Molly Pelzer is the CEO of Midwest Dairy and has more than 35 years of experience working with the dairy checkoff.
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Midwest Dairy represents 5,800 dairy farm families across a 10-state region, working on their behalf to build dairy demand by inspiring consumer confidence in products and production practices. To learn more, visit MidwestDairy.com.

IFT: COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on all of agriculture. How did the dairy industry fare over the first few months of the pandemic?

PELZER: When the pandemic began, there were many unknowns. But as time passed, we saw a change in consumer buying behavior, which shifted the tides for dairy. After the initial dip in spring of 2020, retail dairy sales increased 17% — outperforming other category increases at retail. The dairy community came together to solve supply chain challenges and helped get dairy foods on grocery shelves and to those facing food insecurity.

IFT: Agriculture has seemingly recovered from the COVID impact. How would you assess the state of the dairy industry today?

PELZER: The dairy industry is strong, with steady sales throughout the past year. This is due to many things, including the significant shift to individuals and families cooking at home. In addition, dairy has a strong nutrition story and remains at the core of healthy eating. Dairy is good for the body and the brain, and an excellent source of immune-boosting nutrients — a powerful combination for good health. Dairy also has a positive sustainability story, which puts the industry in a strong position to take advantage of the opportunities for dairy in 2021 and beyond.

IFT: With more consumers cooking at home, how did that impact dairy sales and consumption?

PELZER: During the pandemic, people turned to dairy for comfort, enjoyment and nutritional value, especially as more meals were being prepared at home. Dairy was a huge player in at-home cooking, baking and snacking, and as a result, we saw increased demand, especially in categories like butter and cheese.

IFT: Has the dairy industry found new customers, and what sort of consumer are you primarily targeting with your promotion?

PELZER: At Midwest Dairy, we’re focusing on reaching millennial parents and Generation Z. Millennials (born 1981-1996) have recently overtaken the baby boomer generation as the largest consumer demographic, and Generation Z (born 1997-2010) isn’t far behind.

Recent research has shown a significant drop-off in dairy consumption in households once kids reach age 13, so we are working to ensure that dairy remains relevant and appealing to these groups, which helps build trust and drive dairy sales now and into the future.

IFT: What are a few promotional campaigns Midwest Dairy is currently running or participating in?

PELZER: New this year, we’re partnering with museums that typically attract parents and their children to share dairy’s sustainable nutrition story. Since people view museums as sources of credible, science-based information and exploration, these partnerships provide a unique opportunity for the dairy industry to engage with people who are in a mindset for discovery and learning.

A key component is developing interactive exhibits that bring dairy’s stories to life, share information about the dairy industry’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050, and highlighting the sustainable practices dairy farmers use every day.

We’re also thrilled to deepen our relationships with retailers. Consumers look to stores as resources about where their food comes from and have an expectation that the products they carry are produced in a sustainable way, so we are collaborating with retailers to design resources, programs and promotions that share dairy’s positive environmental story.

To celebrate National Dairy Month, retailers across our region will have in-store signage, along with videos online and at partner gas pumps, featuring local dairy farmers and messaging about how local, healthy and sustainable dairy products are.

In Iowa, we’re partnering with Kum & Go and Casey’s to build consumer trust and drive dairy demand with expanded activations. Throughout June, Kum & Go will donate $1 for every gallon of milk sold to benefit No Kid Hungry — showcasing the common value of nourishing local communities. Casey’s will offer the sale of dairy products on their app, which will be promoted via social media, web banners and on their website — connecting consumers with dairy both in-store and online.

IFT: How are dairy numbers?

PELZER: We’ve seen a decline in the number of Iowa dairy farms over the past few years, but the number of cows has stayed around 220,000. Iowa has an excellent opportunity to grow the dairy industry with plentiful natural resources and a good mix of processors to sell to. On-farm processing has seen rapid growth, providing a new market opportunity for dairy farmers.

IFT: As you look ahead five to 10 years, what changes do you anticipate when it comes to structural and consumer trends?

PELZER: Sustainability will continue to be a priority. Studies have shown 31% of Midwest consumers are uncertain about whether dairy products are environmentally friendly, highlighting why sustainability is an important topic for the entire dairy value chain.

Many consumers also look to their food for functional benefits, along with enjoyment. We anticipate this trend growing. Along with the 13 essential nutrients, dairy’s immune-boosting properties and ability to help reduce inflammation positions it well in this health-conscious world.  These unique health benefits, along with consumers’ desire to embrace healthy and sustainable products will continue to increase market share this National Dairy Month and beyond.

Nominations are open for Fonterra’s board election but a repeat of the drama that rocked the vote three years ago can be ruled out.

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