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Dairy industry gets creative to reach new customers
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Dairy industry gets creative to reach new customers

Milk tanker

Milk from the Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative's 25 farmers is collected and delivered for cheese production. The farmers have provided about 3.5 million pounds of milk per month to Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, which has created 400,000 pounds of cheese per month.

Looking back on 2020, life didn’t change much for dairy farmers but it changed dramatically for the promotion of dairy products, said Marilyn Hershey, chairwoman of Dairy Management Inc., the dairy checkoff-funded trade organization.

She spoke on a webinar Dec. 17 that reviewed 2020 dairy sales and gave an outlook for this year.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that closed many restaurants last spring, domestic sales were expected to be down. Instead, they increased 1.2% over 2019, said DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, speaking during the call.

“If anyone would have placed a bet on that last March, people would never have guessed we’d be at that level,” he said.

The rise of domestic sales can be attributed to unique partnerships within various industries, Gallagher said. Earlier in the year, DMI and the checkoff program partnered with Papa John’s and Domino’s to promote dairy through pizza sales.

One unique research opportunity paid huge dividends, Gallagher said, as they worked with Domino’s in Japan to perfect contactless delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of this is to overcome what we lost with restaurants,” he said.

Hershey said she was proud of the work DMI did to ensure that new opportunities were met “fast and furiously” throughout the year.

She attributed dairy’s success to the partnership the industry has built over the years and said that state and regional partners helped dairy processors market and sell their milk to grocery stores, available restaurants, and consumers who needed it.

“(The partnerships) came out in so many strong ways during the COVID experience,” she said.

Gallagher said that dairy’s newest partners, YouTube influencers, helped dairy tremendously during the pandemic promote dairy to the newest generation and influence their opinions on farming in general.

The last piece mentioned during the call was the expanding need for dairy to help push the “carbon neutral” initiative growing in the U.S.

DMI president Barb O’Brien said that half of consumers said the pandemic made them more aware of environmental concerns while 58% of Americans said that the same attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic should be paid to climate change.

“It was clear that consumers wanted more than just taste from our products,” O’Brien said. “More and more companies are looking for ways to work with farmers to identify solutions versus top-down approaches and absolute demands.”

Earlier this year, dairy groups outlined a plan for the entire industry to become carbon neutral by 2050. O’Brien said that plan is relevant now more than ever for consumers looking to improve their carbon footprint.

Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 605-335-7300, email or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.

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