Industry Editorial: Advantage Local
There's been a lot in the news lately about energy prices and the world's oil supply. Who do you blame, and how do you fix it? The popularity of SUVs might be one part of the problem, the explosive modernization of China, another, but commercial transportation shoulders some blame too. U.S. industry is trucking more materials and product back and forth across the interstates than ever.
So what's it to do with the milk business? Well, perhaps this is just one example of the silver lining that comes with being a local independent dairy.
Dairy Foods devotes buckets of ink to the industry's larger companies. At the same time we realize that just as many of our readers work for companies that are smaller, and local. Both have opportunities, but for both, those opportunities are different. And the big guy does not always have the inside track.
If consumers are concerned about energy consumption, perhaps the local dairy offers them something the national interest cannot. Look at organic food as an example. Most U.S. consumers attracted to organic are probably most interested in getting food that's more healthful, but a percentage of them must be motivated in part by the belief that organic farming is better for the environment. Might those same consumers not also be willing to choose a product based on its impact on the country's oil dependency or clean air?
Of course dairy processors are no strangers to marketing themselves as the home team. It's part of the industry's culture. I know what you are thinking. In the 21st century, the words "hometown dairy" might seem passé. But that's only if you still see the world as your grandfather did. If new approaches are applied, and you provide some steak with the sizzle, you can find a local advantage. You don't have to be the underdog if you provide real value.
Freshness is a perfect example. Dairy products have been called "farm fresh" for so long that it's become a cliché. And because it is sometimes at odds with some of the innovations that make the overall industry more efficient, the idea of fresh dairy has become little more than part of the supermarket décor. The industry gets more excited about things like 45-day shelf life, and that can be great for the big guys.
As the little guy you might not have an ESL filler, but if you are getting milk from the cow to the refrigerator in two days, why not share that good news with consumers? In other parts of the world, quantifiable freshness is desirable, and consumers will pay for it. Advantage local.
Has anyone in the U.S. tried born-on dates? The practice worked so well for the Boston Beer Company that even Anheuser Bush adopted it.
In a recent interview, Albert Straus of the California-based farmstead organic dairy company that bears his family name predicted what lies ahead on the path that his company has chosen. Consumers who favor organic and natural will soon be thinking local, fresh and simple, he says.
Again, perhaps the smaller processors are better suited to explore these opportunities than the big, national players who get so much of our ink.