The Evolution of Our Youth Strategy

  • 4 min read June 30, 2022
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I miss the days when my beverage choices came down to whether I wanted chocolate, strawberry or white milk. 

Today’s kids have seemingly endless options when it comes to what they eat and drink, not to mention a steady flow of information and potential misinformation about food and beverages that comes via global online connectivity that dominates so much of their day. 

I often wonder how they can make sense of it all. 

These changing dynamics have required the dairy checkoff to adapt how we reach kids. It has evolved to a more comprehensive “youth strategy,” which stretches into all the places they get information -- schools, social media and foodservice. 

It also has meant evolving our message beyond, “Drink milk. It’s good for you.” Our checkoff-led research has shown young consumers are looking for food and beverage attributes that align with their beliefs. They want to know how the product was made and if it came from a good place.  

They have new expectations with a powerful “what’s in it for me” proposition and are seeking products that deliver unique benefits, which inspired our strategy to promote dairy’s contributions related to immunity, calm, energy and digestive health

We carry this new message into our expanding digital presence and for good reason. On average, children ages 8 to 12 spend 4 to 6 hours daily watching or using screens. That figure jumps to 9 hours for teens. 

Because of their online engagement, dairy checkoff strategies are more present in various social media channels and we are working with influencers and even gaming personalities who share their experiences of virtually meeting dairy farmers and understanding the true source of the dairy they enjoy.  

Schools also are turning to more technology use in the classroom, a trend that was accelerated during COVID. The checkoff leveraged this opportunity to help close the gap between students and agriculture, bringing virtual farm tours into the classroom and expanding online lesson plans for educators to connect dairy’s health and sustainability to curriculum standards. 

I’m especially excited about a partnership we’re developing with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and Midwest Dairy to create an immersive school-based program focusing on dairy. 

We are collaborating on the first on-farm Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) dairy event, where educators will travel to Minnesota in July to see firsthand how science is brought to life through our dairies. The teachers will meet farmers, researchers, nutritionists and veterinarians to learn how our cows are cared for and how technology and innovative practices are advancing sustainability. The goal is for participants to use what they learn to craft lessons and activities to take back to the classroom. 

Powerful legacy 

Though our social media strategies will continue to expand, schools will remain a core focus of local and national checkoff teams to reach kids, and we are working from a place of strength. National Dairy Council (NDC) and our state and regional network have built long-lasting relationships with school communities nationwide for decades, and that is no small task considering as of 2020, there were 130,930 K-12 schools in the U.S., an average of 2,618 per state.  

Our efforts, however, have advanced beyond one-time onsite promotions and instead are focused on long-term-impact programs to enhance cafeterias to make them a destination, so kids want to go there. And it’s about putting dairy’s best foot forward and showing its amazing versatility and benefits once they enter this space. 

Maybe today’s students aren’t consuming milk like we once did at school, but they are doing it through methods we didn’t have available to us either. Checkoff teams locally and nationally are leading innovations such as smoothie and hot chocolate programs, coffee bars (featuring lattes that are up to 80 percent milk) and breakfast carts that make food – including dairy – easier for kids to access in their busy mornings.  

We’re seeing positive results with cafeteria renovations thanks to the checkoff-founded GENYOUth, which also has provided nearly $40 million in non-checkoff grants and equipment to Fuel Up to Play 60 schools. The checkoff also is conducting pilot tests with shelf-stable options and dispensing systems that could bring a new and exciting way for students to experience fresh, cold milk. 

Finally, even the work we do through some of our long-running foodservice partners such as Taco Bell is bringing dairy to kids in innovative and fun ways. Our checkoff food scientists at Taco Bell created two frozen beverages that use real dairy creamer and have been a hit with this rising generation. 

There’s no question today’s kids are living in a more complex world than the one I experienced when I was their age. Back then, there was a school strategy that worked well for dairy.  

But time doesn’t stand still and neither should the checkoff’s strategy to make sure dairy remains a relevant and contemporary part of kids’ lives today.