Partnership Work Discovers Opportunities Far From Home

  • 5 min read June 23, 2021
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

When farmers through their checkoff began a partnership with Domino’s in 2009, the focus was helping the chain revitalize the pizza experience for consumers, which included innovative ways to use cheese and more of it.

We worked together on the chain’s American Legends line launch, as well as the Domino’s Smart Slice program, which is designed to offer pizza to schools that meets USDA’s meal regulation patterns. Both efforts are still going strong today.

At the time, the thought of working with Domino’s to sell more pizza in places such as Japan and the Middle East seemed, well, like a world away.

“When we started with Domino’s, nobody had any idea of the impact we’d have,” said my fellow DMI board member Skip Hardie, who operates a dairy farm in New York. “We had a very small beginning that has blossomed in ways we never could have imagined.”

But that’s exactly what happens when you find a partner that shares the same business goals, aspirations and values as dairy farmers. Skip has a front-row seat into the checkoff’s partnership efforts outside of the U.S. as chair of the DMI International Partnerships Committee. He is one of 12 dairy farmers who work with DMI’s Amy Wagner, who serves as executive vice president of global innovation partnerships.

Amy stays in constant communications with her Domino’s counterparts, and over the years the conversations began focusing overseas. Amy brings strategic partnership opportunities to the committee, where Skip and his team give them consideration. If the committee deems the opportunity achievable and in the best interests of dairy farmers (i.e., will it grow exports of U.S.-produced dairy?) it then is brought to the full board for a vote.

If approved, DMI’s staff begins offering our partners its expertise in menu development through access to our talented dairy scientists as well as consumer insights and marketing support.

Our first international venture with a partner came with Pizza Hut in 2017 in the Asia market where we have found a consumer base hungry for pizza and U.S. cheese. There are so many unique learnings when you enter a market such as Japan and it’s important to meet the needs and palates of those consumers.

There, pizza is seen as a special occasion offering and not eaten as frequently as we do here in the U.S. For example, 14 percent of quick-service restaurant sales in the U.S. are via a pizza. In Japan it’s 1 percent. We’ve also learned that Japanese consumers love toppings we may find to be rather different for our tastes, such as crab and shrimp!

Two years after the international Pizza Hut business launched, we began similar work with Domino’s Japan. We helped the chain create the New Yorker pie, which uses 2.2 pounds of U.S.-sourced cheese. If this doesn’t demonstrate Japan’s love of cheese, I’m not sure what will! We had samples of this pizza brought to a board meeting last year and we can say it truly was a unique culinary experience. The pizza consists only of cheese and dough – no sauce – and it’s served with a packet of maple syrup or dried seaweed!

The good news for dairy farmers is that the volume of U.S.-sourced cheese used at Domino’s Japan has doubled since our launch. We’ve also worked with them to establish everyday value offers as we do in the U.S. and are helping them promote their delivery and carryout business, making pizza more accessible.

This success paved the way for our latest announcement, which is a partnership with Alamar Foods Co. Alamar owns 455 Domino’s stores in the MENAP (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) region and is a Domino’s master franchisee, which is very common internationally. Alamar follows Domino’s corporate guidelines but operates with latitude to meet the needs of its customers in its region.

Our partnership will focus on about 300 Alamar locations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with a goal of increasing U.S. cheese sales overseas. As we do with Domino’s Japan, DMI will offer technical expertise on menu development and marketing support to Alamar. Our hope is this will springboard us to more growth opportunities in this region and Africa.

We can’t underestimate the power of partners and our ability to be at their side as we dive further into the international marketplace. Consider these facts about Domino’s foothold across the globe:

  • Domino’s is the No. 1 pizza company worldwide with 11,000 of its 17,000 stores located in 90-plus international markets.
  • Domino’s had global retail sales of more than $14.3 billion in 2019, split almost evenly between its domestic and international businesses.

Domino’s sees DMI and our checkoff resources as a definite asset to help enhance its pizza experience for consumers around the world, just as we did about 12 years ago in the U.S. The template that has worked so well here now holds amazing potential for us in places far from home.

I like how Skip frames it: “Domino’s is a trusted and familiar partner who is leading us into unfamiliar places. They are allowing us to be part of their massive international footprint.”

We also want to acknowledge the important role our checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) plays in our partnership work. USDEC provides valuable insights and resources that make these business decisions happen more easily.  

It’s sometimes staggering to think that 96% of the world’s population resides outside of the U.S. But we see a growing appeal for a Western diet and how the pizza category remains an untapped opportunity.

Thanks to checkoff partners such as Domino’s, more and more of these consumers just may have the chance to experience the goodness and quality of U.S.-produced cheese.