Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) CEO Barbara O’Brien is modernizing the checkoff strategy with a fresh organizational structure and a new three-year plan and budget that delivers immediate results and lays ground for long-term benefits for farmers and importers.
O’Brien spoke to more than 750 dairy farmers and industry representatives attending the 2022 joint annual meeting of the United Dairy Industry Association, National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and National Milk Producers Federation held outside of Denver, Oct. 25-26.
The DMI priorities are based on the acronym ASPIRE – driving action through sustainability, people, innovation, reputation and exports. Although they are not new areas of work, they provide a checkoff-wide framework for focus and shared outcomes, said O’Brien, who was named CEO in October 2021. She said the priorities are based on feedback she gathered from farmers and other industry leaders during her first 100 days leading DMI.
O’Brien translated farmer guidance into imperatives for the 2023-25 unified plan, which allows the checkoff to adapt to marketplace unknowns and evolving consumer expectations, including:
- Reduced complexity with more focused programming – doing more with less
- Clearly defined outcomes and accountabilities
- A focus on projects that drive the biggest impacts for dairy
- Strategies that work with and through the value chain and other partners for added impact
Dairy A Powerhouse Category
Despite the complexity of a fast-changing world, O’Brien said the future for U.S. dairy is strong and used data points to support her claim including recent USDA per-capita consumption totals of 667 pounds, a 15-pound increase from 2019. She said 96 percent of U.S. households contain dairy in some form and over the last two years, dairy’s been the top edible aisle at retail, outpacing snacks, carbonated soft drinks, sport and energy drinks and meat. She also pointed to the checkoff-founded U.S. Dairy Export Council’s success in helping to find international destinations for about 18 percent of U.S. milk production.
“Customers and consumers around the world are voting with their dollars to include dairy foods and beverages on their menus, as a key ingredient in their products, and in their homes,” O’Brien said.
She highlighted other checkoff bright spots from the year, including a new partnership with Raising Cane’s to address growth opportunities for chicken and cheese in the fast-growing QSR channel. O’Brien said there’s huge upside growth as there are roughly 3 billion chicken sandwiches produced by the top five U.S. chains every year, but about 2.3 billion of those are produced without a slice of cheese. Raising Cane’s is a popular destination for Gen Z consumers and the partnership also will focus on dairy-based beverages, sides and sauces.
Other 2022 highlights include:
- Taco Bell introducing extensions of its line of Freeze products that use real dairy creamer and relaunching the Grilled Cheese Burrito, products created by dairy checkoff food scientists.
- Assembling a team of social media influencers whose reach or followers exceeds any major traditional U.S. print or broadcast outlet. The efforts include sparking the recent butter board craze that included a TikTok video, which has generated millions of views.
- A continued partnership with gaming and YouTube icon Jimmy Donaldson – aka MrBeast – who has more than 100 million followers and launched a contest that includes his observations of farm stewardship based on a recent farm visit.
- Double-digit sales growth (18 percent over the last 52 weeks) for dairy on Amazon, which DMI has worked with for four years at no cost and continues to rely on checkoff experts for counsel in areas related to marketing and product insights.
- The second-year launch of Undeniably Dairy’s “Reset Yourself with Dairy” campaign series targeted to Gen Z consumers. The work features humorous content appearing on Gen Z channels, which have generated more than 255 million views to help grow the relevance of dairy’s wellness benefits.
Checkoff Investments Lay Ground for Next Decade
O’Brien said the checkoff plan includes “doubling down” in research with a renewed investment in health and wellness, product research and development and environmental science. This commitment resulted in a 5-year collaboration with the renowned Mayo Clinic announced earlier this year that O’Brien said complements decades of research led by National Dairy Council.
The checkoff is working with Mayo’s scientists, physicians and others to conduct research focused on milkfat and dairy’s benefits related to chronic disease as well as exploring new claims opportunities around immunity, calm, energy and digestive health.
Digital technology and data also play an increased role in the business, O’Brien said. The checkoff is digitizing its health and wellness science and bringing artificial intelligence and new social listening technology to marketing communications and media buying efforts.
Sustainability and farmers’ longtime commitment to environmental stewardship is another checkoff focus, O’Brien said. DMI’s work includes more than 140 on-farm research projects involving large-and small- scale operations to continue proof-building efforts. Continued third-party and partner investment includes more than $4 million in the Greener Cattle initiative, a multi-national study of the most promising interventions to reduce enteric emissions. And in addition to a $10 million investment from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), there’s another $13 million from partners in the Dairy Soil and Water Regeneration program focused on soil management practices and manure-based products.
“This work is all about U.S. dairy as an environmental solution backed by science and proof and economically beneficial for farmers, markets and society,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said her first year as CEO has been rewarding and she and the DMI team are invigorated by the organization’s new direction.
“It’s been an exceptional time to serve as DMI’s CEO, and an exceptional opportunity to be empowered by farmers to look comprehensively at the checkoff business to ensure our staying power and impact for the next decade,” she said. “Truly, I am honored and inspired by the support I have felt from farmers across the country during my first year.”
Richard E. Lyng award winner
At the event, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB) honored Rick Naczi as the 2022 recipient of the Richard E. Lyng award for his contributions and distinguished service to dairy promotion.
Naczi, former CEO of the American Dairy Association North East (ADANE), was recognized at the Joint NDB/National Milk Producers Federation/United Dairy Industry Association Annual Meeting in Aurora, Colo.
The award is named for former U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng, who played a critical role in implementing policies that led to the establishment of NDB more than 35 years ago. The Lyng Award honors leaders who have made a significant contribution to dairy promotion that benefits the entire industry.
Naczi started his career in dairy promotion as an intern in 1980 at Milk Promotion Services Inc. (MPSI) and joined the organization in 1981 the day after graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in animal science. He worked in retail marketing and training for eight years at MPSI.
In 1990, Naczi joined American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc. (ADADC) as vice president of operations and shortly thereafter became CEO. While dedicating himself full time to the farmers of ADADC, Naczi also held senior level management positions at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), including roles in school marketing and sustainability. He played a pivotal role in helping transition the checkoff from using consumer-facing advertising to partnering with organizations and companies, including McDonald’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell and the NFL.