It is not uncommon for the dairy checkoff to receive calls from entrepreneurs looking to innovate with dairy.

They see the same thing we do: dairy is a powerhouse. More than 96% of U.S. households purchase dairy.

Dairy also is the largest food aisle at retail and has the largest growth. In fact, dairy is bigger than the snacking and carbonated soft drink aisles.

While these entrepreneurs seeking entry into the dairy category are on the right track, they are not sure where to begin with innovation and insights resources. They have questions and do not know who to turn to for assistance. Truth be told, there has not been a dairy-focused system in place to support entrepreneurs, which includes farmers who may have an interest in bottling their own milk or producing artisanal cheese.

This is why Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) created a tool that can help them navigate the resource waters and find the answers needed. DMI recently launched – a one-stop shop for anyone seeking information about the innovation process, from concept and product development and all the way through launching to market.


The tool gives entrepreneurs access to more than 250 vetted dairy resources, including many leading researchers and professors who comprise the Dairy Foods Research Centers network. The checkoff created the network more than 35 years ago to provide science-backed solutions related to processing, technology solutions, food quality and safety, ingredients and other areas. It includes six regionally-based centers that represent more than 20 universities.

Visitors to the website will see the tool is divided into three phases featuring tutorials that help entrepreneurs with:

  • Idea development – identifying the growth opportunity and developing the idea. This phase includes guidance on assessing technical and financial feasibilities.
  • Product development – developing the product, its name and what you need from a trademarking standpoint. There is assistance on package structure, graphics and finalizing the financial assessment.
  • Product launch – taking the product to market with a promotional and financing plan. This includes ideas and templates on how to approach investors and eventually monitoring market results.

The great thing about our resource site is that it is built to make updates and add more resources as they become available.

Spreading the word

I cannot overstate the importance of continued dairy innovation to our industry’s success. When you look across the various categories in the grocery store, significant innovation is coming from the entrepreneur and startup side of the equation. It is not always the larger, more traditional players.

For example, when you see new water and coffee products hit the market, it is not necessarily companies such as PepsiCo Inc. or Coca-Cola Co. leading the way. It is the smaller guys, and this is who we have a chance to help inform and assist to yield a higher probability of success.

But this is not to say larger dairy and foodservice companies cannot benefit from and have access to this tool. Our resources are open to anyone seeking to innovate and can complement and support work they are pursuing.

The DMI team is busy bringing awareness to the tool and is attending conferences where we can engage with entrepreneurs. One such event is the Natural Products Expo West, the leading trade show in the natural, organic and healthy products industry. More than 70,000 people are expected to attend the event, March 12-16 in Anaheim, California.

DMI will be on site for the first time to show entrepreneurs how our tool can remove barriers and help drive better, faster dairy innovation and increase their probability of success. In addition to our on-site booth, we are making a presentation on dairy’s many valuable and sought-after health and wellness benefits, such as protein and overall nutrient density. We’ll tout dairy’s great taste and the many diverse ways it can be used, from powders to cheese to yogurt to fluid milk and much more. Along the way, we hope to bust some myths about dairy and set the record straight.

There is no question that companies producing non-dairy alternatives have benefited from the interest of entrepreneurs and startups, who have not always heard from dairy. But our tool gives us a stronger opportunity to show these innovators and investors we have the resources and a powerhouse product to help them achieve success. Dairy is ripe for more innovation.

Our resource is a great example of how we are creating a future-ready checkoff and playing the role of convener to bring fresh players and perspectives to the dairy category.

It is the sort of strategy that can help keep dairy relevant well into the future.

This article was written by Marla Buerk, executive vice president of innovation for Dairy Management Inc.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit the website or to reach us directly, send an email.