Let’s solve the fluid milk crisis

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The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. Indeed, after more than 40 years of declining fluid milk sales, dairy promotion officials are talking candidly about the problem and what needs to be done.

“As you are painfully aware, fluid milk is in crisis,” Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, told those attending the joint annual meeting of the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Inc. in late October.

“Can fluid milk be saved?” she asked somewhat rhetorically. “We know the answer is ‘yes.’”

There is no “silver bullet.” Instead, there are various pathways to explore.

One pathway is to engage leaders from across the industry in constructive dialogue. Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff program, calls this the “trustee” approach. A trustee is someone who has an interest — indeed an obligation — to promote the best interests of the industry, which means listening to ideas and trying new things.

Another pathway is better packaging. Not that there’s anything wrong with the gallon jugs; they have been fixtures in American homes for years. But lifestyles have changed. Many Americans now consume a majority of their food and beverages away from home. Under those circumstances, single-serve milk containers make more sense.

Finding single-serve containers can be difficult at times. Recently, I stopped at a convenience store to buy some chocolate milk and there was only one kind — the extra rich, whole milk variety that I ended up buying, but wanted a better choice.

Something has to be done.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned of a research study — the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — which showed that 43 percent of teenagers (aged 13 through 17) do not drink milk. Not only are these kids being deprived of an important nutritional source, they are taking on consumption patterns that will follow them into adulthood. That does not bode well for the future of milk consumption unless something changes.

A good starting point would be to provide the kids with choices — cold milk in accessible places in convenient packaging in a variety of flavors.

“We have to make sure milk is convenient to use whenever (people) want it,” Jim Wegner, president and CEO of Darigold Cooperative, said at the NMPF/DMI annual meeting in late October.

I couldn’t agree more.

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mark wenger    
VA  |  December, 04, 2012 at 08:17 PM

Your extra rich whole milk variety is still 96.75% fat free. You want to sell more fluid milk, get the FDA to change the ad restrictions on milk. Start selling milk labled as fat free instead of fat content. We have dumbed down the consumer into thinking all fat is bad and milk is full of fat - like I stated whole milk is 96.75% FAT FREE! The consumer does not drink whole milk because they beleive it is high in fat, they don't drink skim milk because it does not taste like milk, so therefore they don't drink milk period. Change the lableing, people drink more whole milk, are healthier, the producers market expands and you sell more milkfat. Whole Milk is a low fat product.

Willie Bokma    
Twin Falls, Idaho  |  December, 05, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Editor Tom, Wouldn't now be the time to start selling shelf stable milk drinks with great flavors through vending machines? The soft drink companies don't have much trouble maintaining fresh product and product renewal, along with innovative ads and colorful exciting packaging. If the dairy industry had let soft drink companies handle fluid milk sales through their expertise ten years ago, we wouldn't have these lagging fluid milk sales today. We've treated them as our sworn enemies for such a long time that we let them have our share of drink sales. Ive said for years that they can teach us a thing or two about marketing. Now that Pepsico owns Quaker Oats and are trying to get into milk sales we will see a new phase! Willie Bokma

Joe Itle    
Martinsburg, Pa.  |  December, 06, 2012 at 08:50 PM

I would start my study by doing a survey of dairy farmers and find out how many drink fluid milk on a daily basis. If they do not use fluid milk, what is the main reason? Do most dairy farmers order milk as a beverage when eating a meal away from home? Where do most dairy farmers purchase their fluid milk products if not drinking their own raw milk? Have you as a fluid milk consumer had a pleasing, satisfying, refreshing experience from your last glass of milk?

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