New Youth Strategy Keeping Us On Trend

  • 4 min read August 22, 2023
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

One expectation farmers should have of our dairy checkoff is this: keep us on trend.

The world grows more different and more complex by the day, including when it comes to the decisions people make on the food they consume. Without question, much of what they eat is based on what is trendy and following what they see others do, especially online.

Is there a social media influencer promoting a diet or food choice that has worked well for them? What’s hot among chefs and foodies? What about dietitians and other health professionals – what are they talking about based on the latest research?

It’s easy to get dizzy, if not lost, trying to keep up with it all. But if dairy isn’t on trend and isn’t on people’s minds when they are making food choices, that to me is the biggest threat our industry faces.

Thankfully, our dairy checkoff teams nationally and locally are tuned into the chaos and offer strategies that follow the trends. We have teams of experts who identify opportunities that lead to the ultimate goal of our plan that does not waver: grow sales of and build trust in dairy.

Focus on youth

If I were to ask 100 farmers who the most important audience is for the checkoff to reach, I’d probably get 100 hands in the air affirming it’s our country’s youth. They don’t just represent a generation of dairy consumers today, they will be the ones making decisions down the road on what to feed their families.

Today’s trends are shaping opinions they’ll likely carry into their purchase decisions as adults. And we all understand how challenging it can be to change hearts and minds, especially when it comes to something as personal as our dietary choices. One size certainly does not fit all.

Our checkoff has seen the trends and responded accordingly when it comes to youths. For many farmers, when we think of youths, we think of schools. No doubt, we have held a secure place in schools for many decades. For the last 13 years, our strategy took the form of Fuel Up to Play 60, which grew to become the nation’s largest in-school health and wellness program done in partnership with the NFL.

But times change. What worked so well these last 13 years may not be what we need to propel us through the next 13. Just think about all that has occurred over the last three years with the impact of a pandemic that affected schools and students in ways that may never be reversed.

Kids, for example, are more tuned into the immunity and calming aspects of life and are looking for foods that can deliver these benefits. When teachers finally returned from the virtual world, many of the tools and resources used during remote learning were incorporated into their classrooms. They, too, must be reached differently.

One of the more visible changes this coming school year will be a shift from Fuel Up to Play 60 to the Fuel Up platform. We’re also transitioning our NFL partnership to a no-cost collaboration where we’ll look for opportunities that make sense to both sides.

Dairy-based STEM

An exciting addition to our schools work is the dairy-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum. A few of my farming peers around the country have opened their doors to teachers and curriculum writers to show just how many STEM attributes play out on our farms every day.

This curriculum plans to be implemented in several states by early 2024. It holds so much potential for kids to have a touch point with our farms to see how the milk we produce is done in a way that is good for the planet and our cows.

STEM is a great complement to the Adopt-A-Cow program that launched in 2011 thanks to support from the American Dairy Association North East. Today, 12 state and regional teams have implemented Adopt-A-Cow to bridge the ever-widening gap between kids and our farms.

While more school-based strategies are in the works that we’ll talk about another day, the checkoff is leading a broader “youth” strategy. We’ll maintain our secure place in schools, but we’ll go beyond the classrooms and cafeterias and into the different life stages a person experiences.

This includes reaching mothers of young children and moms-to-be with a message of how dairy can positively impact cognition and overall brain health. The “first 1,000 days” of a child’s life beginning at conception presents a fascinating and promising opportunity for dairy.

Components of our dairy products, including iodine and choline, have proven benefits to a child’s brain health that we are sharing broadly. The checkoff is partnering with influential health outlets, including those with large social media footprints, where we know young mothers are heading for information.

These examples and others represent a refreshed excitement about the checkoff’s evolving strategy.

Following the trends led us here; following the trends will guide us into the future.