One might think that consumers would have put sustainability on the back burner amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that appears to be far from the case. 

In a 2020 survey it conducted with more than 3,000 people across eight countries, Boston Consulting Group found that in the wake of the pandemic, people actually were more concerned about addressing environmental challenges, as well as more committed to altering their own behavior to promote sustainability.

For dairy processors that want to win over today’s consumers, therefore, sustainability initiatives are more important than ever.

Think beyond product production

One dairy farm-related sustainability issue — methane emissions — should also be on processors’ radar. Why? Because methane emissions and their environmental impact are a significant consumer concern — one that carries through to the final packaged dairy product.

According to Ben Laine, a dairy analyst with Rabobank, the entire dairy supply chain has opportunities — and challenges — to make meaningful progress in reducing the dairy sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. Laine recently authored a Rabobank report titled “A Reduced-Methane Future for Dairy: Meaningful Progress That's Economically Sustainable.”

He tells me that dairy processors could help here by incentivizing changes that reduce methane emissions at the farm level.

“One form that could take is offering a premium for milk produced on farms that are implementing technologies like methane digesters or methane-reducing feed additives,” he says. “Farms are in the best position to reduce their methane emissions, but implementing the technologies to reduce those emissions can be costly and not practical without an economic incentive.”

By partnering with farms, processors have an opportunity not only to market a more sustainable product, Laine says, but also to help reduce emissions within their own supply chains to achieve their own sustainability goals. And as methane digester and feed additive technologies improve, he expects processor-farm partnerships and their emissions-related incentives to become important tools in processors’ sustainability toolboxes. 

Such partnerships also could help dairy brands differentiate from the competition.

“We’ve seen sales of dairy products with sustainability marketing claims grow at a much faster pace than the broader category over the past several years,” Lane points out. “Last year, Burger King rolled out a social media campaign highlighting efforts to reduce methane emissions in a portion of their beef supply. There is a growing awareness among consumers about methane emissions from livestock, but the ability to capture those emissions and use them to generate electricity or renewable gas is a story that can resonate very positively with consumers.”