DMI CEO: Americans ate a record amount of cheese last year driven by foodservice sector

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

The dairy checkoff program's partnership with fast food chains such as McDonalds and Taco Bell have helped increase dairy demand and consumption. ©GettyImages/bhofack2
The dairy checkoff program's partnership with fast food chains such as McDonalds and Taco Bell have helped increase dairy demand and consumption. ©GettyImages/bhofack2

Related tags Milk

US per capita dairy consumption reached 591 lbs in 2016, up from 566 lbs in 2010, driven by demand for cheese and butter, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) CEO Tom Gallagher said during the 2017 annual meeting of US dairy organizations.

Members from DMI, the United Dairy Industry Association, National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, and NMP gathered at the annual dairy industry meeting in Anaheim, California, to discuss strategies to grow sales and expand markets for dairy.

Fast food restaurant chain Pizza Hut debuted its grilled cheese stuffed crust pizza last year. 

Cheese reached its highest consumption level in 2016 of 36.3 pounds per capita, fueled by at-home use and out-of-the-home ingredient use, especially at foodservice, according to Gallagher.

“It’s growing and will continue to grow. In fact, domestic cheese has carried the day in terms of sales the last four or five years,”​ Gallagher said.

Consumers’ growing acceptance of dairy fats and desire to consume “real” ​food has also helped butter consumption reach its highest level since 1968 of 5.7lbs per capita.

The dairy checkoff program’s recent successful partnerships in the food service sector that have increased demand for dairy include:

  • McDonald’s replacing margarine and canola oil with butter that equated to approximately 700m lbs of milk per year.
  • The checkoff-led launch of Taco Bell Quesalupa, which has five times more cheese than a regular taco, equating to 60m milk equivalent pounds.
  • Pizza Hut’s Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza, produced with checkoff resources and insights, features more than one pound of cheese on each pizza – the equivalent of 25m lbs of milk annually. 

US dairy exports focus

Beyond domestic growth, Gallagher added that exports of US dairy have quadrupled since 2000 to nearly $5bn last year driven by Mexico ($1.2bn), Southeast Asia ($671m), Canada ($632m), China ($384m), and South America ($280m).

“As we look to the future, exports will play an increasing role in growing dairy sales,”​ he said.

The checkoff’s partnership with Yum! Brands (owner of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell), which has more nearly 44,000 fast food restaurants in 135 countries, will be key to growing US dairy’s presence in international markets, Gallagher added.

Education push

Dairy organizations were also unified in continuing to build trust with consumers through its Undeniably Dairy​ marketing effort launched earlier this year, which aims to educate and be transparent with consumers.

A new extension of Undeniably Dairy is a partnership with Discovery Education working with 50% of all K-12 schools with the potential to reach 38m students. The school-based program aims to connect kids to where their food comes from tools such as a virtual tour of a dairy farm and social media interaction between classrooms and farmers.

“We need to continue to build two-way engagement with consumers,”​ president of DMI and the Innovation Center for US Dairy​Barb O’Brien, said.

“We are operating in an environment where negative marketing and absence claims are taking the day.”

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