Center Focus Column

Goodness That Matters

This week the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania dairy industry rolled out a new campaign with the tagline, “Choose PA Dairy: Goodness That Matters.” You should start seeing it on billboards, in the media and at events over the summer. Our goal is to leverage the recent media attention around the dairy situation to remind our non-farm neighbors and friends how important dairy is to fueling healthier bodies and healthier communities in the commonwealth.

So far, the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, Center for Dairy Excellence, American Dairy Association North East, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Dairy Princess and Promotion Services have all signed on to help with this campaign. We are hoping to encourage more people to make a conscious decision to choose Pennsylvania milk and dairy products when they make their buying decisions.

Lately, there has been a lot in the news about the steady decline in fluid milk sales. It’s part of the problem we face here in Pennsylvania. In 2000, nearly 50 percent of the milk we produced went into the bottle for fresh drinking milk. In 2017, that dropped to about 32 percent. The change was due to two converging factors – on the demand side, fluid milk sales have been declining about 1 – 2 percent annually over the past ten years. On the supply side, production in the Northeast has been growing which means more milk has to find a home than in 2000.

What’s The Cause

When you look at the decline in fluid milk sales, there are a number of reasons that have led to this decline. One often pointed to is the lack of innovation in the category. Single serve, attractively packaged bottles are commonplace in every other fluid category. You are starting to see more of this type of packaging in milk, but we are behind the curve with much of our product still sold as gallon jugs and paper cartons in schools.

Beyond this, another factor that could be creating the decline is the perishable nature of our product. You can’t throw it in your car and expect it to still be good two hours later. You also can’t store it in your refrigerator for a long time and expect it to still taste good. That is why we are seeing more and more consumer interest in the extended shelf life (ESL) and ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized products. Those have a longer shelf life, which consumers want.

Other factors causing the decline are the introduction of alternative-based beverages, the lack of cold, good-tasting milk in the schools, the move away from family dinner occasions at home, and the decline of cereal consumption.  A recent study of US parents indicates that nearly half (47%) of parents say that they share fewer meals with their family than when they were growing up. Recent consumer sales data from Nielsen shows that cereal sales dropped 11 percent from 2012 to 2015. Since milk is most consumed with cereal or at the family dinner table, those two factors challenge demand.

Why It Matters

On the health side, milk contains a powerful nutrient package of nine essential nutrients, including protein that can help Americans achieve their health and wellness goals. In fact, milk is the No. 1 food source of nine essential nutrients for children and six essential nutrients for adults in the U.S. Few foods deliver dairy’s powerhouse of nutrients in such an affordable, appealing and readily available way. For example, milk, at about 25 cents a glass, is a nutritional bargain.

On the economic side, Pennsylvania’s dairy industry fuels strong communities by supporting valuable economic revenue to the tune of $14.7 billion annually and over 52,000 jobs somewhere in the Commonwealth. . Pennsylvania’s 6,570 dairy farm families are the backbone of many rural communities, supporting good jobs, wide open spaces, and valuable economic revenue. According to a study of 2015 data, every one cow in Pennsylvania supports the local community to the tune of $24,000.

What Can We Do

The dairy industry is up against some savvy competitors. But there are things we can do as an industry and as individuals to help change the tide. Here are a few:

  • Helping dairy processors to invest in innovation and modernization at the milk plant is important. Right now the greatest growth in the fluid milk category is in UHT and ESL products. These type of products offer a “designer” appeal that is attractive to consumers. However, all of the fluid milk plants in Pennsylvania are bottling fresh milk. They need innovation to reinvent their products and their packaging to compete.
  • Getting fuller fat milk back in schools. After 2012 when fuller fat milks were taken out of schools, processors can document a huge decline in school milk consumption. If kids are not drinking milk at school, they’re likely not to drink milk at home. Currently legislation exists to reintroduce fuller fat milks back into schools. Farmers should be encouraging their legislators to support this legislation.
  • Enforcing the “milk is milk” language. Milk is defined as a product from an animal under FDA definitions, but unfortunately that language is not being enforced. That has allowed plant-based beverages to market their products under milk’s healthy halo. New legislation has been passed that would prevent these type of beverages from being labeled as milk. FDA needs to hear from the industry to ensure the legislation is carried out.
  • Reminding consumers that milk is “Goodness That Matters.” The campaign we introduced this week has opportunities for local dairy farmers and promotion groups to get involved. It is up to all of us to share our story about the goodness of milk and dairy products. To find out how you can get involved, go to choosepadairy.com or call us at 717-346-0849.

Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.