Checkoff Successes of 2022 Set Foundation for New Year

  • 4 min read December 19, 2022
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

We talk a lot about having a dairy checkoff that is “future ready.”

It’s our belief that for the checkoff to continue its goal of driving sales and trust, we must continue adapting to a changing consumer base and marketplace challenges that we could not have imagined just a few short years ago. As a result, we are operating with a “Checkoff 2.0” mindset that you saw come to life in 2022 and will take on a sharper emphasis in the new year.

A very important part of our focus that Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) CEO Barbara O’Brien emphasizes is the importance of having “farmer fingerprints” on the things we put into action. It’s her way of assuring there is greater transparency and buy-in of checkoff strategies.

I enjoy taking a pause during this time of year for some reflection while looking ahead to the new year. Some checkoff accomplishments are rooted in our tried-and-true strategy of working in partnership with others. One of the most effective ways we can stretch our checkoff dollars and impact is to have others bring their dollars, expertise and resources to the table.

I’ll start with the announcement of our five-year collaboration with the renowned Mayo Clinic, which shows how we are doubling down on research. Mayo brings a trusted and known name to the table for consumers and the organization very well complements our National Dairy Council (NDC) and its century-long legacy.

Our NDC experts will work with Mayo’s scientists, physicians and others to conduct research focused on milkfat and dairy’s benefits related to chronic disease as well as exploring new claims opportunities around immunity, calm, energy and digestive health.

Bringing cheese to chicken

While much is known about the great successes our foodservice partnerships continue to deliver through the likes of Taco Bell, Domino’s and McDonald’s, our checkoff zeroed in on an untapped opportunity: we engaged in the infamous “chicken wars.”

You’re likely familiar with how many foodservice leaders responded to consumer demand for next-level chicken sandwiches. But we saw how many overlooked a key missing ingredient: cheese.

Here is some telling math on the chicken-and-cheese possibilities. The top five U.S. quick-serve chains produce about 3 billion chicken sandwiches every year. However, about 2.3 billion are reaching consumers without a slice of cheese. That’s well behind the hamburger channel where roughly 85 percent feature cheese.

So, imagine what could happen if we helped increase cheese use frequency by these quick-serve leaders? This is why the checkoff has a new partnership with Raising Cane’s, one of the country’s fastest growing chains that appeals to a younger consumer audience. Like we do with other partners, we are providing Raising Canes’ with insights and menu innovation ideas that stretch beyond the chicken sandwich and into beverage and other opportunities.

Increased social presence

One of the strongest examples of “future-proofing” is our growing social media presence. We know this younger generation isn’t looking at the morning newspaper or the evening news like we did. Instead, their information sources span the virtual world where global connectivity puts any bit of information and news at their fingertips.

We recognized the need for dairy to have a strong presence in the places where these consumers are. And we’re doing it in partnership with highly well-known influencers, including maybe the biggest of all – MrBeast. He is a gaming and YouTube icon with millions of followers, and he shares insights about dairy – including those based on his visit to a farm – in videos and games.

We also created a “Dairy Dream Team” of social media influencers who have a collective following well into the millions. They understand the most effective way to connect with their audiences and one of the biggest wins was a video that sparked the “butter board” craze, which offered an entirely untapped and fun way for consumers to enjoy butter.

Exports keep surging

It would be impossible to talk about 2022 and not bring up the work of our checkoff’s U.S. Dairy Export Council, which continues to expand our sales in the international marketplace. U.S. dairy exports hit a record pace in 2022, which is quite remarkable given the challenges the industry has faced. Shipping issues – high costs, port congestion, unreliable scheduling – have made things tough for exporters. China, the world’s largest dairy importer, has experienced an economic and dairy import slowdown due to its zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy and high inventories. Inflation hasn’t helped, either.

Yet, despite these challenges, U.S. dairy export value after the first 10 months stood at $8.08 billion, eclipsing last year’s record of $7.75 billion set over 12 months. Through the first 10 months of 2022, U.S. dairy export volume was equivalent to 18% of U.S. milk produced.

I’m confident that the checkoff successes of 2022 have us off and running with high momentum into the new year. I also am excited to see an increased emphasis on strategy transparency, an integral goal to maintain checkoff confidence.

I wish you and your families all the best in 2023.