As dairy farmers who currently (Brian) and formerly (Ray) represented farmers on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, we’ve attended our share of farm and trade shows.
Recently, we attended and participated in a different type of meeting at South by Southwest (SXSW), a music and film festival that now includes a cutting-edge interactive technology and media conference.
SXSW stretched the boundaries of our imaginations – and that is a great thing. SXSW is one way Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff, provides out-of-the-box opportunities for the dairy industry to reach new thought leaders, decision-makers and informed consumers to help secure dairy’s seat at the table.
DMI’s decision to attend SXSW shows how the checkoff works to stay relevant in an ever-changing world. And there is no better place to see just how fast the world is changing than to spend time at SXSW.
This year, the dairy community’s sustainability and food waste story was prominently featured during a DMI-sponsored panel discussion titled “What a Waste: 40 percent of Food Discarded, 49M Go Hungry.” The session featured Vermont dairy farmer Marie Audet and was one of a few dozen ideas voted in from 4,600 panel proposals.
The panel’s aim was to showcase how dairy’s entire supply chain uses high- and low-tech solutions to address this growing global problem.
Marie brought to life how the dairy community is working to find solutions to reduce waste, divert food from landfills and help get food to those who need it most to underscore dairy’s commitment to sustainable nutrition.
It was a great opportunity to advance our story, and we were sharing it with socially conscious millennials who come to SXSW in droves. Marie spoke of the work we’re doing with MilkPep and its Great American Milk Drive.
When the panel was done, a representative of the United Nations World Food Programme stood up to thank SXSW for including this important panel and conversation to the conference. This generated online conversations on food waste challenges and solutions, with dairy positioned as a leading voice.
The checkoff also was represented by staff participation in other event-related panels focused on reaching major marketers and brand companies. These opportunities helped us share how dairy is helping shape and build advocates by creating relationships and having two-way dialogue with consumers and thought leaders to help protect and build consumer trust in U.S. dairy.
Beyond our formal panel participation, SXSW showed us possibilities that lie far beyond our farms to help us connect with consumers and build confidence in the food we produce. It also provided a great opportunity to interact with people who were meeting a dairy farmer for the first time.
We met the influential customers that will drive our food, innovation and technology discussion today and in the future. SXSW also helped open our minds to possibilities. We walked through and talked with people at the “SXSW Interactive” portion that focuses on emerging technology.
This area of the show has become a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies among thought leaders. In fact, SXSW is where Twitter launched. It attracts people from around the world – more than 80 countries attended this year.
Visiting with the many exhibitors, we couldn’t help but see the potential for dairy along the way. We experienced virtual reality technology where the wheels really started turning for us.
How cool would it be to provide 360-degree video tours of our farms for people who may never get to see what we do each day? Or what if you used this technology to teach future farmers about on-farm practices through virtual simulations?
We also toured the Future of Food exhibit to see new and future products in the works. Concepts such as precision cooking and ingredient technology can help with the world’s food waste issue. We even saw a 3-D printer print the ingredients for a pizza prototype (though we agreed it needed more cheese).
As we were heading back to our farms, we were filled with a renewed sense of excitement and inspiration. SXSW reminded us of the need to keep thinking about new ways to connect with consumers, who at times are critical of what we do. They’re more removed than ever from our farms and the production of their food, and too many listen to the anti-dairy clatter.
We know people want to interact with their food and how it is produced. We also know that if an industry or a brand doesn’t interact with consumers, people will find others who will. This message of consumer engagement was prominent at SXSW.
This experience won’t result in overnight changes, but it will impact how the checkoff works moving forward. It’s critical we remain open to new ideas and work with thought leaders and people from non-traditional places.
SXSW certainly delivered that opportunity and much more. PD
Brian Medeiros operates a dairy farm in Hanford, California, and currently serves as a director on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB). Ray Prock operates a dairy farm in Denair, California. He served as a director on the NDB from 2010 to 2015.
PHOTO 1: California dairy farmers Brian Medeiros, left, and Ray Prock experience virtual reality headsets at the Samsung VR exhibit during the South by Southwest event.
PHOTO 2: From left, Vermont dairy farmer Marie Audet and California dairy farmers Brian Medeiros and Ray Prock discuss the different technologies they experienced at the South by Southwest event. Photos provided by Brian Medeiros.