June 27 2022 08:03 AM

How an innovative food service partnership is elevating consumer perceptions of Wisconsin cheese by spotlighting farm families.

Every crunchy, melty cheese curd that crosses a Culver’s counter came from somewhere specific – and special. In the rolling hills of west-central Wisconsin, daily pickups of fresh milk from family-owned farms like those to the cheesemakers at LaGrander's Hillside Dairy begin the process.

A Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW) partnership with Culver’s this June will showcase dairy as an integral part of the food service chain’s menu, telling the sourcing story behind popular items. The campaign collaboration, which will feature farmer profiles on Culvers.com, ads live across social media, and pop-up activations at various locations is a terrific example of how dairy checkoff partnerships with food service go beyond the Proudly Wisconsin badges. By supporting innovative marketing efforts, we build trust with consumers and grow usage of Wisconsin Cheese.

Lisa Ramatowski, DFW
“For Culver’s, we are grateful that Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin helps us both on the marketing side, by showcasing Proudly Wisconsin Cheese and Proudly Wisconsin Dairy on our menu, as well as on the farm side – highlighting how we work with dairy farmers, their farms and quality milk,” said Alison Demmer, public relations manager for Culver’s. “We’re excited about our partnership and look forward to working together to continue telling great farm stories.”

Partnerships around DFW campaigns like National Cheese Curd Day, National Dairy Month, and other marketing activations are key to creating excitement beyond the storefront. Culver’s upcoming partnership uses storytelling strategies to differentiate their restaurant menu and add value for their customers.

Restaurant leaders know their guests care where their food comes from. Spotlighting the hardworking producers whose behind-the-scenes dedication delivers on the Wisconsin Cheese promise of quality, wholesome products elevate key ingredients for the expanding restaurant chain. Culver’s currently has more than 850 restaurants across 25 states. They are serving nearly 12 million pounds of deep-fried Wisconsin Cheese curds each year across the country.

The “Curd to counter” story is aligned with existing ongoing efforts, too. Through their Thank You Farmers Project, Culver’s embeds appreciation for Wisconsin dairy farmers into their brand. Fundraising efforts for the National FFA Organization and free custard at their convention, four blue barns painted with messages of gratitude, and #FarmingFridays social media takeovers are a few examples of Culver’s current investments and sponsorships within the Thank You Farmers Project.

The “Curd to counter” signature story will highlight third- and fourth-generation dairy farmers Tammy and Kyle, who live outside of Chippewa Falls, Wis., with their four children and a combined herd of dairy cows. Milk pickup happens at 7 a.m., before the kids head off to school. Even the family dogs recognize the LaGrander's team. (They often get a treat when the milk truck pulls up!) Tracing the chain of family businesses back to dairy farmers like Tammy and Kyle highlights the personal connections behind a great product.

When food service operators use Wisconsin as an adjective to describe their cheese on menus, it communicates craftsmanship as well as a great flavor. We know 90% of consumers say the quality of cheese affects taste, and about 90% of consumers say the quality of cheese affects their impression of a restaurant. Being able to talk about product origins in addition to having that quality ingredient recognition creates a halo effect around consumer perceptions of a brand. Which, in turn, helps sell more cheese.

Like the “farm-to-table” movement that emphasized fresh, locally sourced produce to build affinity between growers, restauranteurs, and diners, this campaign will mobilize Culver’s consumers to consider the brand’s demonstrated commitment to the agricultural community. It also educates customers on the curd-making process, so they understand their favorite fried nuggets are formed using simple, best-quality ingredients and traditional processes. This builds a personal connection that extends beyond the food. Following the curd from counter back to the herd ties a tasty treat to our farmers’ livelihoods and heritage.

Working with partners like Culver’s that recognize dairy farmer stories are worth telling is essential; food service utilizes about 60% of all the cheese produced in Wisconsin. We are excited about the “Curd to counter” launch, and the opportunity to bring greater visibility to the hardworking people who make Wisconsin, the State of Cheese.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2022
June 27, 2022
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