So many things rush to my mind as I reflect on the 25 years of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).
It’s hard to believe the group that leads our national dairy checkoff is already celebrating this milestone moment. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to serve as its chairman for 15 of those years. We accomplished so much, and we did it together. I had the proverbial village around me, consisting of dedicated farmer leaders with diverse viewpoints from across the country and a talented DMI staff and leadership team.
There are two pivotal moments in these 25 years that I’d like to share, the first occurring before I became chair, though I was part of the process. That was the creation of DMI in 1995 from a merger of the United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB).
It was not an easy task, though many of us saw the benefit of uniting as a single organization. We all had the same goal of growing demand for U.S. dairy, but there were redundancies and inconsistencies solved by creating one unifying company. We were confusing the consumer with dairy messages coming from two groups. And there were operational savings to be had with unification, well into the millions of dollars.
Many UDIA and NDB leaders gathered to determine how this could come together and why it made sense. I’ll never forget those early board meetings after we created DMI. You had NDB farmers on one side of the room and UDIA farmers on the other side. It was often like oil and water.
The other pivotal moment happened when we made a strategic shift in our business strategy. We all were proud of our advertising program led through the iconic “got milk?” campaign. Farmers and consumers alike loved its simple, catchy concept and you could see how well it was received with many companies using it to inspire their own “got (fill in the blank)?” parodies.
But, we didn’t see it really move the needle with sales, and it became clear a change was needed.
We started an approach of bringing partners to the table, talking about mutual benefits and working together, beginning with one of the world’s most recognized brands: McDonald’s. One success led to another and we now count heavyweights such as Domino’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC as partners that share a common goal – to sell more flavorful, dairy-centric items to their billions of customers.
The list of accomplishments is long, but I’ll share a couple. Ninety percent of the beverages offered on McDonald’s successful McCafe line contain dairy, and products such as lattes are more than 70 percent milk. That happened because of checkoff support. So did the major turnaround of Domino’s, beginning with our work to help create its Legends line of pies that made cheese the No. 1 ingredient. Domino’s grew to become the world’s largest pizza company based on global retail sales.
And at Taco Bell, we helped advance cheese from an afterthought garnish to the true hero of its many unique and exciting menu offerings.
Billions of pounds moved
Collectively, these partnerships have grown U.S. dairy sales by 2.2 billion milk equivalent
We count on our partners’ many resources and marketing might to help sell menu items that our DMI team helped create. Many are advertised on television and other avenues, so there still are dairy commercials being seen. But, it’s not our checkoff dollars paying for the exposure.
It’s been a wonderful run for DMI, and I’m glad I had a close-up seat to how it all came together. While my role as chair ended in 2018 with Pennsylvania farmer Marilyn Hershey taking the reins, I remain on the board through UDIA.
I still look forward to being in the meetings with my fellow farmers, helping to shape our checkoff mission. We’re UDIA and NDB working as one for every dairy farmer across the U.S.
As it should be.