Dairy Checkoff Leader Urges Farmers and Companies to 'Lead through Collaboration' to Grow Sales and Trust

12:40AM Nov 01, 2014
( Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today )

Amid today’s many, complex and demanding consumers, there’s great opportunity for dairy, DMI leader says.

Source: Dairy Management Inc.

Grapevine, Texas – Through their checkoff, the nation’s dairy farmers and importers can lead through collaborating with others to grow sales and trust, said Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff.

Gallagher shared his views with more than 900 dairy farmers and industry representatives attending the 2014 joint annual meeting of United Dairy Industry Association, National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and National Milk Producers Federation in Grapevine, Texas.

Gallagher said there is a changing consumer perception of value pertaining to dairy.

“Traditional consumer interests like taste, price and convenience are just table stakes to get you in the game,” he said. “Today, there is no ‘the consumer.’ There are many, and they are complex and demanding. The Chinese consumer places safety first. The foreign ingredient buyer wants traceability. The millennial consumer is interested in agricultural production practices like animal care. Others are concerned with dairy’s relationship to water quality, or access to water.”

Earlier in the conference, Jim Mulhern, CEO of National Milk Producers Federation, had said it was “critically important to our industry’s future that we not only focus greater attention on consumer issues, but that we do so proactively, and with a strategy to turn those issues from a liability to an opportunity.”

Gallagher believes there is great opportunity for dairy today. Most consumers, thought leaders and farmers all share the same goal of feeding a growing world population safely and affordably by producing food in a way that sustains the planet, and the people who produce the food, he said.

He offered this quote from Jack Bobo, a senior advisor at the State Department who sees food as a critical national security issue: “Nothing we do has a more negative impact on the planet, and nothing is more essential to our survival, than agriculture.”

Agriculture can be viewed either as a problem, or a solution to the problem, Gallagher said. He asked, “Which will it be? Do we want to be viewed as a defiant industry that creates enemies, or as leaders collaborating to make the world a better place?”

He said dairy needs to shape the discussion by doing three things:

1)    Be collaborative with stakeholders who want to work with dairy.

2)    Develop and document the science and systems to support dairy’s position, or create new positions.

3)    Act transparently. Open doors to understand how consumers think, and admit when we have flaws.

“We have the model,” he said. “Let’s use it. Let’s work together to carve a pathway that benefits the planet, the consumer, the dairy industry and the dairy farmer.”

SIDEBAR: A New Dairy Communications System for Today’s Consumers

Today’s dairy industry needs an effective activation system to help consumers understand the “dairy good” story, according to Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff.

This proactive system is coming to life through an infrastructure of technology and people who know how to engage today’s consumers. This year alone, the dairy checkoff has trained more than 3,000 dairy advocates in social media. Dairy currently has a stakeholder network of 7,000 people ready to communicate a unified voice.

“In 2015, that model will combine with a world-class storytelling capability, where we will lead conversations that intersect our strengths with consumer interests, in the areas of nutrition, environmental responsibility and animal care,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher urges those in dairy to become advocates by “talking to people about why you do what you do, why you are passionate about dairy, and why you are proud to be associated with dairy products. That’s part of transparency only you can communicate.”

Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI) is funded by America’s nearly 49,000 dairy farmers, as well as dairy importers.  Created to help increase sales and demand for dairy products, DMI and its related organizations work to increase demand for dairy through research, education and innovation, and to maintain confidence in dairy foods, farms and businesses.  DMI manages National Dairy Council and the American Dairy Association, and founded the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.