Kathie Canning
Brad Legreid is executive director of the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, Middleton, Wis.

Society is changing. As the baby boomer generation ages, and slowly leaves this world, a new force of consumers is emerging and challenging the way the dairy industry does business.

For decades, baby boomers — those born between 1955-1964 — were the key customers for dairy products. They grew up drinking milk with all their meals and enjoyed a variety of dairy products. This generation was known for its loyalty and preference for brand names and were creatures of habit. There are still 73 million baby boomers, but this generation is slowly fading away and will force dairy companies to confront new consumer realities.

The new wave of consumers are the Generation X (born between 1965– 1980) and millennials (born, 1981-1996). The Gen X group (50 million in the U.S.) is serving as somewhat of a buffer between the baby boomers and millennials. They still retain some of the boomer’s core values when it comes to food purchases, however, they are also cognizant of the warnings anti-dairy has leveled against our industry over the years, such as animal cruelty, high fat levels in dairy products and the rise of alternative beverages to compete against milk.

The millennials (83 million strong) are further challenging traditional viewpoints on food consumption. This generation is heavily invested in the internet and obtains the majority of their information from social media. For years, they’ve been inundated with negativity from anti-dairy groups espousing the horrors of consuming dairy products. Their fear has driven them to alternative products, such as plant-based beverages. They also wish to be emotionally invested in the companies they buy their food from — noting the company’s “message” concerning sustainability practices and how they can help the world.
Cater to changing demographics

Xers eschew traditional advertising, preferring to believe what is on social media. Millennials embrace “locally-produced” products because it gives them a connection to their food source. They seek transparency in food production and tend to believe (non-substantiated) claims about alternative, non-dairy products being better than the real thing.

“First of all, we cannot take the Gen X and millennial generations for granted, assuming, like their parents, the baby boomers, they will always purchase dairy products.”

What does this mean for the dairy industry? First of all, we cannot take the Gen X and millennial generations for granted, assuming, like their parents, the baby boomers, they will always purchase dairy products. These latest generational groups are being bombarded with negative messages about dairy, while subsequently, being romanced by alternative beverages and non-dairy food products.

The dairy industry must cater to the desires of the Gen Xers and millennials to keep them as customers. The national and state dairy marketing organizations need to reach out to these consumers and assuage their concerns about dairy products. Their message needs to be about farmers using good farming and animal care practices and being stewards of the land. The message must also focus on how dairy plants are reducing their carbon footprints to help improve the earth. We have to make a connection with these generations and show how only genuine dairy products can deliver the wide variety of health benefits to your body. The focus should be on not only the deliciousness of dairy products, but also on the essential nutrients that can be accrued.

The younger generations cannot be taken for granted, assuming they will always consume dairy products like their forefathers did. The dairy industry has to connect with them in new and novel ways. We have to go where they are — in social media. We must make personal connections between them and what we produce. We must trumpet our message of sustainability and good practices which benefit the planet. And, most importantly, we must tirelessly promote the superior taste and health benefits that only REAL dairy products can deliver.

A new breed of consumers

We are facing a new breed of consumers. Traditional marketing and advertising are no longer effective tools. We must meet these new consumers on their turf and tailor-make the message to appease them. Tell your “story” on your website, which the young consumers will surely visit when they research your products. Don’t be afraid to battle the voluminous negative mis-information about dairy products on the internet. We have a product to sell that is second-to-none. However, the tried-and-true sales methods of the past are no longer effective. We can win this battle if we are willing to use transformative methods in how we do business. Times are changing and dairy must do the same.