MilkPEP's Big Bet

May 28, 2012 07:44 PM
MilkPEP's Big Bet

**Extended story highlighted in blue.


‘The Breakfast Project’ refocuses fluid milk promotion

They call it "the big bet." The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) has committed $60 million annually starting in 2012 and promises to continue its new milk promotion campaign, "The Breakfast Project," over the next several years.

That’s two-thirds of MilkPEP’s roughly $100 million budget for each of these years. Fluid promotion is funded by a 20¢ per cwt. assessment tacked onto the Class I price.


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Launched in February, the Breakfast Project recognizes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—both nutritionally and as a driver of fluid milk sales. "Breakfast is where 58% of all milk consumption occurs," says Julia Kadison, MilkPEP’s vice president of marketing.

MilkPEP’s all-in bet on breakfast is designed to stem the ebbing tide of milk consumption, which has been declining for the past 35 years on a per-person basis. Overall per capita beverage consumption has been flat over that period—there’s only so much room in the belly—with milk succumbing to competing products.

The beverage categories that have grown have successfully innovated, particularly by adding functional benefits, like calcium in orange juice. Volatile milk prices, often reaching $4 and even $5 per gallon in some retail markets, have not helped.

MilkPEP’s new marketing thrust is based on research over the past two years involving some 4,500 consumers. The researchers keyed in on where consumers are drinking milk, where they aren’t and how to change it.

While more than half of milk consumption occurs at breakfast, one in five Americans—some 60 million folks—do not eat or drink anything in the morning. Millions more opt for nutrient-poor choices on the run, often via drive-through windows.

Children and teens tend to skip breakfast more than any other meal. Researchers have found that children who skip breakfast fail to meet two-thirds of their needs for vitamin D, calcium and other minerals. And if breakfast is missed, it is rare that they compensate for these nutrient shortages at other meals.

"Breakfast is also the new dinner," Kadison says. "Unlike dinner, where kids are often off to soccer practice or other school activities, breakfast is the one time during the day when families are together."

"Even though mornings can sometimes be chaotic, this is a special time of day," says celebrity TV chef Ellie Krieger. "Moms can feel good they’re bonding with their family and helping their kids get off to a good start by eating a healthy breakfast that includes milk."

Krieger and award-winning actress Salma Hayek have teamed up with MilkPEP to promote the
Breakfast Project. Hayek is featured in two TV spots, in both English and Spanish, and in two print ads that are running this year.

The first TV ad, "Come Drink Your Milk," is an intergenerational plea to moms to pass on to their children the healthy habit of drinking milk each morning. In the second spot, "Midnight Run," Hayek does a comic turn to demonstrate the extreme measures a mom will take to ensure her family has milk in the morning.

Victor Zaborsky, MilkPEP’s director of marketing, says these mass-appeal ads are backed up by both digital and social media efforts:

  • A website, at, acts as the content hub where consumers can share tips, tools and recipes.
  • A Facebook page for the Milk Mustache Campaign encourages consumers to interact with the message and expand milk’s reach through their own social networks.
  • MilkPEP employees monitor social media sites each morning and engage milk drinkers by offering health tips and time-saving recipes. "By us responding, it extends our message and shows consumers we are listening to them and to their concerns," Zaborsky says.

In addition, MilkPEP has reached out to large food brands such as Kellogg’s. Cereal companies have also seen market share erode as breakfast has become less important, so they are keenly interested in reinvigorating the breakfast category.

"We’ve also been talking to food retailers," Zaborsky says. "A lot of them have dinner strategies, but few have breakfast targets."

The national milk brands are beginning to participate as well. "The next step is for them to use their own advertising and packaging to promote breakfast, and eventually, to develop new products for the category," Zaborsky says.

MilkPEP is also integrating the breakfast messaging with Dairy Management Inc. efforts, and even with the National Football League’s "Fuel Up to Play 60" campaign.

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All this activity has yet to yield an uptick in milk sales. But the effort is barely 100 days old.
There were some 18 million online conversations about milk and breakfast last year. During the two-week launch of the Breakfast Project in late February, a 34% jump was recorded in social media conversations about breakfast and milk. MilkPEP will measure sales volume through marketing mix analysis, but results won’t be available until next year. It is tracking consumer perceptions and behavior through consumption panels and attitude studies.

MilkPEP’s previous efforts focused on demographics, in particular moms and teens. The ads were somewhat effective, USDA says. While per capita sales continued to decline, fluid milk consumption would be even worse without the advertising. USDA estimates that fluid milk sales would have declined a further 6.3 billion pounds per year between 1995 and 2009 and fluid milk consumption would be 11.3% less.

But it still wasn’t enough to halt the decline in per capita sales. MilkPEP’s marketing staff now believes demographics are less important than usage occasions, such as at-home meals.

Dinner at home, after-dinner snacking and chocolate milk as a recovery beverage after exercising are all such milk-use occasions. "But breakfast is the largest of these," Zaborsky says. "We need to defend it, grow it and see changes in consumer behavior."

Let’s hope he’s right.


Fundamental Change Needed

While the folks at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) won’t totally disparage the Breakfast Project, they say that even more fundamental change is needed.
"The gallon jug was designed to provide a volume of milk that consumers could take home and drink. But a large percentage of consumers have stopped eating at home," says Tom Gallagher, CEO of DMI. He suggests the industry already knows what consumers want: take-anywhere, shelf-stable milk; high-protein drinks; more flavored milk choices—and all of it in more convenient, user-friendly packages.

The effort to meet these consumer-driven needs will require the involvement of processors, co-ops and package suppliers and must go beyond marketing—from plant infrastructure to milk’s standard of identity. "Other products can be labeled 99% fat-free; we have to label milk as 1% fat. Consumers don’t understand that," Gallagher says.

The National Dairy Board has committed $5 million this year to that effort and hopes to have a road map charted out by the end of summer. The challenge is moving from where the industry is today to where it needs to be. Processors have long complained that fluid milk is a low-margin business with little left over for innovation and new product development. Somehow, dollars will have to be found.

To that point, Gallagher quotes one of Domino’s top franchise owners in the Pacific Rim: "I have to innovate every year. If all I do is take the same product and increase the price each year, the net result is a decrease in consumption." Sound familiar?


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