Dec. 6 2023 11:36 AM

Partnerships developed by Dairy Management Inc. and the dairy checkoff drive sales of dairy products at restaurant chains across the country and around the world.

During a late-night run to McDonald’s last weekend, I overheard an employee tell someone in the drive-thru that the restaurant’s ice cream machine was broken and probably would not be fixed until after the first of the year.

This was ironic because just a few weeks earlier, I was at the joint annual meeting of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, and the United Dairy Industry Association. In a question and answer session, Barbara O’Brien, president and CEO of Dairy Management Inc., touched on this very problem.

When talking about some of the food service partnerships Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has built over the years, McDonald’s was one example shared. O’Brien said McDonald’s is a major buyer of dairy products, and this past year, the dairy checkoff helped McDonald’s revitalize its line of ice cream desserts and shakes. The chain introduced the Grimace shake, its first new shake flavor in a decade, along with some new McFlurry flavors.

To help maintain access to these dairy desserts, DMI is also supporting McDonald’s in developing a preventative maintenance and testing program to help keep ice cream machines running. O’Brien said this fix is “fairly straightforward but critical” to be sure these dairy options are available to customers when they want to buy them.

Another important partnership is Taco Bell, a relationship O’Brien said has been in place for nearly a decade. Checkoff-driven efforts with Taco Bell led to the grilled cheese burrito, which uses more than 10 times the cheese as a regular crunchy taco. O’Brien said DMI’s food science team also helped expand the restaurant’s frozen beverage line, which uses dairy creamer.

A new partnership has been established with Raising Cane’s, a restaurant chain that O’Brien said is up and coming, with growing popularity among younger customers. “We feel really good about the potential upside in this partnership,” said O’Brien. “We see a lot of opportunity there.”

Working with major players in the food service industry is one of the unique roles DMI fills, O’Brien shared.

“Domestic and global food service partnerships continue to deliver strong volume,” O’Brien said about these relationships with restaurant chains. “We are growing sales but also giving consumers new experiences with new dairy products we know they enjoy.”

It is fun to see the work being done to encourage dairy intake in creative meals and desserts at popular restaurants. And hopefully the next time I stop at that particular McDonald’s location, the ice cream will be flowing once again.

Abby Bauer

The author is the managing editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.