to U.S. consumer market trends.

U.S. consumer trends gravitate toward innovation and specialization so everyone can be a ‘snowflake,’” Fox explained, adding that areas of growth for the dairy milk sector will be full-fat in smaller containers, dairy protein in sports nutrition, and non-GMO branding. (No joke: Look for more later on genetically-modified, aka GMO, lab-manufactured products like Perfect Day that are actively defending what they see as their right to use the term ‘animal-free dairy’ because their product is said to be compositionally the same as milk, derived from genetically modified laboratory yeast exuding a white substance they say IS milk.)

That said, where is the true and simply original dairy in its re-branding process? What efforts are being made to compete to reverse this fluid milk market decline? Wouldn’t revitalization of the fluid milk sector also provide a demand pull for U.S. production growth?

Fresh fluid milk is not interchangeable on the global stage as are milk powders, fat powders, protein powders, cheeses, butter and aseptically packaged shelf-stable fluid products.

Meanwhile, the fastest growing surplus regions of the U.S. are busy aligning with retailer/processors and utilizing the Federal Order pricing schemes to pull their production growth into milk-deficit regions, leaving the milk-deficit region’s producers sending their milk to manufacturing homes in other Orders, or even looking for ways to export from eastern ports.

The U.S. has the water, the feed, the space, the transportation, logistics and support infrastructure, as well as a large existing domestic market to anchor the base production level of our nation’s farmers. The U.S. also has a legacy of dairy producers that are respected for their progress, animal care and food safety.

The ingredients for global success are here, but other factors need evaluation because the success is eluding dairy farm families as they face their fourth year of low prices and lost markets forcing increased numbers to exit the business.

In future installments of this multi-part series “Global Thoughts,” we’ll look more closely at the export side of this fork in the road, including the product trends, product and trading platform differences, imports, transportation and logistics, the role of regulatory pricing and cooperative base programs at a time when the dairy landscape is being forever changed.

As this series proceeds, thoughts and questions are welcome: agrite2011@gmail.com

 

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