Valued Partners Part of Checkoff’s Strategic Shift

  • Article
  • 4 min read May 20, 2020
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

Our brand is your brand, and your brand is our brand.

That statement wasn’t made by anyone within the dairy industry. It was said by Russell Weiner, Domino’s chief operating officer and president of the Americas. He said it during one of DMI’s recent “Open Mic” calls where checkoff leaders and others provide regular updates to farmers.

Domino’s has been a checkoff partner since 2008 and, like those we have created with McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, they are critical to farmers’ success. Collectively, our partnerships have grown dairy sales by 2.2 billion milk equivalent pounds and averaged 3% growth since their creation.

Russell provided an historical overview of how DMI has helped Domino’s grow its business, sharing that more than 1 billion milk equivalent pounds have moved through the chain since the partnership began.

He spoke of how the checkoff helped Domino’s grow its emphasis on carryout, which now accounts for one of every six pizzas the chain sells. He shared that before the partnership, the number of schools Domino’s worked with “started with a zero and ended with a zero.” Today, Domino’s sells its Smart Slice pizza in more than 13,000 schools thanks to work with the checkoff.

Results aside, I’m always moved when I hear executives such as Russell speak directly to us. On this call, he expressed so much appreciation for what we do on our farms. He called us the “first responders to the first responders,” explaining how a steady supply of food that we provide allows those heroes to perform their jobs.

Partners such as Domino’s are critical to us all of the time. They are even more critical now as we battle through the COVID-19 crisis. Knowing they remain at our side should bring farmers a sense of comfort.

Business plan shift

The pandemic has caused DMI to pivot its business plan and we created four Emergency Action Teams that focus on diverting and redistributing dairy to two key areas – schools and hunger organizations. It’s about limiting milk disposal and getting dairy into the hands of people who need it the most.

Our partners are one of the areas of focus and here’s what they have so far done. Domino’s will donate roughly 10 million slices of pizza to people in need. The chain has worked with GENYOUth, Florida Dairy Farmers and United Dairy Industry of Michigan to help facilitate this in local markets. Taco Bell has offered free Doritos Locos Tacos on “Taco Tuesday” and McDonald’s has donated $7.2 million in food, including more than $1 million in dairy, to 140 hunger organizations.

Here are some highlights from the other Emergency Action Teams:

  • Schools: the GENYOUth organization that we created through our checkoff is generating money for schools to keep meals moving. There are 30 million kids who rely on school feeding programs, which include milk. But schools have had to shift to an entirely different way of providing meals and they need resources. GENYOUth’s COVID-19 Emergency School Nutrition Fund provides $3,000 grants to give them what they need. So far, GENYOUth has provided $5 million in cash and in-kind resources to 6,000 schools. This is helping schools but let’s not forget what it means to farmers, too, as 7% of our fluid milk moves through this channel. Domino’s also is part of these efforts as we explore how it can assist school nutrition personnel in distributing and delivering meals outside of the school building.
  • Hunger: one of our most valued partners is one that doesn’t produce a dairy product and that’s Feeding America. The organization works tirelessly to get dairy and other nutritious foods into the hands of 40 million Americans who face food insecurity. Feeding America has worked with DMI since 2012 and our efforts, along with those done through our state and regional system, USDA and MilkPEP, resulted in 353 million pounds of dairy moving through Feeding America’s 200 food banks around the U.S. last year. DMI and local checkoff teams have assisted Feeding America, including putting the organization in contact with co-ops facing excess supply. Kroger now will process more than 200,000 gallons that will be sent directly to Feeding America. Discussions continue on how to further grow the economic viability of the hunger channel for dairy farmers.
  • Retail: one of the more frustrating moments of this crisis came when we’d walk into a grocery store and see purchase-limit signs in the dairy case, while farmers were disposing milk. DMI went to work contacting most of the major chains to assure them there was not a milk supply issue and the signs were not necessary. State and regional teams followed suit with conversations with their local retailers and by mid-April most of the signs were gone. We continue speaking with retailers about how consumer purchasing behaviors have shifted and options such as eCommerce can position dairy for sustainable sales growth.

I hope this shift by the checkoff brings you some assurance that the DMI team is doing what it can to keep the milk moving. And I hope you see that we aren’t doing it alone and we’re leaning on decades-long relationships to help us navigate these unprecedented times.