Apart from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been consuming a growing share of their diet outside of the home in recent decades. In fact, current data has suggested that many consumers spend almost half of their food dollars at restaurants, convenience stores, and other places where they can purchase food that is already prepared.

That trend means that dairy promotion efforts can’t only focus on milk, cheese, and other products as an ingredient used in at-home cooking. Dairy must also become the star of menu items consumers can pick up from retailers and enjoy on the go. That’s why one dairy checkoff strategy that’s seen success is partnering with restaurants to highlight dairy products. Domino’s and McDonald’s are two examples of dairy industry partners that have helped share the industry’s story through their food.

Another is Taco Bell, and on a Hoard’s Dairyman "Herd It Here" podcast, Dairy Management Inc.’s (DMI) Nancy Gannon described how the checkoff works closely with the restaurant on marketing efforts to benefit both parties. Marketing is a combination of consumer feeling and emotion with the science of the product, she described. That makes the relationship between DMI’s scientists and Taco Bell’s trend analysts work so well. The two have been partners for more than 11 years, Gannon noted, and have a similar perspective as to the need to think both analytically and creatively.

When developing menu items or advertising content, Gannon said the partnership focuses on three main pillars. The first is innovation to keep making things bigger, better, and more interesting for consumers. Gannon noted that Taco Bell often uses limited-time promotions, and DMI is involved in helping them come up with new items to promote that way. Just this month, the chain introduced the grilled cheese dipping taco, which features cheese on the outside of the shell, inside the taco, and in the nacho cheese dipping sauce side. DMI played a role in bringing the item to market.

The development of the dipping taco was surely helped by consumers’ love of the grilled cheese burrito that features cheese baked onto the outside of the tortilla. Consumer research is another critical piece of product development and an area that DMI supports its restaurant partners in.

“We research so much upstream here at DMI and within the checkoff to understand where consumers are going, where is the science going, and how can we positively influence the industry to improve volume for our farmers, to improve the reputation of dairy?” Gannon said. “The important thing about consumers is they are changing.”

South Dakota dairy farmer Allen Merrill is the board chair of Midwest Dairy and has had the opportunity to tour the Taco Bell headquarters where product development takes place and a DMI scientist works. One of the features he was most impressed by was the way consumer behavior is monitored in real time with large screens that track all online posts made about Taco Bell. Said Merrill of DMI’s partnership with the chain, “It’s a great tool for us to use and capitalize on.”

Of course, great ideas must be carried out well, so DMI also helps Taco Bell develop ways to produce dairy-friendly items in a high-quality way. When the chain wanted to branch out into coffee more, for example, the checkoff helped develop a dairy-based creamer that was shelf-stable so employees at the more than 7,000 Taco Bell locations could use it easily.

Quality is also important from a values standpoint, Gannon explained, and Taco Bell looks for suppliers that fit in with its standards for areas such as environmental sustainability. Because American dairy farmers provide a high-quality product in an increasingly sustainable way, this is an even greater opportunity for dairy, she added.

Gannon described that they think of DMI and Taco Bell as being two parts of the same team with the same goals of growing dairy’s reach. Their partnership allows dairy farmers to have a seat at the table in development as well as marketing of products that allow consumers convenient access to their products.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
August 14, 2023

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