Commentary: We need Ulukaya-like passion for fluid milk

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I am sick and tired of hearing the pessimistic predictions that per-capita fluid milk consumption will continue to decline. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture is making the claim, as it did during the recent Agricultural Outlook Conference in late February.

This week, Rick Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), noted that for years per-capita consumption of fluid milk has declined, but total volume was able to grow because of the growing population in this country. Now, total volume is starting to erode, as well, he pointed out.

I keep wondering if we have to accept this as a foregone conclusion.

At the same DFA meeting this week, I had the opportunity to hear Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and president of Chobani, Inc., speak about growing the yogurt category.

Ulukaya’s story is absolutely inspiring. He came to the U.S. from Turkey nearly 20 years ago to learn English and go to business school. At one point, his father came to visit and seemed disappointed about the cheese he encountered. Because of this, the father suggested that Hamdi Ulukaya go into the cheese business, which he did.

One evening in 2005, while running a cheese plant in Johnstown, N.Y., Ulukaya opened a piece of mail that advertised a “fully equipped yogurt plant for sale.” He tossed the item in the trash, but something kept eating at him and 20 to 30 minutes later he retrieved it and called the number. Intrigued, he visited the plant and decided to buy it. From August 2005 to October 2007, he pretty much lived at the plant, getting it ready for production.

In the fall of 2007, he started Chobani, which has since become a main player in the burgeoning Greek yogurt market. In fact, Chobani now has a 57 percent market share, with sales of nearly $1 billion. The company is planning to open a $300 million plant in Idaho this summer to complement the existing one in South Edmeston, N.Y.

“I think the yogurt story in America has just started,” Ulukaya told those attending the DFA annual meeting this week.

All along, the company has embraced the concept of “keep it simple” and emphasized yogurt’s positive values. Yogurt is one of the best foods in the world, Ulukaya says. It’s a pure, simple, natural product from milk — “pure nature’s gift.”

Unlike some of his competitors who have advertised yogurt as something to relieve digestive disorders, or have targeted it mainly toward women and the rich, Ulukaya believes that yogurt is for everyone — and something to be enjoyed.

Ulukaya is passionate about growing the yogurt category.

We need similar passion in growing the fluid milk category.

During the past couple of weeks, there’s been buzz in the Kansas City area about a local milk bottler coming out with cotton candy-flavored milk. The bottler, Shatto Milk Company, is known for innovation, as this story describes.

It would be good to see some of the large, national distributors focus more on innovation instead of seemingly treating fluid milk as a commodity.





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or  |  March, 23, 2012 at 10:45 AM

If you want to have better fluid sales first you need to have a higher standard that goes into fluid start with Calif. standards and do not allow milk over 100k scc into the bottling plant. With E.U. requirements of 400k scc, I would bet that some of the milk that is above that level is being put into fluid market so that milk below 400k scc can go export. If we as producers want more we should be willing to do more, and that should start with making better quality milk.

texas  |  March, 23, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Dairy farmers have been improving the scc count in the milk for years.Take a look at national averages for scc. for the past 30 years.If it was as simple as fluid milk sales relating to scc then fluid milk sales should be much higher then they are now.The problem with fluid sales is that dairy business has a image problem with milk unjustly being blamed for obese kids and farmers being looked at suspiciously as abusers of animals.The industry has totally missed the boat on explaining why milk is and should be a part of every kids life.Who would have ever believed that chocolate milk would be banned in some schools.

california  |  March, 23, 2012 at 09:24 PM

How about bottling milk that resembles what you have in your bulk tank. We all know that milk directly from the tank is the best tasting by far. Don't add anything to and don't take anything out.

Mi thumb  |  March, 24, 2012 at 04:44 AM

A generation ago we were lamenting the loss of fluid sales while cheese sales grew as consumers ate more pizza, tacos, and cheeseburgers. Where would we be today without those cheese sales. Increased cultured sales, especially yogurt, will drive sales like pizza did 2 decades ago while many rung their hands about lost fluid sales. We can't drive the market where we want it to go. But we can be ready to change and supply it. Chobani was started because Hamdi realized what a poor product our domestic yogurt manufacturers were selling and took a chance few if any of the big players in dairy would have even looked twice at. That's innovation, and it doesn't happen in boardrooms.

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