Dairy category sales are up, Whole milk is the star, up 14.5%
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 18, 2020
SINKING SPRING, Pa. — “This is an easy message to sell, and sales of whole milk are way up,” said Eric White about the Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” grassroots milk education campaign.
White is director of marketing and communications for Redner’s Markets, headquartered in Reading, Pa. with 44 stores, 35 of them in central Pennsylvania, the balance in Maryland and Delaware.
He was not surprised by the grassroots marketing campaign for whole milk: The painted round bales started by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, the banners promoted by retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey, and the social media and website promotion by 97 Milk.
When Morrissey visited him some months ago, White was eager to join in.
The “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free stickers” are up on dairy cases at Redner’s Markets locations, White had them made with the signature red type on white background. Clover Farms Dairy, the milk bottler in Reading that supplies milk to all Redner’s stores, indicates they will be changing the case strips to promote whole milk too.
White is also putting up the “Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard signs in the store above the dairy case and on the grounds as well.
Both the grassroots stickers and the signs include the 97milk.com website where shoppers can get more information and milk education. The Redner’s Dairy cases also include the Choose PA Dairy signs, featuring photos of local farms, and the chocolate milk refuel signage from the national and regional checkoff programs.
During an interview at the dairy case in the Redner’s Sinking Spring store this week, the impact was clear: Whole milk in the jug is very much the star of the show.
In fact, the Redner’s brand, bottled by Clover, has always been whole milk. Whole milk is the only milk that gets the Redner’s name. It has always been that way, says White.
He confirmed their whole milk sales have increased dramatically. Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic has had some impact, he said: “But when I look at January through March numbers, that is how it was tracking even before the pandemic.
“I pulled the numbers, and we have seen a 14.5% increase in whole milk sales, alone, which is tremendous,” White confirmed. “The consumer message has changed, and we see people coming back to whole milk, knowing that they don’t need to drink the lower fat milk. We give our own kids whole milk at home now. It’s better for isotonic replenishment.”
White also reported that sales for the entire dairy case are up.
“The whole dairy category is higher, with milk being the number one product selling from the dairy category, and whole milk the number one type of milk being sold,” he said.
White also sees how whole milk sales benefit local dairy farms. “There is a confluence in how these sales benefit local agriculture that we need to support more than ever. We are seeing the messages in the media. With digital and social media, the message spreads.”
“We want to thank Redner’s for being a leader,” said Morrissey. “They are pro-farmer, pro-education and pro-consumer. They are completely on the 97 Milk page of educating consumers about whole milk as immune boosting, like our sign says. Eric has been tremendous to work with. If every supermarket chain would start educating consumers about whole milk, we would see even more benefits for consumers and farmers. The secret is education, and Redner’s is the store that is out there in front of the pack, doing it.”
Eric White has been with Redner’s for 22 years. He notes that they have long partnered with Clover Farms Dairy for their milk. They feature Clover milk in all of their stores, along with other local name brands, and of course, the Redner’s brand — whole milk — is bottled by Clover.
“It’s not that hard to do this,” said White. “We are a local family-owned company, and supporting this message brings it full circle back to the local dairy farms that are the backbone.
“We can underestimate why we are in business, and it is only because of the farms producing the food,” he observed. “Dairy and agriculture are the backbone of everything here in central Pennsylvania. A lot of businesses are here because of dairy. We are here selling food and feeding people because of the farms.”
White notes that as Redner’s expands, they are also expanding the reach of the farms shipping to Clover. More distant store locations also feature brands local to those sites as well. In fact, it is Redner’s practice to work with local farms on in-season vegetables and fruits as well as year-round products like yogurt.
Morrissey agrees, he notes that the Morrissey Insurance business he founded in the 1980s is in multiple states and appreciates grocers with stores in multiple states supporting their local and regional farms. He stresses that one of the best ways to do that is to educate consumers about whole milk.
When Troutman started painting round bales with the “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” message in December 2018, he said he never thought it would go so far.
“This is a dream come true to know all that has happened in the past two years — from the stores to the signs to the website and social media — and how the message has gone to other states and around the world,” said Troutman.
He added that, “When people work with you and work together, that’s the key.”
Troutman recalled a Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon in December 2018. “I went home frustrated,” he reflected. “I looked around at what I had, and thought, I’ll paint a round bale with the message and put it out.”
The rest, as they say, is history — and it’s a history still in the making.
Morrissey recalls the first time he stopped in at Redner’s main office. “I didn’t know Eric at the time, and I didn’t have an appointment. He saw the banner I brought with me and was eager to talk with me.”
White had seen the message on round bales popping up around the area, and he was seeing the impact on Redner’s whole milk sales.
“The 97 Milk message was not much of a revelation to me because I always knew it. I drank whole milk growing up and through college. But my wife was convinced on fat-free. Now that we know drinking whole milk does not condemn us to a life of Lipitor — especially for our kids — she is buying whole milk for our family,” he says, adding that even their pediatrician recommended whole milk.
White points out that in today’s age of marketing and new products (not to mention government edicts for schools), there are a lot of opportunities for people to get off track in healthy eating — especially for children.
Morrissey, Troutman and White all agree that the beauty of the 97 Milk effort is how it has spread, and the beauty of social media is when the truth gets out, it spreads fast.
While not present for the interview, Gn Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC, added his voice of appreciation for Redner’s. “Milk education is a win-win for everyone involved. The biggest winner is the consumer. Thanks to Redner’s for being part of the milk education team,” said Hursh.
“Without Redner’s, without Eric, we could not accomplish this,” added Morrissey. “Redner’s is the leader in educating the public and being very transparent about why whole milk sales are good for consumers and for farmers.”
The importance of whole milk to consumers is evident. During the height of the pandemic last spring, White said consumers showed how much it is a staple they rely on. Even during our interview Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the forecast calling for a record December snowstorm in the area for the next day, the dairy case was very busy with shoppers and constant re-stocking of milk, especially re-stocking the shelves with Redner’s Farm Fresh Vitamin D whole milk – in demand!