DALTON, Ohio — Dairy farmers can only do so much to ensure the value of their milk. Once it leaves the farm, it’s in the hands of marketers, wholesalers and retailers.But, thanks to the work of the dairy checkoff, farmers have a major voice in the image and consumption of their product — a voice that just keeps getting louder.
Currently, dairy farmers pay 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk (counterweight) that they sell, toward the checkoff. The checkoff helps promote dairy product and establish new markets within restaurants and food-related industries.
“We need to look at those folks who buy our products as partners, and through partnerships, we need to take our research, our information and our knowledge — and apply it at the business table,” Higgins said.
Higgins also is CEO of the American Dairy Association Mideast. Healthy eating. One of the biggest success stories in recent years has been the “Fuel Up to Play 60” — a partnership between the National Dairy Council, National Football League and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program is designed to help fight obesity by encouraging more young people to eat healthy milk products and get more exercise. It’s offered in more than 3,800 schools in Ohio and West Virginia. Nationally, the program is in 70,000 schools and serves 36 million students.
A challenge the dairy industry faces, Higgins said, is a sizable shift and decrease in the amount of fluid milk, while sales of cheese and manufactured milk products continues to increase.
In 1980, nearly 40 percent of milk was sold into fluid milk, compared to just 23 percent in 2010. At the same time, cheese has increased from just 29 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 2010.With that in mind, Higgins said the checkoff is doing more to promote milk-based products, instead of fluid milk alone.
“The focus of what we’re going to be doing is different than what we did in the 1980s,” he said.
Two prime examples are partnerships with Domino’s Pizza, and McDonald’s.
The Domino’s partnership generates about 2 billion pounds of milk sales annually, by including dairy cheese into the pizzas. Domino’s has partnered with the dairy industry since 2008, and recently announced it was renewing the arrangement for another four years.
Since 2009, Domino’s has marketed more than 6.6 billion pounds of milk (cheese). Cheese is the company’s largest ingredient expense, and increasing the amount used in its recipes is credited with improving the taste of Domino’s pizzas.
McDonald’s continues to be a strong partner as well, selling cheese, milk yogurt and ice cream-related items. In 2012, the company sold 247.5 million pounds of dairy products. Since the start of the partnership, McDonald’s has sold 1.7 billion pounds of dairy products.
The industry also has partnerships with Pizza Hut, and Lactaid, as well as many others. A new partnership is Quaker Oats, which has launched the “Make it with Milk” campaign to get more consumers to use milk on their oatmeal, instead of just water.
It is estimated that the dairy industry could gain access to about 9 billion servings of oatmeal.
A partner for 2013 is Taco Bell. The company is the largest Mexican restaurant chain in the United States and currently uses 1.5 billion pounds of milk equivalent annually through natural and processed cheese, cheese sauce and sour cream.
The checkoff will work with Taco Bell on menu development and consumer insights, and plans also call for placing a food scientist at the Taco Bell headquarters.
The dairy industry also continues its effort to advance the image through social media and what it considers positive exposures.
The Ohio Dairy Farmers Facebook page has more than 14,000 likes, and more than 1,500 people follow them on Twitter. The Ohio Dairy Farmers YouTube channel has more than 70,000 views.
“It’s all about how we get the most out of your investment,” Higgins said, of all the outreach. “You want those millions of consumers eating more dairy.”