Nov. 13 2013 09:38 AM

McDonald's, Domino's, Quaker Foods and Taco Bell are among the win-win partnerships for dairy and the companies involved.

Almost a decade ago, the dairy-producer-funded check-off program known as Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), shifted its strategy. That new approach centered on partnering with food companies to bring more nutritious dairy foods to restaurant menus.

The longest-standing DMI partnership dates back almost a decade with McDonald's. It began with one simple step - offering milk in a plastic bottle with Happy Meals, noted Steve Maddox outgoing chair of the National Dairy Board. Since then, the partnership has introduced McCafé which is an entire line of dairy-flavored drinks. According to Darci Forrest, senior director of marketing, McCafé sales are a growth engine for McDonald's. As for the future, the DMI-McDonald's partnership introduced 27 new dairy-based products alone this past year.

Pictured (L to R): Mike Konkle, Dairy MAX; Steve Maddox, National Dairy Board; Christian Bryzinski, Quaker Foods; Darci Forrest, McDonald's

Meanwhile, the Quaker Foods partnership is newer to DMI. However, Quaker Foods' Christian Bryzinski said, "Dairy farmers are as important as oat farmers to Quaker." Oatmeal and milk are compliments. So far this year, regionally tested marketing efforts have paid dividends. "Quaker's ‘Make it with Milk' campaign raised milk sales by 5 percent in Safeway stores this April," noted Bryzinski. "When extrapolated out, the national milk lift could be an additional 39 million pounds of fluid sales annually.

As for the more recently forged DMI-Taco Bell partnership . . . Taco Bell has some 6,000 stores that serve 35 million customers per week. In 90 percent of its menu options, dairy accompanies the food. As Taco Bell develops more dairy-based menu options this year, the fast food chain expects it will use 1.7 billion pounds of milk. this year. Running some rough math, that would employ 78,350 cows based on the U.S. annual milk production of 21,697 pounds per cow in 2012. Next year, Brian Niccol, president of Taco Bell expects the chain will use 2 billion pounds of dairy products or enough milk to employ nearly 92,000 cows.

What does the future hold?

"YUM! Brands, parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), asked DMI to provide nutrition strategy and council across all of it businesses," Tom Gallagher told attendees at the annual meeting on Wednesday November 12.

A day earlier at the annual meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., Steve Maddox echoed a similar message, "We're getting phone calls from other (food) companies due to the success of these partnerships."
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The author is the managing editor, and he brings 18 years of industry leadership to our readers overseeing all editorial content and production of the magazine. His degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined dairy science and agricultural economics.