Jan. 31 2020 09:00 AM

By studying trends and emerging topics among consumers, we can find new opportunities for dairy in the future.

My job with the dairy checkoff is to study everything that is going on outside of the dairy industry.

While that may seem like somewhat of a disconnected way to work on the dairy farmers’ behalf, let me explain why it matters to you.

I am part of Dairy Management Inc.’s strategic intelligence team, and my focus is on the future. I use what are called foresight methodologies to uncover future issues and opportunities for dairy. I study quantifiable trends and non-quantifiable, emerging “signals” of the future. This allows us to understand trends that might impact or involve dairy, where consumers are heading, and ensure dairy is there to meet their needs.

Major U.S. corporations and Fortune 100 companies use foresight methodologies to “future-proof” their organizations. Dairy cannot afford to not have these tools help shape our strategy. It’s a way of making sure we never rest on our laurels and get disrupted by not seeing what’s to come.

Think about electric car technology. The auto industry had been working on this concept for years, yet one day a company named Tesla came along and harnessed forces outside of the auto industry to provide the approach, technology, and infrastructure that disrupted the industry. Today, Tesla is the most valuable auto company in U.S. history.

The point is we need to understand the emerging topics and opportunities and bring them to the center of the table now so we can harness any potential issue and turn it into an opportunity. Disruptive change never comes out of nowhere. If it seems like it does, it means you just didn’t have the right practices in place to see it coming.

So, what are we seeing that could disrupt dairy?

  • First, biotechnology is advancing rapidly where dairy proteins and other foods can be replicated in a lab. Lab-grown products have the potential to condense supply chains and provide a “local” source of protein that already is being touted by companies as having a smaller environmental footprint than traditional agriculture.
  • Second, precision health will impact the way people eat. The cost of genome sequencing has come down about 99 percent since 2003 and there has been an explosion of health diagnostic kits that use this technology to tell consumers exactly what types of food to eat - or not eat - based on their genetics and/or the bacteria in their gut.
  • Here’s one more to think about. There are predicted to be 4 billion more people online by 2024. That means more people connecting to one another across borders and turning to different sources of influence and authority to make purchasing decisions. With more people connected online, there will be an explosion of innovation and ideas we cannot conceive of today. There will be new kinds of influencers cropping up that harness different types of data and platforms to relate to people and dispense lifestyle advice, including nutrition.

I share these insights through the industrywide Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy that was founded by dairy farmers to convene the entire value chain. People are shocked, scared, compelled, or excited when I present the findings because they can be seen as an issue or an opportunity. No matter the response, we all need to pay attention to this data that can help us shape the future we want to have.

Let it be dairy that does the disrupting and not others who disrupt us. We’ll continue to work on your behalf to reach that outcome.

Eve Pollet

The author is a senior vice president of strategic intelligence for Dairy Management Inc.