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A collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, adding more cheese to chicken sandwiches and sparking a virtual butter board craze are among the highlights that solidified the dairy checkoff’s mission of growing sales and trust in 2022 on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and importers.

“This was a year when our commitment to making every drop count was on full display,” said Dairy Management Inc.’s Barbara O’Brien, who celebrated her first year as CEO at October’s joint annual meeting. “We made bold moves, explored new territories for growth and brought respected partners to the table and this work is paying off. This year has set the stage for continued momentum and success in 2023.”

The checkoff’s five-year collaboration with the Mayo Clinic will build upon National Dairy Council’s (NDC) century-long legacy of delivering research-based proof points of dairy’s role related to health and wellness. NDC and Mayo will explore research and consumer outreach efforts to improve public health and advance dairy’s benefits, including the role dairy foods (including full-fat dairy) may play in cardiovascular and metabolic conditions.

DMI’s longtime strategy of working with foodservice category leaders continued with a new partnership announcement with Raising Cane’s to address growth opportunities for chicken and cheese in the fast-growing QSR channel. O’Brien said there’s huge upside as roughly 3 billion chicken sandwiches are produced by the top five U.S. chains every year, but about 2.3 billion do not feature a slice of cheese. Raising Cane’s is a popular destination for Gen Z consumers (ages 9 to 24) and the partnership also will focus on dairy-based beverages, sides and sauces.

The checkoff also made powerful impacts in the social media world. DMI assembled a “Dairy Dream Team” consisting of chefs, recipe developers, “foodies,” gamers and lifestyle influencers who have a combined 25 million social media followers. They are joined by another 100-plus influencers who work with state and regional checkoff teams and are tasked with presenting unique recipes and ways dairy can be enjoyed by consumers, particularly youth.

One of this strategy’s successes was the “butter board” craze that became a viral sensation. A “Dream Team” member produced a TikTok video that featured multiple sticks of soft butter mixed with other ingredients, such as vegetables, in a fashion similar to a charcuterie board. The video generated millions of views and coverage from some of the country’s largest news and entertainment outlets.

But that was not the only social media breakthrough moment. In October, DMI announced it is continuing its partnership with Jimmy Donaldson – aka “MrBeast” – who is one of the most subscribed-to YouTube personalities. He has more subscribers than Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran combined and a video he produced following his visit to a North Carolina dairy touting farmers’ environmental stewardship and animal care practices became the No. 1 trending video on all of YouTube and had more than 3 million views and thousands of comments within 24 hours. Donaldson also incorporates dairy messages into his popular Minecraft gaming platform.

The checkoff’s impact also was felt in markets outside of the U.S., thanks to efforts from the checkoff-founded U.S. Dairy Export Council. U.S. dairy exports are on record pace this year, which is remarkable given the challenges the industry has faced. Shipping issues – high costs, port congestion, unreliable scheduling – have made things tough for exporters. China, the largest dairy importer in the world, has experienced an economic and dairy import slowdown due to its zero-tolerance policy on COVID-19 and high inventories. Inflation hasn’t helped, either.

Yet, despite these challenges, U.S. dairy export value after the first 10 months of this year stood at $8.08 billion, eclipsing last year’s record of $7.75 billion set over 12 months. Through the first 10 months of 2022, U.S. dairy export volume was equivalent to 18 percent of U.S. milk produced.

Other checkoff highlights from 2022 include:

  • The second-year launch of Undeniably Dairy’s “Reset Yourself with Dairy” campaign series helped reach youth audiences. The work features humorous content appearing on Gen Z channels, which generated more than 255 million views to help grow the relevance of dairy’s wellness benefits.
  • More than 7,500 Taco Bell restaurants nationwide rolled out a dairy-based coffee creamer and a Cinnabon Delights® Coffee drink created by dairy checkoff food scientists. The vanilla creamer replaces a non-dairy product and was used in the checkoff-created Mango Whip Freeze and Island Berry Freeze beverages that appeared on a limited basis. The chain also relaunched the checkoff-created Grilled Cheese Burrito, which features more than 2.5 ounces of cheese and sour cream.
  • The checkoff continued its role of convener and worked to secure additional funds that help farmers and the industry advance their focus on continuous improvement to help dairy meet its 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals. The work offers science-based proof points, which will help set the record straight regarding dairy’s part in a sustainable food system. Seventy partner organizations engaged in environmental research and implementation and $37.7 million in grants and partnership support has been raised to support the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative. Additionally, 388 farms are involved in environmental research and implementation projects to support the environmental goals.

O’Brien reiterated how dairy remains a “powerhouse category” and pointed to 2021 per capita consumption figures from USDA that saw historic gains to 667 pounds of total dairy (milkfat, milk equivalent basis), a 15-pound increase over the last three years. She also said 96 percent of U.S. households contain dairy and it remains the No. 1 food-related aisle at retail with sales and traffic surpassing snacks, fresh fruit, carbonated soft drinks, bakery and meat categories.

“Consumers again are showing they have a strong loyalty to the nutritious and delicious dairy products that are made possible thanks to the hard work of our nation’s dairy farm families,” O’Brien said. “There is great momentum for the category and the checkoff is driven to explore ways we can continue finding new innovations and strategies that will keep dairy on top.”

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