Evoking dairy’s legacy to build public trust and grow sales

Your Dairy Checkoff at Work

By Tom Gallagher

Change…it’s been a topic of numerous columns I’ve authored over the last few years. We have seen changes with consumers, including how they feel about the companies and industries that provide the foods and beverages they purchase.

The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey developed by Edelman Public Relations, a leader in global public relations, measures changes in consumer trust and perceptions of credibility toward organizations and entire industries. It concluded that, while quality and performance remain a core component to consumer trust, an industry’s perceived performance as a good citizen and “steward of society” is now equally important among the public.

This new paradigm offers challenges and opportunities to the dairy industry. One challenge is that Americans continue to become increasingly disconnected from agriculture; the agricultural sector now employs less than two percent of the nation’s workforce. Also, we know that anti-animal agriculture activists who are well-funded, well-organized – and increasingly focused on dairy – create an increasing threat to ongoing consumer trust in dairy sales.

To address this, we are going to become increasingly proactive in telling the dairy producer story. Dairy producers and the dairy industry today are in a better position than ever to assure trust in dairy, due to checkoff initiatives that offer increases strength: systems and science, commitment to community and multiple pathways to reach consumers.

Systems and science

Over the past several years, the dairy industry and the dairy checkoff have formed several key systems that provide reassurance to consumers. For example, through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, a DMI-formed entity that allows the entire dairy industry’s “value chain” to work together to help grow sales, the industry recently completed a scientific study of dairy’s carbon footprint that sets the record straight on the U.S. dairy industry’s actual impact regarding greenhouse gas emissions. The Innovation Center also formed an industry task force to address food safety challenges and solutions in dairy processing and manufacturing plants.

Further, the National Milk Producers Federation has developed its Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care and quality assurance program, which has the support of producers representing more than half of the nation’s milk supply.

Finally, dairy producers have a decades-long history of funding (through their checkoff investment) credible third-party nutrition and product research that shows the health and nutrition benefits of consuming dairy products.

Commitment to community

Dairy producers’ commitment to community starts with your long-standing legacy of stewardship for the land and water you use. Your commitment extends to the people you employ on your farm, and the other businesses you support in your community – from the feed and equipment you purchase to financial services and on-farm management consulting you require running your farm business. The public needs to know this.

Producers also reinforce their commitment through dedicated children’s health and wellness efforts to provide nutritious foods, including dairy, and physical activity in our nation’s schools through the checkoff-funded Fuel Up to Play 60 program. Dairy producers are the driving force and THE leaders in forming a public-private partnership to help solve childhood obesity, the nation’s leading public health issue.

To support Fuel Up to Play 60, DMI has created a new foundation with the goal of raising $10 million annually to reward schools that provide for better nutrition — including kid-friendly foods like milk, cheese and yogurt — and physical activity. This effort is a critical part of reinforcing the reputation of dairy producers within their communities.

Pathways to build trust, loyalty

Through the dairy checkoff, producers have multiple paths to build trust and loyalty among consumers. One example is the Innovation Center’s Consumer Confidence Committee, which works to help the entire industry speak with one unified voice to food retailers, foodservice restaurants and others about key industry topics such as health and wellness, animal care, food safety, and environmental stewardship.

Another path is through dairy marketing partners that reach millions of consumers. They would like to help dairy producers tell their story to the public. Through checkoff partnerships with companies such as McDonald’s® and Domino’s Pizza®, we can share dairy-friendly messaging with through packaging, in-store promotions and other activities. This also holds true for Fuel Up to Play 60 partners who can communicate with consumers through Foundation efforts to demonstrate that dairy is part of the solution to combating childhood obesity.

Another critical path is the vast human resources of the dairy industry itself. Thousands of people employed by dairy promotion, co-ops, processors, and manufacturers call on businesses, institutions and schools every day. There is a great opportunity to activate them more to help share dairy’s story with the public.

When these strengths work together, they can create a tipping point to establish a new foundation of consumer trust for the industry, where positive voices can drown out the negative. The dairy industry will build this trust from its reputation embodied in America’s dairy producers, who:

n Feed the world

n Fight childhood obesity

n Address hunger and malnutrition

n Bring jobs to local communities

n Provide a path to energy independence

n Assure food security for America

n Care for the land and their animals

That’s the legacy of America’s dairy producers and the U.S. dairy industry. Now is the time to proactively tell this story to build a new foundation of consumer trust in dairy.


Tom Gallagher is chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), the domestic and international planning and management organization that works to increase sales of and demand for U.S.-produced dairy products and ingredients on behalf of America’s dairy producers. For more information on dairy checkoff programs, visit www.dairycheckoff.com.