Winter is a good time for reflection – even in sunny California where I produce milk. The days and nights are cooler, easier on the cows and the people. With 2010 just around the corner, a certain kind of thoughtful silence settles in.

It’s easy to be grateful for family and thankful that this very difficult year of low milk prices and economic recession draws to a close. But it’s also important to reflect on the accomplishments of the year, because I believe that we as dairy producers, through the national dairy checkoff, set the stage for better things to come. In spite of tough economic conditions, dairy producers made significant strides in forging partnerships and developing innovative new product channels that will drive between 2.5 and 3.5 billion in incremental pounds of milk sales nationwide. That is an accomplishment that bears repeating. In reflection, here are 10 reasons why I believe dairy producers’ investment in the 2009 dairy checkoff set the pace for a productive 2010:

1. Creating a ‘Legend’
Dairy producers forged a partnership with Domino’s Pizza that is helping to revitalize the pizza category. Through its new line of American Legends pizzas, Domino’s will use up to 40 percent more cheese than traditional pizzas. With strong marketing support from Domino’s, including a significant commitment to multi-media promotion, the campaign resulted in a 1 percent sales increase in the first quarter of 2009. The company plans to continue its cheese-friendly efforts over the next several years. Because of Domino’s success, other pizza chains have followed suit by increasing cheese on pizza offerings.

2. Perfecting school pizza

In the school pizza arena, the dairy checkoff worked with partners to begin building the perfect pizza – one that kids like and meets increasingly restrictive school nutrition standards. As the No. 1 entrée in schools, pizza is a kid favorite and an important priority for long-term cheese sales.

3. Fast food dairy options
Today’s consumers have lifestyles that demand healthy food choices for meals on-the-go. In 2009, the dairy checkoff’s multi-year partnership with McDonald’s continued to drive dairy innovation at quick-serve restaurants. In addition to the McCafe specialty coffees launched in 2008 – which are made of up to 80 percent milk – McDonald’s introduced a line of three new Angus Burgers doubling the number of cheese slices per sandwich in 2009. Sales of the new burgers exceeded expectations and, by year’s end, could use as much as 6 million additional pounds of cheese or around 60 million pounds of milk..

4. Making milk lactose-free
Dairy producers through the checkoff partnered with New England milk processor HP Hood and its Lactaid brand to make lactose-free milk available to the nearly one in four Americans who either left or are at risk of leaving dairy due to actual or perceived lactose intolerance. The goal is to increase the sale of lactose-free milk products, which could use an additional 2.5 to 5 billion pounds annually.


5. Blender innovation
Producers worked with General Mills’ Yoplait brand to develop a new line of frozen fruit and yogurt smoothies that use yogurt chip technology and are prepared with 8 ounces of milk. General Mills declared the smoothies to be one of its most successful product tests ever and is rolling out the product in grocery stores nationwide. In the first year, anticipated sales could reach 9 million units using more than 10 million total pounds of milk sold.

6. Ingredients for success
Through the dairy checkoff, dairy producers worked with food and beverage industry partners to expand the use of dairy ingredients. One key partnership with Starbucks Coffee Company introduced the Vivanno Smoothie line, which uses milk and dairy whey protein. These new drinks use more than 3.7 million pounds of whey protein and 550 million pounds of milk annually. In response to Vivanno’s success last year, Starbucks launched a third flavor in 2009 and continued to market the product heavily through in-store promotion and advertising.

7. Expanding single-serve
Taking beverage competition head-on, dairy producers continued to work with processors, restaurants and schools to offer milk and flavored milk options in single-serve, plastic resealable bottles. In 2009, more than 70,000 quick-serve restaurants and more than 11,000 schools nationwide offered milk in consumer-friendly packaging.

8. Teaming up for wellness
Dairy producers teamed up to be leaders in the arena of health and wellness. Through the National Dairy Council (NDC) – the dairy checkoff’s nutrition research, education and communications arm – dairy producers partnered with prestigious groups in the medical community (including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Family Physicians, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and others) to encourage parents to make sure children drink enough milk. In mid-October, I personally spoke at an ADA meeting about how dairy producers are good environmental stewards and provide consumers with healthy, nutrient-rich products.

For the first time ever, dairy producers championed a legendary team with USDA and sports giant, the National Football League, to help children and schools to adopt healthier, fit lifestyles through good nutrition (including dairy) and physical activity. The NDC also co-sponsored research on chocolate milk with added protein and naturally occurring electrolytes (appealing to those seeking healthy food options) and conducted studies illuminating the deficiencies in bone health and vitamin D.

9. Innovating industry collaboration
With an eye on the future, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, established by the checkoff in 2008, continued to bring the industry together to work on priorities that align with producer interests. Through committees on health and wellness, product development and information, sustainability, consumer confidence and globalization, the Innovation Center has engaged more than 180 companies and 380 individuals across the industry to work together, pre-competitively, to protect and grow sales for U.S. dairy.

10. Strengthening global sales
And, finally, in response to vastly weaker dairy market conditions, the checkoff supported the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) as it shifted resources to protect global market share. In 2009, USDEC worked collaboratively and aggressively to service and to protect U.S. cheese sales to Mexico. In spite of a global recession, the efforts paid off with shipments of U.S. cheese to Mexico rising 11 percent in the first eight months of 2009.

As dairy producers face a new year of challenges, it is important to know that our investment in the dairy checkoff is creating a better tomorrow. Our 2009 accomplishments as a united group of producers proves that the dairy checkoff empowers dairy producers to build new markets, provides resources to communicate dairy’s powerful nutrient package and creates partnerships that leverage producer dollars in growing the industry.

We have an important story to tell and, as a dairy producer and contributor to the checkoff, I’m proud of what the industry has accomplished for a stronger U.S. dairy industry. PD

Kimberly Clauss