California Dairy Milk

January is about looking forward and making resolutions. We resolve to do better and to make the coming year better than the year before. This applies beyond our personal lives. At the end of each year, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) wraps up with a report to our dairy producers on the activities we’ve conducted to find a home for their milk – over 40 billion pounds of raw milk, the largest milk supply in the nation – and presents our plans for the future.

For 2012, that means kicking off a new five-year plan, our roadmap for achieving the goals we’ve set forth and measuring progress along the way. While the road has not always been smooth, the past five years have brought many successes for California dairy marketing, beginning with the introduction of the Real California Milk seal and continuing with expansion nationally and internationally. In 2007 when we introduced the RCM seal, we were focused on building U.S. markets for California cheese; California was a minor blip on the global dairy radar. Today, products with the Real California Milk and Cheese seals can be found not only throughout the United States but also in more than a dozen countries.

Over this short period of time, we’ve facilitated new distribution for more than 3.2 billion pounds of raw milk equivalent, which translates to new sales of California fluid milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. That does not happen without good, strategic planning or without working closely with our partners – both important measures for continued success.

The CMAB doesn’t produce milk or make dairy products, so we must work well with all areas of the supply chain – from the producers who make the milk (and fund our programs) to the processors, wholesalers and retailers in order to build demand. We have worked very hard to develop the relationships and put structures in place to bring both sides to the table to create new channels of business for California dairy.

All indications show those channels continuing to grow as global dairy demand maintains its upward trajectory. That bodes well for our producers but not without industry challenges, many which cannot be addressed by a marketing organization like the CMAB. Solutions to the chronic oversupply of milk and the imbalance it creates in the supply chain; the weight of overregulation on an already stretched industry; and the ongoing lack of innovation were on my wish list for Santa last year and they remain roadblocks for the year ahead.

Innovation comes from not only thinking outside the box, but also listening to the marketplace. The old “if you build it, they will come” model no longer applies. We as an industry must be open to making an investment in the future by looking at new technologies, new partnerships and new ways of doing business. It’s not always comfortable but it is necessary.

And we will continue to do our part to help make that happen. Our resolution for 2012 is to be better in the following ways:

• better at identifying new opportunities and markets for California dairy at home and abroad

• better at providing the education and tools processors need to turn California milk into products for new markets

• better at developing new partnerships to extend our dairy producer dollars

• better at taking advantage of California’s abundant milk supply and geographic location to meet the needs of a growing global population

Our new five-year plan will help us stick to these resolutions by focusing attention and resources on the areas that offer the greatest opportunities for strengthening demand for and use of California’s raw milk supply and opening markets for California products long-term.