Dairy Industry Ready to Remind Us Just How Much We Love It

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Credit: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Got milk? Got ice cream? Got grilled cheese? Got nachos?

No, that's not the tagline for the dairy industry, though it is the basic premise of a major new campaign. Dairy companies and organizations are gearing up for their first-ever industrywide push to promote a love of all things dairy.

The "Undeniably Dairy" effort kicks off with a digital campaign May 15 before heating up in June to coincide with the 80th annual National Dairy Month. TV commercials will run in June.

Instead of focusing on a single category, as those famous "Got Milk?" ads did for years, this new push covers all dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and whey. It also showcases farming, as people want to know more about where their food comes from.

"This is not a generic advertising campaign or a generic communications campaign," said Beth Engelmann, chief marketing communications officer at Dairy Management Inc. "It's really designed to actually engage the entire chain."

Credit: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dairy Management is an affiliate of the group behind the effort, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which works with farmers, cooperatives, processors and retailers who represent about 80% of the volume of U.S. dairy production.

The campaign comes as the industry faces a number of challenges. More people are switching to non-dairy alternatives including almond milk. Even those who stick with dairy are eating less cereal for breakfast, cutting lots of potential consumption out of what used to be a tried and true daily ritual. Various studies suggest milk is not as good for people as years of industry research and promotion suggest.

Engelmann said the information that's out there can be confusing or might not tell a full story, and asks, "who better to really answer the questions of the consumer than the dairy industry and the leaders of the dairy industry?"

Dairy industry sales rose about 3% in the United States last year. But certain categories are not faring well, particularly milk, where per capita consumption declined annually from 1995-2015, according to data from the USDA's Economic Research Service. Still, there are some brights spots: over the same period, per capita yogurt consumption more than doubled.

Dairy products: Per capita consumption, United States (in pounds per person)
1/ U.S. Census Bureau estimates of resident population plus armed forces overseas were used for all products except fluid milk. For fluid milk products, resident population estimates, not including armed forces overseas, were used.
2/ Fluid milk includes the product weight of beverage milks: whole, reduced fat, low fat, skim, flavored, buttermilk and miscellaneous.
Sources: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, California Department of Food and Agriculture, USDA Economic Research Service calculations.

Still, while Engelmann wants to focus on celebrating dairy products, clearly she's aware of the competition. Speaking of milk, for example, she noted "our competitive set is adding to their products what naturally occurs in dairy," such as calcium, protein and vitamin D. "We want to really just tell our story and then ultimately it is the consumer's choice."

And many consumers are choosing something else. Through February, the volume of fluid milk sold according to USDA data fell 3.4% from a year ago, or just 1.8% when adjusting for last year's Leap Day, milk giant Dean Foods Co. said last week. Even Dean Foods is diversifying to respond to the non-dairy trend. In early May, it announced a minority stake in and distribution deal with Good Karma Foods, which makes flaxseed-based alternatives to milk and yogurt.

Moo Memes
Moo Memes Credit: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

On top of the dairy-specific headwinds, more people want to know about where their food comes from. On that measure, the industry is prepared to showcase farming and agricultural practices, including hosting events at farms this summer. Farmers even sent in photos of their cows for use in what it is calling "Moo Memes," which include captions like "When you got a salad but BAE got nachos."

Milk alone gets one full day in the spotlight, when the campaign will promote #WorldMilkDay on June 1. That's also when the broader campaign will also heat up, with integrations on the Food Network and Cooking Channel including custom videos for broadcast and social, and Food Network Snapchat Discover takeovers. A three-part content series on Upworthy will highlight stories featuring farmers in June and July. Influencers including Aggie's Kitchen are lined up to showcase dairy's relevance. Banner ads featuring ice cream and other treats, those dairy-themed Memes and an "Undeniably Dairy" landing page on the center's website round out the campaign.

Edelman is the lead agency on all paid, owned and earned aspects of the campaign. The agency has worked with the industry and, specifically, Dairy Management, for years. Engelmann worked on dairy for years during her tenure at Edelman, before she left the agency to join Dairy Management in 2016.

Spending plans, which include plans for retailers and brands to do their own outreach, were not available.

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CORRECTION: Based on information provided by Dairy Management Inc., an earlier version of this article said Laura Vitale was among the influencers who would promote dairy as part of the campaign. The deal with Vitale was not solidified and she will not be participating. This story has also been updated to show that the campaign begins May 15 with commercials running digitally, followed by TV commercials in June.

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