The dairy industry is prioritizing unity and leadership against the threat of plant-based alternative products, calling it a crucial time to come together. CEO of Dairy Management Inc (DMI) Tom Gallagher warned that anti-animal-agriculture groups are working to eliminate the dairy checkoff.
The Dairy Promotion Program, or National Dairy Checkoff, funds dairy product promotion, research and nutrition education in the US, as well as organizations like DMI and the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC). It brought together the leading dairy associations in New Orleans this month for leadership addresses and award presentations.
The dairy-plant divide
Gallagher spoke to more than 800 attendees at the meeting, and shared USDA data that shows per-person dairy consumption has grown by 73 pounds since the dairy checkoff began in 1983. He spoke about the mission of DMI, which is to grow dairy sales as well as build consumer trust.
DMI does this by being transparent with their customers and sharing how farmers care for their animals, land and employees, according to Gallagher. He claims plant-based advocacy groups only ‘seek to create a division’ among US dairy and that they are ‘infiltrating consumer trust.’
“Make no mistake, they only have one goal: to eliminate all animal agriculture in this country,” Gallagher said.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is your biggest issue. Lab-grown [dairy alternatives] is going to come and we’ll deal with it. Plant-based beverages are here and they’ll have a share and we’ll deal with it.”
DMI said it employs seven strategic areas to drive dairy sales and trust, supporting its more than $100bn in annual retail sales. The checkoff is also leading fluid milk revitalization work to address foundational elements of infrastructure, innovation and branded marketing.
DMI president Barb O’Brien said, “The issues facing milk are not about consumer awareness. The issues were more fundamental and required working with the middle of the chain, with co-ops, processors and retailers, who controlled the product and how it went into market.”
A flexitarian compromise isn’t enough
DMI also highlighted its recent collaboration with McDonald’s to produce a reduced sugar and low fat chocolate milk for its US menu. They called similar partnerships ‘pivotal’ in moving more dairy and in keeping dairy a ‘key ingredient’ in fast food beverages like McCafe.
Paul Ziemnisky, executive VP of DMI’s global innovation partnerships, said, “What we want to do is represent [farmers] so you have a voice at the table. The competitors out there selling against milk are telling retailers to get rid of four feet of conventional milk space [in the dairy case], that it’s dead.”
“We went in with Darigold and we met with Albertson’s and showed them the facts and how powerful milk is to them. We preserved our shelf space. That’s what we want to do, to make sure retailers understand the power of dairy.”
However, dairy alternative organizations and brands continue to grow and demand shelf space in the US. Plant-based diets are growing into the mainstream, and it’s now easy to find milk, cheese and butter substitutes at any local grocery store.
Plant brands are even going as far as recruiting dairy farms to convert to plant operations, as Miyoko’s Creamery announced last week. They believe that an animal-free diet is not only healthier for humans but more sustainable for the planet.
It’s a debate that’s raged for years and is unlikely to quell any time soon, even with consumers showing love for ‘flexitarian’ diets. Many Americans are incorporating both cow’s milk dairy and plant alternatives into their shopping, unwilling to give up one for the other.
But still, Gallagher urged farmers at the New Orleans meeting to stay connected with their peers to remain united against plant-based advocacy groups and said, “We’re done taking it. These anti-animal-agriculture people aren’t going to defeat you.”