ORLANDO, Fla. ― A recent article posted online by Forbes criticized the dairy industry for ignoring market trends.  

That article did not escape the attention of Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

While some of the points in the article might be disputed ―and, certainly, the author had the luxury of 20:20 hindsight ―“the article speaks to all of us today and we should heed its messages,” Tipton says. 

Adapting to consumer trends was one of the "keys to unlocking dairy's potential" that Tipton cited Monday at the IDFA annual meeting in Orlando. 

Consumer trends include:

  • Increased emphasis on protein in the diet. Many Americans are turning to dairy for this option. “So, look for even more protein claims on dairy products in the next year,” Tipton said.
  • Less sugar in the diet. Dairy processors have already done a lot to lower sugar levels in flavored milk, she said.
  • Convenience. The foods that are growing in popularity are the ones that require less cooking and effort, she said. Yogurt is a prime example. To understand the popularity of yogurt is to understand American food trends, she added. Americans want to have their foods when they want it, the way they want it. Yogurt can be served either at breakfast, lunch or supper; it can be a snack, a main dish or a side dish.
  • Holistic food decisions. Increasingly, consumers are not just choosing foods on taste, nutrition and cost, they also want the food to be environmentally friendly. “Consumers are concerned how much fresh water it takes to produce a food product,” Tipton said. Animal welfare is another consideration.

Addressing these trends will create opportunities for the dairy industry.

But impediments remain.

Many of the federal milk-price regulations are antiquated “and squeeze us in a vice-grip,” Tipton said.

"Streamlining our milk pricing policies would be a great start to break the milk industry out of its doldrums and put some fresh wind in its sails," Tipton said. "It's time for our industry to come together in support of phasing-out government-classified pricing and pooling."

In addition, Tipton suggested modernizing federal standards of identity for dairy products.

The rigid nature of federal food standards is a grave impediment to meeting the changing needs of consumers, she said. There have been no changes to food standards since 1998, leaving the industry “with total stagnation when we need innovation,” she added.

Later this year, IDFA will propose to draft new federal legislation that would allow meaningful innovation without changing the characterizing ingredients in the food. This change would allow dairy companies to use "safe and suitable alternatives and processes" and still market their products within the existing dairy food categories that consumers know and want, Tipton said.