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Is Milk’s Healthy Halo Trendy or Tarnished?

Canadians have long looked with jealousy, envy and/or admiration at the school milk program in the USA.  We think what a huge difference that could make to national production requirements.

In the US that is 50 million milk drinkers. It often appears to us that this is a subsidy that isn’t acknowledged front and center like the backlash we get for having a quota system.  Having said that, it is a long-term marketing plan that could keep the dairy market growing.

“A positive experience with school milk can build lifelong consumers.”
Tom Gallagher is Chief Executive Officer of Dairy Management Inc.™, 

It is logical for the dairy industry to consider positive ways to keep milk consumption rising and discovering new ways to attract new consumers.  That’s the only way to sustain the dairy industry. Regardless of what support the industry receives, long term industry success will depend on the consumers’ opinion of milk as their choice of beverage.

This has had me tuning in more carefully to the way we make our beverage choices.  I haven’t yet heard myself, or any other social hosts, restaurants or meeting organizers say, “What would you like to drink? I have soda, beer, wine and ice cold, delicious whole milk!”

If we are looking for the long term survival of the dairy industry, we must consider the future consumer and how they will make their choices. I did a super mini survey among my eight grandchildren – five of whom have free milk at school.  We are fortunate that none of them are lactose intolerant, but it is interesting to note that it isn’t whether it’s free or good for you that is driving their selection processes.

Kids Interest in Beverages is Learned from What They See!

I sometimes ask myself if milk should be restricted to certain age groups.  Can you imagine a child reaching the age of consent and looking with delight to having their first glass of milk?  Would milk bashes become the new drive-your-parents’-crazy party gathering? Of course, I’ve wandered far from the (beaten) path. My point, such as it is, is that we don’t do enough to promote the product (from which we earn our living).

Probably I spend too much time at the refrigerator door, replenishing my glass of milk.  Having said that, I am delighted to see the modern trend toward smoothies.  Here is a yummy place for milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese to add new dairy product consumers.  Granted there are non-milk milks that are used here such as soy and almond milks but, in general, this is a growing potential market. Even the beverage leading coffee chains are expanding their brands with new lattes and cream flavors.

Learn from Other Beverage Industries

More attention is being placed on the benefits of healthy eating.  Whole industries from bottled water to micro-brewers to winemakers and specialty coffee shops are cashing in on the healthy and tasty ways their beverages provide what the consumer is looking for.

Beverage Industry Trends

That isn’t to say that there aren’t trends that are changing the beverage industry.  In January of last year, the Business Insider reported, “The beverage industry is experiencing some major changes heading into the new year. ” The article went on to point out health and wellness trends such as “all-natural, energy-boosting, relaxation and fortification.” Concerns are rising in the beverage industry. “As the demonization of sugar increasingly paints big beverage companies as the enemy, the industry is eager to humanize itself.”

Does Providing Good Food Translate into Doing Good Business?

Are we teaching kids to drink milk? Schools represent more than 50 million current and future consumers who have the option to consume milk and other dairy foods at least 180 days a year. Tom Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, Dairy Management Inc. sees this as an opportunity to affect the health of young consumers. “Youth wellness is a longstanding priority for dairy farm families. In the USA the dairy checkoff is seen as a way carrying out this commitment as part of its daily mission.”

In Canada, there is no government involvement, but John Leveris, Dairy Farmers’ of Canada assistant director for market development, speaking for the not-for-profit initiative ESMP (Elementary School Milk Program) says

Typically the milk is sold to the schools at prevailing market prices. Schools then determine a ‘fundraising’ profit (generally $0.05 to $0.10), after which families pay approximately $0.65 per carton.”

It’s a significant discount from what one would pay for a 250mL carton of milk at a restaurant or convenience store,” he adds.

Is Milk’s better-for-you health halo Trendy? Tired? Or Tarnished?

As an industry, we must not just maintain but grow consumer support.  Our future depends on it.  Is our long-held image of milk and milk products a product of seeing our industry through rose colored glasses?  As long as we receive our producer’s checks, do we need to worry about what beverages are the most popular?  Maybe milk isn’t even in the top 10.  What is the beverage consumers are sipping?  Is the dairy industry slipping?

Does the next Generation of consumers care about what is “Good for you?”

A little carton of milk may seem like a minor thing, but it can have far reaching benefits for both the producing and consuming sides of the dairy industry. Statistical analysis has important considerations. “There are approximately 200 days in the school year which means there are 200 lunches, or in other words, 200 opportunities for children to make healthy food choices.” Although the intentions are good, it may be a bit presumptuous to assume that merely being presented with a nutritious beverage will tip students choices toward milk now or in the future.

As Food Producers Are We Required to Set an Example by Consuming Our Product?

If you work for a car company, you drive the company car.  If you produce computers, you use the company brand.  Many companies require that employees wear company uniforms, colors or logo.  It’s considered part of the job to promote and support the product produced. Is there a similar requirement for milk producers? Is there a line in the sand between producing milk and drinking it and serving milk products?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy industry is at a turning point as it responds to the continuous changes that keep the beverage industry evolving.  There is much to learn, and it’s no time to distance ourselves with the excuse that passion for our industry is the only branding producers need to be involved in. There is a need for all milk stakeholders to be much more aware of the many forces that impact the milk consumer.




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