June is here, and everyone knows what that means. It’s National Dairy Month!

A number of organizations are calling it a party this June. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, for example, is celebrating the Badger state’s dairy heritage with parades, fairs and on-farm breakfasts.

And to help dairy processors, retailers and others elevate their National Dairy Month events, Midwest Dairy (part of Dairy Management Inc.) created a free toolkit. It includes key messages, weekly theme ideas for ad circulars and social media graphics, public service announcements and more.

With milk consumption continuing on a multi-decade decline and dairy alternatives rising in popularity, National Dairy Month remains an important growth stimulator. But going forward, new market opportunities for dairy also will be critical to the dairy industry’s growth.

With the uncertainties surrounding NAFTA, exports to non-NAFTA countries certainly qualify as new market opportunities. And China is one of those countries. In April, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) announced a new innovation partnership with China’s Jiangnan University to help pave the way for U.S. dairy export growth in China.

“The Jiangnan partnership is a concrete, game-changing agreement that will lead to fruitful new opportunities that mutually benefit both China and the United States,” said Tom Vilsack, USDEC president and CEO, at the time of the announcement. “China is a top-priority market for the U.S. dairy industry, and we are very excited to be working with one of the best food science schools in the nation.”

China is not the only focus. Vilsack has mentioned Southeast Asia, Japan, the Middle East and other areas as key potential export markets in the years to come.

New potential market opportunities could be found in dairy ingredients, too. During last month’s Dairy Ingredients Business Development Forum — held in Phoenix and sponsored by the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI), National Dairy Council, DairyWest and USDEC — a group of industry executives reviewed opportunities in various sectors and identified the most promising among them. The pet food market has the most potential, the group determined.

“In comparison to proteins such as pea and soy, the usage of dairy ingredients in the pet food market is underdeveloped,” ADPI noted. “Dairy ingredients such as whey proteins offer the nutritional aspects that will benefit the 100-plus million overweight and obese American dogs and cats, contributing to their longevity and quality of life.”

Forum participants recommended additional research, ADPI said, followed by education of pet food formulators and research and development teams, “to capitalize on the existing body of science supporting the value of whey proteins.”

The group chose aquaculture as the market presenting the second-greatest potential, noting that more than 50% of the seafood consumed worldwide is now farm-raised.

“The aquaculture sector is expected to double by 2030, and this growth will fuel the demand for fish meal alternatives,” ADPI stated. “Dairy ingredients could help increase productivity, in particular through mortality reduction of fingerlings (in carnivorous species) where other protein sources are not appropriate.”

To tap into that opportunity, the industry would need to document and quantify the potential benefits of ingredients such as milk minerals, acid whey, peptides and probiotics, ADPI noted. Such studies could be costly, as the research might need to be conducted in Norway, Chile and other large producing countries. Therefore, the group identified the need to seek out partnership opportunities and/or apply for external grants.

Moving forward, ADPI said it plans to conduct market research on the pet food market and short feasibility studies on aquaculture and the other two opportunities the group presented — livestock nutrition and lactose conversion to bio-based products such as bioplastics, biopolymers and biofuel. It will also explore opportunities for funding primary research.