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Checkoff Watch: Adapting to the challenge while maintaining the mission

Contributed by Tom Gallagher Published on 11 December 2020
Pineapple whip freeze

We began 2020 with a clear plan to talk about dairy’s role in nourishing families here and around the world, and how dairy farmers and the broader industry accomplish this while being true leaders of environmental stewardship.

The onset of COVID-19 and its impact on so many aspects of Americans’ lives caused us to strategically shift. Checkoff teams nationally and locally were able to do this because of the strong systems and structures farmers put in place more than 25 years ago with the creation of Dairy Management Inc.

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Amid widespread disruption, your checkoff pivoted to deliver a record year of programming and partnerships to drive sales and build trust on behalf of all dairy farmers and importers.

I’d like to look back on some of the year’s accomplishments:

  • Per capita continued its rise: We received confirmation of our collective impact when the USDA released its 2019 per-capita consumption figures for dairy, reaching 653 pounds, an 80-pound increase since our demand-building work began in 1983. This is a testament to the collaborative efforts of not only the checkoff but numerous dairy brands and companies doing great work driving demand and sales. The checkoff’s business plan of working with powerful partners such as McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC continues to pay off. Collectively, our checkoff partnerships have grown U.S. dairy sales by 2.2 billion milk equivalent pounds and averaged 3% growth since their creation. The collaboration we share with these global leaders is unprecedented across checkoff organizations.

  • $10 million raised for schools: One of the most troubling aspects of COVID-19 was its impact on school feeding programs, where milk is a critical component of a nutritious meal plan. It’s also an important channel for dairy farmers as 7% of fluid milk volume moves through schools. GENYOUth, an organization created by the dairy checkoff to address children’s health and wellness priorities, including Fuel Up to Play 60, stepped up in an impactful way. GENYOUth created the COVID-19 Emergency School Meal Delivery Fund that provides grants of up to $3,000 per school to supply resources for meal distribution and delivery efforts to get food to students in need. The work has generated nearly $10 million in cash and in-kind, non-checkoff support to 8,485 schools.

  • Showcasing farmers’ environmental commitment: As environmental stewards, we know dairy farmers are continuously innovating and adopting technologies to operate more sustainably and protect their land for future generations. Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, it was critical U.S. dairy maintained an eye on our future. We know the expectations on the importance of the environment and the need for sustainable methods to feed a growing population will continue.
    To showcase that commitment, the checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set environmental stewardship goals, endorsed by industry leaders and farmers, to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water use and improved water quality by 2050. The Net Zero Initiative (NZI) will help make these goals a reality by making sustainability affordable and accessible to farmers and helping U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies. The Innovation Center also announced a monumental commitment on the journey toward carbon neutrality – an up to $10 million commitment and multiyear partnership with Nestlé to support NZI.

  • Partnerships pay dividends, expand: In the times of need, we saw the best from some longtime partners. We teamed with Pizza Hut to give away half-a-million pizzas to Class of 2020 high school graduates. The promotion was nationally announced on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, spotlighting dairy’s cultural relevance and building trust and relevance for dairy farmers. Domino’s and McDonald’s also donated food into the hunger channels, including our partner, Feeding America. On the innovation front, Taco Bell launched two menu items: the grilled cheese burrito, its cheesiest new offering of the year, and a pineapple whip freeze beverage that featured a dairy-based, shelf-stable creamer with real cream.

    PartnersThrough our partnership with the NFL, the checkoff launched a promotion with Subway and its 21,000 franchises. These efforts are generating money for GENYOUth’s emergency school fund while building awareness for America’s dairy farmers and the checkoff’s support of youth wellness through Fuel Up to Play 60.

  • Meeting Gen Z where they’re at: For dairy to have a successful future, we must continue connecting with today’s consumers – especially the younger generation – with stories from our farms. Gen Z, generally late teens to early 20s, has a keen interest in how their food is produced and whether it was done in a way that’s good for the planet. So we met them where we know they’re spending time: the gaming community. More than 90% of Gen Z consumers play video games, and gaming has increasingly become a key source of information for Gen Z on social topics, like sustainability. So DMI partnered with four influential Minecraft gamers who collectively have more than 120 million followers. These gamers participated in virtual tours of four dairy farms to learn about dairy’s sustainability practices and have brought what they learned to life in Minecraft, while challenging their followers to build dairy farms in the game as well.

There are more accomplishments to celebrate in a year where the dairy community truly stepped up to demonstrate its essential role in nourishing people, the planet and communities. The new year is likely to bring more unknowns, but no matter what we face, your checkoff is committed to finding new and innovative ways to build sales and trust for dairy. end mark

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit U.S. Dairy or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group on Facebook. To reach us directly, send an email to Talk to the Checkoff.

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

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Tom Gallagher
  • Tom Gallagher

  • CEO
  • Dairy Management Inc.d

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