Driving Global Dairy Demand

  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I often hear farmers ask, “why does checkoff need to work on exports when we could just increase domestic demand for dairy?”

Checkoff’s work in export markets is complementary, not competitive, with our efforts to grow domestic sales. While there is always work to do in the U.S., we were thrilled to see last year’s retail sales data show that 97% of American households purchased dairy. 

I’ve had the unique opportunity to participate in trade missions abroad and have seen the impressive potential that export markets provide.

Building export markets is largely dependent on establishing relationships and understanding the ever-changing requirements to send products around the world.

Dairy farmers established the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) in 1995 to serve as a resource and build relationships with key markets looking for quality dairy products.

In 1995, the year USDEC was formed, exports accounted for 4% of milk production and were largely subsidized by the government. In 2023, the U.S. exported approximately 16% of our total milk production. That’s about one in six milk tankers that is sent abroad. I don’t know a single farmer who wants to cut their production by 16% if we were to move away from driving global demand for dairy.

USDEC is largely funded by the dairy checkoff, but also receives membership dues from co-ops, processors and other allied industry companies. Companies that choose to be USDEC members see value in having a resource to monitor the regulatory climate, identify changing import requirements and promote the use of U.S. dairy around the world.

It really struck me when I learned 96% of the world’s population lives outside of the U.S. Yes, we will continue to grow domestic demand but there is literally a world of opportunity out there.

USDEC team members live and work across the globe and understand local customs and cultures. I keep mentioning the importance of building relationships for export market access and these employees are key to building a strong understanding of market opportunities and making the right connections.

I’d be remiss to not mention that understanding local markets also means being respectful of the way those populations wish to consume dairy. We consume dairy differently in the U.S. and we shouldn’t force our  ways of consumption on other countries.

While participating in international trade missions, I’ve tried some unique ways to consume dairy and while they surprised my American palate, they are popular locally.

One of the most interesting products was a shrimp-flavored cheese puff. Whey powder provides a salty flavor without sodium, which has strict limits in some markets.  

We’re also seeing growing interest in pizza around the world. Some toppings, such as seafood, may not mimic what we see in the U.S., but the convenience and delicious taste of cheesy pizza has global appeal.


USDEC founded the U.S. Center for Dairy Excellence in Singapore where we can test innovative ideas to explore incorporating delicious and nutritious U.S. dairy in regionally tailored foods. There’s a lot of power having local employees working on food products that meet consumer demands ranging from flavor preferences to ongoing sustainability efforts.

Domestic and international checkoff strategies go hand-in-hand. Dairy farmers produce high-quality milk and dairy products that are desired by consumers near and far. Your dairy checkoff team will continue to find innovative and regionally appropriate ways to leverage these products and the people who produce them. I’m excited to see what the future holds as we continue to build upon established relationships and create new opportunities.