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Homegrown dairy pride

Jennifer Janak Published on 11 September 2014

100% USA label hopes to attract loyal consumers

“Made in China,” “Made in Brazil,” “Made in Vietnam” are all-too-common phrases found in the American household. From the sweatshirt in the dirty laundry to the orange juice in the fridge, many consumer goods are imported.

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Dairy products, such as cheese ingredients and powdered milks, are being brought into the U.S. for further processing and sales. According to the USDA, last year nearly $1.6 million was spent on imported dairy products.

Al Levitt, vice president of communications for the U.S. Dairy Export Council, explains that there are four primary categories of dairy imports: cheese, milk protein concentrate, casein and butterfat.

“Imports have been on the decline since about 2005 due to a long-term drop in cheese imports,” Levitt says. “Milk protein concentrate and casein imports are down about 10 percent since then, though they tend to fluctuate from year to year.”

Annually, dairy imports represent about 3 percent of U.S. milk production, while dairy exports make up nearly 16 percent.

While dairy imports are not of grave concern compared to other consumer goods, two dairymen are determined to provide quality dairy products that not only taste delicious but also are entirely American-made.

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Dairy Maid Dairy, a processing plant in Maryland, now processes White Gold Milk, a product of Family Dairy Farms that meets the California fluid milk-bottling standards. California standards refer to the higher protein content in milk that is due to fortification after the initial processing.

Pennsylvania farmers who wanted to create a product that was both nutritional and flavorful, and most importantly, a product that was intriguing to consumers, contacted the Maryland processor.

“Public deceit has become the farmer’s problem to fix,” Mike Eby, president of Family Dairy Farms and founder of White Gold Milk, says. “We must work with processors who are open-minded and willing to sell a great product.”

Eby first began by purchasing 50,000 gallons of milk from Dairy Maid Dairy to donate to those in need. Shortly after donating the fluid milk, he realized the opportunity to create a better product, much like California processors.

But producing a higher-quality product wasn’t enough. Eby wanted to provide consumers with the trust and confidence of knowing their dairy products were made with 100 percent U.S. ingredients.
One person already knew the need for such a concept.

A man of many trades, Gary Genske is a dairy farmer, businessman and lobbyist on the verge of making a difference in the way consumers purchase food, beginning with dairy.

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“I was lobbying in D.C. for the farm bill, when the issue of Country of Origin labeling laws were brought up. The laws were not going to address the specific need to inform the public about the imports that end up in their food,” Genske says. “People have to know they have a choice.”

Genske emphasized that consumers can buy products that contain 100 percent U.S. milk or they can buy imports, and that they need to know the difference.

Two years ago, the 100% USA label was created.

In order for this label to become a success, Marketing Summit Research conducted professional surveys. The company focuses on an array of industries to provide the best research for the future success of any business.

The surveys were used to better understand consumer appeal toward the 100% USA label and to explore the ability of developing a price premium.

The results were shocking.

Marketing Summit Research discovered that 78 percent of those surveyed found it “extremely important” or “very important” to have dairy products marked with the 100% USA label. Likewise, of those willing to pay more, they were willing to pay roughly 5 percent more for yogurt, milk and cheese products labeled as 100% USA.

“We have seen that consumers are going to choose the product with the 100% USA label,” Genske says. “It then becomes the processor’s responsibility to capitalize on loyalty and the safety of U.S. products.”

The 100% USA LLC handles the verification process for a manufacturer to become certified to carry the label; after approval processors are charged 1 percent of sales as a cost to use the logo.

“Once someone is using the trademark, then it becomes our obligation [100% USA LLC] to continue to confirm their 100% USA ingredients,” Genske says.

Genske is focused on fluid milk but will further target Class II, III and IV milk processors who may be importing ingredients to produce the final product.

Providing wholesome, American-raised ingredients allows processors to utilize the 100% USA label and have a competitive advantage over their counterparts on the grocery store shelf.

The Virginia processing plant saw this opportunity and quickly acted.

Working extensively with Dairy Maid Dairy, Eby produced White Gold Milk and marketed the 100% USA seal on each packaged carton.

The first labeled milk was distributed last December.

“It’s all about creating a defined brand with a label that elevates the value of your product,” Eby says. “The label says, ‘This milk is produced with U.S. cows and processed in the U.S.’”

Supported by the National Dairy Producers Organization, the 100% USA label is immediately recognized and understood.

Not only does it prove authenticity to consumers but also speaks about the processing plant, promising that no imported ingredients will be used in the making of the products.

Eby notes that there is a multitude of cooperatives that are working with Dairy Maid Dairy, and producers who may not even be aware their milk is sold with the seal.

“Everyone is benefitting from it,” Eby says. “If the processors can see a value of changing the standards of the industry across the nation, then it is a win.”

White Gold Milk is currently the only product carrying the label and solely sold in Pennsylvania supermarkets.

As both Genske and Eby recognize, it is an uphill battle to urge consumers to ask questions about the purity and roots of their food so that processors see the need to carry the label.

“We know where our clothes come from, why don’t we know where our food comes from?” Eby says. “As producers, we need to continually ask that question to remind the public to ask, so we see a change in the industry.” PD

Jennifer Janak
2014 Editorial Intern
Progressive Dairyman

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