Bringing More Dairy to More People through Our Partnership with McDonald's

  • 4 min read November 26, 2018
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

As I mentioned in my blog from last month on Domino’s, a key priority of the checkoff plan is the work that we do together with our partners that represent the leading food service and retail brands both here in the U.S. and globally. Our investment includes providing partners like Domino’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut –with consumer insights, product development and nutrition expertise to develop new menu choices that include dairy and that in turn, find new markets for farmers’ milk.

McDonald's Triple Stack

This month, I wanted to share some highlights of our partnership with McDonald’s, which officially began in 2009, although our work with them started in 2004. McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant company, with approximately 14,000 restaurants in the United States. On average, McDonald’s feeds the equivalent of the total U.S. population every 11 days!

Over the past 14 years, our work together has spanned a variety of new and visionary food/beverage innovations that have featured real dairy, including: 

  • Single-serve plastic milk jugs in 2004, which gave consumers, especially kids, a great-tasting and more convenient way to enjoy milk on the go.
  • The launch of McCafé in 2008, bringing specialty coffee featuring real dairy to mainstream consumers. Today, 90% of the McCafé beverages feature dairy!
  • Our first on-site dairy food scientist in 2009 – a model that continues today with not one but two onsite checkoff food scientists working in partnership with McDonald’s menu teams.
  • The conversion back to butter in 2015 that was a game-changer for the industry.

These innovations and the on-going work of the check-off scientists and McDonald’s partnership leads have contributed to 80% of the McDonald’s menu featuring dairy today – across breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And 33 of the dairy menu items carry the Real Seal.  

These highlights are also behind what helped McD’s increase their dairy usage by 1.2 billion pounds of dairy since the start of the McDonald’s and DMI partnership. 

When we look at partnership value, the decision to go all butter is one that stands out. Their commitment for better-tasting products had a catalytic effect on other Quick Service Restaurants. 

Taste was also a factor when McDonald’s decided to give their famous Quarter Pounder with Cheese a makeover. They started by making the burger with fresh beef, and in the advertising of the burger they saw a double-digit percentage increase in sales. That means more cheese out the door.

They are also committing to ongoing innovation in McCafé coffee drinks that feature real milk. This commitment to innovation and to continuing to feature real milk led to a fluid milk uptick at McDonald’s. Their whole milk usage is up year-to-date through the second quarter.

McDonald’s is a visionary company with a strive to serve better experiences to their customers, both in food and value. They continue their “clean label” efforts by removing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from their core menu items.  Last year, they moved to a clean label ice cream and this year, a clean label American cheese. They are the first QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) to do this, giving their customers an additional “feel good” reason to enjoy dairy.

As part of its global Scale for Good initiative, McDonald’s committed to making Happy Meals that meet key nutritional requirements including a caloric limit (600 calories or fewer per meal) and reductions in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. This meant that chocolate milk jug was removed as a Happy Meal option on the menu board screen. However, chocolate milk was and is still available upon request. The move did not waver sales of the milk jug. In fact, McDonald’s saw a rise in chocolate milk sales in 2018 by 12%. They are also looking to bring “new news” to the category in the future.

There is no doubt that McDonald’s has moved the needle for dairy sales. Midway into our second decade, we still see innovation, commitment and vision toward dairy products. That needle will surely continue to move our product. 

And we see their commitment to us as dairy farmers and suppliers to their system.  This past Farmer's Day, they featured a dairy farmer story via their social channels.  And, they are one of our top dairy customers to publicly voice their support of the National FARM Animal Care Program on their website.

With their broad reach of over 37,000 restaurants worldwide and the title, “largest restaurant company,” we are fortunate to partner with McDonald’s. Since 2004, our partnership has continued to grow and strengthen and I am confident that working together, we can continue to offer their customers new and exciting – plus great-tasting – ways to enjoy dairy and to learn more about the positive impact dairy and dairy farmers have on local communities.

If you have any questions about our McDonald's partnership, feel free to leave a comment below or you can reach out directly to me at You can also join our new Dairy Checkoff Farmer group on Facebook.