While increases in cheese sales continue to boost demand for total milk, fluid milk sales have continued to struggle on several fronts, especially those relating to kids' consumption. Turning this market around is important for the long-term health of total dairy consumption, as well as for the overall economic health of dairy farm businesses.

Our greatest hope for increases in fluid milk sales lies with the kids' and teen market. This segment has consistently slipped in its per capita consumption over the last few years. As a result, the same has happened, over time, with adult audiences. If a 12-year-old stops drinking milk, he or she is unlikely to come back to milk as an adult.

A critical place for kids to develop good milk- drinking habits is in school. While school sales account for less than 10 percent of all fluid milk sold, milk-drinking patterns established in school carry over to the home. For example, a child who is served warm milk in school is less likely to drink a lot of milk at home as a result.

Solving the milk consumption problem is not easy. In order to succeed, our dairy industry must move in four key areas of influence to help increase school milk consumption.

1. School
Dairy promotion has a long history of nutrition education in the classroom to make sure children understand the nutritional value of drinking milk. But, the school lunch line is where book learning meets reality. We also are pushing for the "a la carte" option in the school cafeteria, which would allow children to select flavored milks in plastic re-sealable bottles. In addition, we are encouraging schools to make milk available through vending machines, as long as this does not reduce milk consumption in the school lunch line.

2. Milk processors
Farmer and processor-funded promotion groups are actively encouraging milk processors to increase their product offerings in schools. We also are helping processors find more marketing opportunities, such as vending machines and a la carte sales, to get more milk into the hands of more kids.

3. Competitive arena
Recent news of scientific studies reporting ill health effects (tooth and jaw decay, obesity) of soft drink consumption is helping keep the door open for milk. But we need to do more to induce kids to drink our product instead of the many alternatives on the market. We can more successfully compete with the soft drink and juice companies by expanding our product offerings and increasing their availability.

4. Kids as consumers
Dairy promotion can help increase demand for product variety and take advantage of the increasing spending power of school kids. We can also take advantage of kids' image-oriented purchasing decisions by appealing to the "coolness" of flavored milk. In addition to communicating our "drink milk" message in the school, we also reach kids through advertising (e.g., Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Sports Illustrated for Kids).

Given these barriers and opportunities, your national dairy checkoff will focus on six key issues pertaining to kids and milk:

  • Make milk "fun" and "cool," while promoting its nutritional value.
  • Work with industry to find solutions to school milk issues.
  • Offer a variety of high-quality flavors that appeal to kids through integrated programs, such as the "Chocolate: The Wilder Side of Milk" promotion in schools and retail grocery stores.
  • Use convenient and kid-friendly milk containers.
  • Place vending machines where kids can access them (e.g., schools!) and stock them with a variety of flavors and sizes.
  • Devise effective strategies for working through moms to get to kids.

Dairy Management Inc. and affiliated state and regional dairy checkoff organizations are leaders in providing the incentives and information needed for substantive change in how the dairy industry markets to kids. Working together, the dairy industry can reach long-term solutions for selling more fluid milk on behalf of America's dairy producers.

Tom Gallagher is chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc., a producer-funded checkoff organization.