Dairy never stops, and our manufacturers are often so busy executing that they miss the chance to reflect on how well they have performed. The dairy industry has weathered the largest economic and social upheaval in decades with virtually all manufacturing in place, consumers choosing dairy in record volumes, workers safe and on the job, and an infrastructure of suppliers and distributors that bent but did not break.

Dairy has strong bones.


Dairy was prepared

The economic fallout and the threat of illness from this new coronavirus are not over. But it’s not too soon to conclude that decades of discipline in the dairy processing environment — a respect for sanitation, cleanliness, efficiency, hygienic gear — prepared dairy for this challenge. Management has been surefooted: Manufacturers were adopting cohorted teams, distancing, splitting shifts and adding sanitation even back in March, placing the safety of their workers above product throughput.

Your workforce has recognized these safety measures and responded to COVID-19 with stout courage.

Food consumption has sloshed into the retail grocery sector, where consumer spending is up 15% in March through August. Interestingly, dairy sales in those months are up 20% at retail. Meanwhile, Technomic is forecasting the restaurant sector to lose up to $300 billion in sales in 2020.

Thankfully, doomsday predictions of milk dumping diminished to a small percentage of milk lost over only three to four weeks. Millions of pounds of cheese were made to be stored this spring, but the larger story was manufacturers pivoting in days to find new outlets in exports, processed foods (like still soaring frozen pizzas) and feeding programs.

Dairy infrastructure shuddered but held as packaging materials, ingredients and even CO2 for packaged cheese tightened. The need for distancing and reduced travel slowed building projects and plant upgrades, yet suppliers weathered the storm, and progress continues on expansions.

Dairy never stops, and now we have had the opportunity to witness a global consumer experiment that a simulation never could match. What will consumers seek out when denied access to massive food systems such as those found in schools, restaurants and workplace commissaries?

The answer is cheese — with 2020 sales up 15% compared to the same months in 2019. The answer is butter — with sales up 30% this year. And the answer is bottled milk — less fat-free and low-fat, but 7% more whole, 18% more lactose-free and 9% more organic.

Those numbers prove performance, and the renewed consumer passion for wholesome dairy products that has taken root in trying times.