Midwest Dairy recently hosted the third annual Dairy Experience Forum convening more than 400 members from the entire dairy supply chain to discuss trends, opportunities, innovation and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme, “A Disruptive Forum on Today’s Consumer and Dairy’s Opportunity,” built upon the past two years of learning and closely examined how current events have created unique circumstances influencing consumer behavior in 2020 and beyond.
“Although the Dairy Experience Forum took a different form this year by going virtual, we’re thrilled to bring the dairy community together once again to facilitate important discussions and collaborate to strengthen our collective position,” said Molly Pelzer, CEO, Midwest Dairy. “This year’s challenges have also provided opportunities for dairy, and we’re fortunate this conference allows us to explore how we can maximize them together.”
The forum kicked-off with a live consumer focus group before moving into a line-up of industry speakers and panels and concluded with a keynote address from a motivational speaker.
The live consumer panel identified consumer perceptions surrounding health benefits, animal care and sustainability. While consumer panelists shared specific concerns, they also shared enthusiasm for dairy and habits which showcased opportunities for the dairy industry. Among these were increased yogurt consumption, exploring new cheeses and cooking with dairy foods like buttermilk and sour cream.
A common thread throughout each presentation was analyzing how COVID-19 has affected consumer shopping behaviors, especially as it relates to dairy:
—As of June 21, retail dairy sales in the U.S. are up 17% in 2020, outperforming other edible category increases during this time.
—During COVID-19 restrictions, those buying more dairy (+25%) were increasing their consumption the most at breakfast and snack times.
—Based on the results of a survey commissioned by Midwest Dairy, consumers indicated they plan to increase their yogurt usage in the post-pandemic world, more so than cheese, milk or butter.
—Online dairy shoppers are not motivated by the same elements as in-store dairy shoppers, and 70% of those who began purchasing dairy online during COVID-19 say they will continue.
—Dairy drivers are the same as before (taste, nutrition/health, comfort, familiarity) but have increased in importance in the eyes of consumers.
“Now, it will be up to the dairy community to tap into this expanded market share and retain consumers’ enthusiasm for the category,” said Allen Merrill, chairman, Midwest Dairy. “We can do this by focusing future innovation on products that meet consumers needs for taste, affordability, nutrition, convenience and accessibility.”
Attendees also heard from a panel consisting of a dairy farmer, a cooperative processor and a consumer branded product manufacturer about what they are doing to reach the industry’s 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals. Each of the panelists agreed that sustainability starts on-farm, while also nodding to the outstanding efforts and practices that farmers do each day to decrease their carbon footprint, improve water quality and reduce and optimize water usage. Discussion focused around how the entire dairy supply chain needs to remain committed to sharing dairy’s sustainability story to continue to build trust in dairy.
While there is still work to be done and challenges to overcome, the dairy industry is ready to address them. Motivational speaker, Harris III, left some impressionable words with the group: “Worry is a waste of imagination.” Taking the insights gained from the forum, members of the dairy supply chain can use their imaginations to move dairy forward, innovate, be creative and enter the post-COVID era stronger than ever before.