Our marketing objective heading into 2020 was clear: Reset the narrative on dairy to reinforce industry strength and areas of growth while highlighting the vital role dairy plays in nourishing people, communities and the planet.

Through dedicated thought-leader and media outreach, our plan was focused on reinforcing U.S. dairy’s commitment to environmental stewardship at a time when climate change continued to lead global dialogue and was top-of-mind for many consumers.

Changing direction

By mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic had fully emerged and, like many brands and companies, we had to adjust our business plan and evolve our marketing efforts to reflect the changing media landscape, consumer mindset and public dialogue.

We analyzed consumer research, buying patterns and other data to guide our revised approach, which initially centered on three areas: highlighting farmers’ and the industry’s essential role in ensuring a safe, consistent supply of dairy while supporting communities; ensuring people have access to the information they needed about dairy; and setting the record straight with media and influencers around dairy supply chain challenges, such as milk disposal.

By May, states across the country began announcing various stages of reopening as people adapted to a new normal. Continuing our focus on the essential role of dairy and dairy farming, we knew there was power in showing these stories, not just telling them. So we identified two high-profile media opportunities that would illustrate the dairy community’s positive impact and celebrate farmers’ hard work.


The first was a Fox & Friends segment where Maryland farmer Katie Dotterer-Pyle was interviewed live from her farm. During the segment, she emphasized how farmers rise every day to produce nutritious dairy and spoke about the industry coming together to support local communities and getting dairy into the hands of those who need it most during this difficult time.

Later that week, we furthered dairy’s cultural relevance via a partnership between Pizza Hut and America’s dairy farmers to celebrate the high school class of 2020 with 500,000 free pizzas. This collaboration was announced on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and is the latest example of working together with our partners to identify creative ways of moving more dairy, and doing so in a way that builds trust and relevance for dairy and dairy farmers.

Together, these segments and their supporting print, broadcast, online and digital content extensions reached more than 1.5 billion consumers.

Consumer behavior shifts

Before the pandemic, we saw consumers genuinely interested in the food they eat – how it’s produced, its environmental impact and whether it’s good for them. There was a genuine curiosity and desire to connect with the people producing their food.

While these consumer behaviors and feelings haven’t disappeared, we seemingly overnight saw dairy gain popularity as exactly what consumers needed during the pandemic – emotional comfort, security and sustainable nourishment. More meals at home, including breakfast, meant increased purchases at retail, where dairy sales spiked and even outpaced growth across the rest of the grocery store.

We know consumer behavior will continue to evolve, so we don’t have all the answers today. Some “new normal” behaviors may stay intact while others will shift as the pandemic evolves. For example, in the short term, we’re seeing some consumers continue to prepare meals at home while others are eager to return to restaurants, and many are exhibiting a renewed interest in health and wellness.

Second-half opportunities

Given these unique times, we are now well positioned to cement the essential role of dairy and dairy farming. In fact, within an environment of continual change, dairy can and should remain an “essential constant,” not just during global unrest but every day as a key ingredient present in the fabric of people’s lives and their communities.

To deliver this message, we aim to balance engagement with thought leaders and families, including a hyper-targeted content strategy on relevant social media platforms and overall cultural relevancy woven into all activations. We will focus on four critical areas on which dairy uniquely delivers:

  • Health and wellness – Highlighting dairy as “nature’s multivitamin,” including its hard-to-replace nutrient profile

  • Resilience and community impact – Showcasing the stories of dairy farmers making a difference in supporting schools and feeding their communities

  • Environmental stewardship – Sharing U.S. dairy’s commitment to caring for the land and the planet, and the role dairy plays in sustainable food systems

  • Emotional connection – Creating culturally relevant content that celebrates the enjoyment and comfort of dairy, and its starring role in special milestones and life moments

We’re looking forward to bringing this plan to life in the months ahead, focusing on time periods that have always been critical for dairy, including back-to-school, fall sports, our NFL partnership and National Farmers’ Day.

Even as I write this column today, our world continues to change in ways we never expected. We’re more committed than ever to staying nimble and seeking data to inform our marketing approach, evolving as our world evolves. Now is the time for us to shine a light on the essential role dairy plays in feeding and nourishing people, the planet and communities across the country.


To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit Undeniably Dairy or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group on Facebook. To reach us directly, send an email to Talk To The Checkoff.