The Power of Pizza is on Our Side

Marilyn Hershey Chair, Dairy Management Inc.

Marilyn Hershey Chair, Dairy Management Inc.

There is nothing like the resiliency of pizza. It more than weathered everything that came its way during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only surviving but outselling any other foodservice category in this recent period.

Pizza has always been a shining star for dairy farmers because of what it gives back to us. About 25 percent of all cheese that moves through the foodservice channel is via a piping-hot pie.

It’s simple: for cheese to succeed, pizza must succeed.

This is the premise for why the checkoff partners with the top two pizza companies, Domino’s and Pizza Hut. The collaboration that has occurred between the dairy checkoff and these major companies has changed the way consumers perceive the product and has raised the stakes for other companies in the category. This is what we call the “catalytic” effect, meaning others follow our partners’ lead to innovate at no cost to the checkoff.

Because of the success of our partnership model, a great opportunity came our way during the pandemic that will make a difference to farmers. Leprino Foods, one of the nation’s leading suppliers of cheese to pizza companies, approached DMI leadership to address a surplus of cheese as restaurants across America were shut down. A meeting followed with Papa John’s, which resulted in the chain agreeing to add 2 ounces of extra mozzarella cheese on several of its menu offerings.

Papa John’s is covering half of the cheese cost while Leprino and Dairy Farmers of America are paying the other half. DMI is providing funding to help market and advertise the effort, which began April 15 and concludes Aug. 31.



Relationship building

I’d be willing to bet that this scenario may not have played out had DMI not experienced years of success with Domino’s and Pizza Hut. It also may not have happened had DMI not forged a relationship with Leprino long ago through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy that we founded through our checkoff to unite the entire industry.

Strong relationships and successful partnerships are the cornerstone of the checkoff’s business plan. We’d never be able to do many of these efforts alone as our checkoff dollars can only take us so far. But thanks to our strategy of working “with and through” others, we can do the things that need to be done.

This also is why we made national headlines with our recent Pizza Hut promotion that gave away 500,000 pizzas to graduating high school seniors. The effort to tap into “missed moments” for these students was announced May 21 on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, who credited “America’s dairy farmers” for helping to make this happen. It truly became a pop culture moment with the segment reaching more than 2 million viewers and a potential 45 million more through the show’s social media channels.



Media outlets across the country, such as People, Newsweek, Yahoo and Business Insider, covered the news, hailing it as a feel-good moment during a troubled time. And JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers brought NFL star power with social media posts (Twitter) and an appearance on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” giving a shout out to hard-working dairy farmers.

The promotion was a smash hit with students. Pizza Hut was showered with an immediate 200,000 downloads of the coupon via its Hut Rewards program and it was forced to put the effort on pause so franchisees around the U.S. were not overwhelmed. When the promotion resumed three days later, it only took a matter of hours for the remaining 300,000 pizzas to be claimed.

The good news for Pizza Hut – and the dairy industry – is that 60 percent of the graduates who claimed the pizza are first-time Hut Rewards members.

It likely is no coincidence that Pizza Hut reported its best week for delivery and carryout average sales in eight years in May and same-store sales improved to the “low teens,” according to a Yum Brands report. Same-store sales for the quarter are up 15 percent for those focusing on carryout and delivery.

More than partners

I often tell farmers that our partners are more than just business associates. It goes deeper to where we understand one another’s cultures and we value all that we have in common. We care about the success of our respective businesses and here is one more example of that. Pizza Hut planned to launch its “3-Topping Stuffed Crust” this fall. The pizza uses close to twice the amount of cheese as a regular pie. However, the chain is putting the pizza into the marketplace now, knowing additional cheese sales will help our industry. This is an exciting promotion that we all need to keep an eye on.

It’s been easy to sometimes get lost in the moment of all that has gone on in our world and how life has changed. Our dairy industry has not been excluded, but I often pause to appreciate our partners and our checkoff teams, nationally and locally, that have been at our side through it all.

I applaud the teamwork, the vision, the hard work and the passion that is helping us through the days and showing us that brighter times are ahead for our industry.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit or send a request to join our Facebook group. To reach us directly, send an email to


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