The checkoff’s goal is to continue protecting the interests of our farmers, and the COVID-19 crisis has shown again the critical importance of that work.
I’d like to share seven ways the checkoff – nationally and locally – is maintaining our mission of building sales and trust for U.S. dairy farmers, as well as helping those in need during this time.
- We are working through GENYOUth, local checkoffs, USDA, plus technology and food companies, including our partner Domino’s Pizza, to help ensure that the 30 million kids who depend on USDA’s school meal program get the food they need. GENYOUth established the “For Schools’ Sake – Help Us Feed Our Nation’s Kids!” call-to-action for corporations, foundations, athletes, influencers and others to make a donation to help with this urgent need. The funds will provide grants of up to $3,000 per school to purchase resources for meal distribution. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s important for farmers, as 7% of fluid milk volume moves through schools.
- We are working with our partner Feeding America to help provide dairy foods to the food insecure throughout its nationwide network of 200 food banks. This is important to farmers, too. In 2019, more than 353 million pounds of milk, cheese and yogurt were distributed to Feeding America’s 40 million clients, a 27% increase from the year before. But the need is greater now. The National Dairy Council is working to connect Feeding America with the dairy community to help food banks address their many needs.
- The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), primarily funded by the checkoff, is working to ensure U.S. dairy products continue, or resume, flowing into export markets. The USDEC’s offices in the U.S., as well as those in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East/North Africa, are serving as a resource to support the needs of businesses that rely on U.S. dairy. The USDEC also is in close communication with the exporting and trading establishments, and its regulatory experts are available to help member companies cut through the red tape. The goal is to expedite shipments of U.S. dairy products and ingredients across borders.
- Our foodservice partnerships that ensure dairy is front and center on menu items continue. The partners have adapted their marketing approaches as consumers migrate to working from home, and we are working with them to keep dairy relevant and front and center through the digital landscape and their apps. Pizza is in high demand, according to a Dataessential survey, which shows it is the lead item consumers are buying. As a result, Pizza Hut and Domino’s are hiring people, and both companies are investing in product marketing to drive sales. Pizza Hut is promoting its classic Big Dipper Pizza, which uses substantial amounts of cheese, and Domino’s is reinforcing value promotions. While McDonald’s and Taco Bell are temporarily moving to limited menus, key dairy items will not be eliminated. It’s important to remember that more than 80% of McDonald’s menu features dairy, and the chain still will be moving a significant amount through its nationwide network of restaurants.
- Work done through the National Dairy Foods Research Center program, which receives significant support from national and local checkoffs, will not cease. There are six regional centers encompassing 17 universities that work to drive innovation on behalf of dairy farmers. While they are practicing social distancing, they are finding creative ways to stay the course. Our Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) team also convenes science leaders to continue important research programs and serves as a food safety resource for processors and manufacturers to maintain a safe supply of dairy.
- Our DairyGood social media channels – as well as those managed by local checkoffs – are sharing with consumers that dairy continues to be safe and nutritionally vital and that farmers are working every day to keep dairy on grocery-store shelves.
- Finally, we have a top-notch crisis-management program through the Dairy Communications Management Team (DCMT). Lead communicators from DMI, National Milk Producers Federation, MilkPEP, International Dairy Foods Association and USDEC comprise the DCMT and show the strength of U.S. dairy as we speak with one voice.
Dairy farmers and the industry at large should be assured that the organizations that work on their behalf, including their promotion groups, are not deterred during this time of crisis.
While the industry has rallied and pulled together, some groups are using this time as an opportunity to divide farmers by suggesting the checkoff should be suspended.
To the contrary, our mission and our momentum must not stop. The farmers who work tirelessly to feed people are counting on us now more than ever.
- Dairy Management Inc.