A dairy farmer can take great care to make sure the milk produced on his or her farm is of the highest quality as it travels from the cow to the bulk tank. However, once milk leaves the dairy, quality control is essentially out of the farmer’s hands.
Some farms have chosen to process their own milk as a way to manage the manufacturing step and market their own product. This is not an option for everyone, though.
Fortunately, both stringent regulations and creative marketing by some major players in the processing and food retail chains are working with farmers to ensure product quality from farm to table and beyond.
One of those is The Kroger Co., the nation’s second largest grocer. Dairy Supply Chain Director Mike Brown shared information about Kroger’s “10 days of freshness guarantee” during a panel discussion focused on food retail sourcing policies held during World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
Brown explained that dairy is by far the largest general category for Kroger Co. “Dairy is very, very important to us,” he said. “We really focus on quality, and I think that is one of the reasons we continue to have good growth.”
He commented that fluid milk is a difficult category for all food retailers, pointing to the drop in milk consumption by U.S. citizens over the past few decades.
A dairy promise
To draw people to the dairy aisle, Kroger has promised customers 10 days of freshness for its milk since 2007. “If you go to a Kroger store, you won’t find milk with less 10 days of shelf life,” Brown explained. “With 10 days of shelf life left, people can ‘abuse’ it a little bit,” he said, meaning people can purchase it and leave it in their own refrigerator a little longer without worrying about declining quality.
How can Kroger guarantee 10 days of freshness? Brown said they make sure to buy quality milk with somatic cell counts below 200,000 somatic cells per milliliter (cells/mL). “Our co-ops do a fantastic job supplying us milk,” he said.
They also keep milk cycling quickly on the shelf. Any milk that approaches 10 days within its due date is donated to food pantries.
Committed customers that consistently purchase milk are vital to both dairy producers and retailers. Brown noted that when people buy milk, the average value of all the groceries they purchase is about 30 percent higher than someone without milk in their shopping cart.
“Milk is really key to customer loyalty,” he said. “It’s extremely important to us. We are very proud of our quality of milk.”