Feeling Energized by 2022 Plan

  • December 27, 2021
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

December usually is a time when a space such as this is used to look back and reflect on the year that was.

Nothing against 2021, but I’m already deep into 2022, as is the dairy checkoff.

I'm not trying to gloss over any accomplishments from this past year. We had much to celebrate and you can read about that work here. But I am incredibly energized about 2022 after a recent board of directors meeting when the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) staff walked through the Unified Marketing Plan (UMP).

The plan is a continued emphasis on building sales and trust. We’ll continue studying consumer trends and we’ll deliver a message of sustainable nutrition, which will be woven into everything the checkoff does nationally and locally. This is dairy’s opportunity to win with consumers, who purchase foods with a “good for me, good for the environment” proposition.

We saw a lot of success last fall leading with a new way of looking at dairy’s unique nutrition benefits, particularly those focused on immunity, calm, energy and digestive health (ICED). Taking science such as this and modernizing it for consumers, especially Gen Z (ages 10 to 23), is imperative. It’s no longer about leading with the traditional “essential nutrients” message.

Gen Z has grown up in a very different world than most of us have. They are more connected than any generation before them thanks to social media and other technologies. But they also are disconnected from where their food comes from. They number 70 million, and they have redefined expectations for brands and industries

But we know dairy is suited to meet their needs. Dairy has what they seek and the way we demonstrate our unparalleled benefits of wellness for mind, body and environmental impact will be our edge against competitive beverage options. So, you’ll see a Gen Z emphasis being part of many 2022 strategies.

Partnership emphasis

Partners continue to be a key aspect of our work and it’ll be a mix of those you’re familiar with and an introduction to some you have yet to meet, including in the health and wellness space. Our partners are a powerful source of sharing our farms’ story of responsible production and some have stepped up with support of the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative.

The successful foodservice partnership model that has worked so well here in the U.S. will continue to grow internationally. DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships team and the checkoff-founded U.S. Dairy Export Council are working to open more doors in international markets, where consumers have a growing appetite for U.S.-produced dairy. Think about just this possibility with pizza: about one-third of the U.S. population, which numbers 330 million, eats pizza once a week. In countries such as China, with a population of 1.4 billion, that frequency is much lower – maybe a handful of times or less a year. There is tremendous upside if we can continue changing the perception that pizza can be more than a special occasion option.

From a dairy use standpoint, you’ll see more focus on smoothies, particularly at schools. This is another way to reach Gen Z as the smoothie channel is underdeveloped at schools and foodservice. We also understand the need for a better all-around school milk experience, which is why we’ll continue to explore working with dispensing companies that offer ways milk can be served ice cold and in a multitude of flavors.

There also is an incredible opportunity for getting more cheese on chicken sandwiches. Quick-serve restaurants in the U.S. sell about 2 billion chicken sandwiches each year that do not contain a slice of cheese. This is about 80 percent of a booming category. If the 20 percent of chicken sandwiches that do have cheese grew to 30 percent – and that growth meant a 5-ounce slice of cheese on every item – that’s an additional 700 million pounds of milk moved every year!

This is why the checkoff is engaging with Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s, where dairy isn’t as prominent on their menus as it is at other chains. We’re also working with one of our oldest partners, McDonald’s, as it ups its presence in the infamous “chicken wars.”

Fluid milk innovation

Another exciting opportunity involves dairy’s use with tea-based beverages and energy drinks. Here again is an avenue to get more dairy into the hands of Gen Z consumers, who make these beverage options a part of their daily routine. We also see yogurt as a category we can reignite, and the checkoff will work with companies such as General Mills to bring more innovation into these products.

We’ll continue partnering with fluid milk companies to spur innovation. We’ve seen plants commit billions of dollars so far, but we know there is a higher level to reach, including packaging that touts some of the ICED benefits. And once these products are in retail outlets, we need to become disruptive. Dairy needs a modern presentation and more of a front-of-store presence for shoppers who never make their way to the back of the stores where the dairy case usually is situated. Imagine more milk-on-the-run opportunities for products that feature ICED benefits!

Beyond these bricks-and-mortar outlets, the checkoff will continue to focus on e-commerce where dairy’s growth on platforms such as Amazon and Kroger has been very encouraging. This is a critical space as more consumers are becoming comfortable with the idea of buying groceries without ever setting foot inside a store.

There is much more to the 2022 plan, but these are just some high-level highlights that caught my eye and offer exciting possibilities for our farmer and importer funders.

So, a fond farewell to 2021, and a very enthusiastic welcome to the new year!