I’d have a hard time fully embracing the culture of some other countries for this reason: Pizza is consumed maybe once or twice a year. That’s a deal-breaker for me and my family, as we enjoy pizza on a far more frequent basis.
While I have no plan to leave the U.S., I mention this factor because it’s the basis for my optimism on the continued growth of our exports and the dairy checkoff strategy aimed at reaching more of the 96% of the global population that lives outside of our country.
Exports matter for many reasons. Through the end of November 2022, exports of U.S. dairy reached a record $9 billion in value. But within that value is this key statistic: About 18% of farmers’ milk production leaves our country for an international destination. That translates to about one of every six tankers of your milk nourishing people around the world (Figure 1).
Now, imagine for a moment we didn’t have this outlet and what that would mean to your farm’s business if that production stayed home?
The checkoff has a well-rounded strategy abroad thanks to a strong tandem of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the checkoff-founded-and-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). Our teams work closely together and provide complementary inputs all in the name of driving demand of U.S. dairy.
From the DMI side, we found that adopting our successful domestic strategy of working with and through powerful foodservice and cooperative partners effectively translates internationally. We are working in partnership with the world’s top two quick-serve pizza chains, Domino’s and Pizza Hut, on projects aimed at having consumers enjoy pizza on a more frequent basis.
In many countries, pizza is saved for special occasions, such as holidays or family celebrations. It’s a far cry from the U.S. where a pizza is just a couple of clicks away on a cell phone app.
But there have been many moments of hope to show that international consumers are open to upping their pizza frequency.
Behold, the “New Yorker 1 kg Ultra Cheese” pizza. This is a pie launched by Domino’s Japan that uses 2 pounds of U.S. cheese. Its popularity is soaring and is a prime example of how we are growing the frequency and awareness of pizza outside of the U.S. I like to say the New Yorker is the gift that keeps on giving as additional markets have launched similar versions.
Another area of great potential is a partnership we entered in 2021 with Alamar Foods Company, which owns more than 450 Domino’s stores in the MENAP (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) region. Our efforts are focused on about 300 locations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with a goal of increasing U.S. cheese sales.
Through marketing programs and innovations supported by the checkoff, we have seen 13% growth in the volume of U.S.-produced cheese used by Pizza Hut and Domino’s in select partnership markets. That sure is a sign of optimism that pizza is becoming more of an accepted dinnertime option than something reserved for only birthdays or holidays.
I give credit to our dairy farmers for having the vision to create USDEC in 1995 through their checkoff. USDEC has done a tremendous job of laying a foundation that allowed the DMI international partnership strategy to gain an easier foothold in 2017. We also have benefitted from USDEC’s many export services to its 120 members representing processors, trading companies and other export interests.
USDEC’s insights and trends are helping these companies identify where the best opportunities are for dairy growth to support a positive trading environment. This includes the expertise to help companies understand and navigate the complex regulations that are necessary to export into more than 90 countries.
Another USDEC strength is that it has employees based in China, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and Central America, the Middle East, South America, South Korea, Southeast Asia and Vietnam. These employees are the eyes and ears of our industry as they understand the culture and culinary preferences and speak the language, so they successfully identify opportunities, chart the business climate and monitor regulatory activity.
It takes a well-rounded checkoff strategy to keep building sales and trust of U.S. dairy. That is plenty evident through the checkoff’s strategy of providing more U.S.-produced products to people around the world.