Tuesday, dairy producers, processors and manufacturers announced an unprecedented agreement to collaborate on pre-competitive initiatives through a new Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The goal is to accelerate industry innovation throughout the supply chain to increase sales in an increasingly competitive consumer marketplace.
The Innovation Center was established by America’s dairy farmers through Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the nonprofit organization that manages the producer checkoff program. It is the first of its kind to bring together milk producers, processors and manufacturers under one organization to collaborate on major issues affecting the dairy industry.
Through the Innovation Center, the entire industry will work together to address six priorities established by its board of directors comprising a blue-ribbon group of executives and chairs from the nation’s leading producer, processor and manufacturing organizations.

The priorities include:

  • Sustainability
  • Health and wellness
  • Product development, information and communications.
  • Regulatory issues (excludes pricing).
  • Consumer confidence.
  • Globalization.

“Our future success as an industry depends on our ability to be more responsive to consumer needs and more competitive in the consumer marketplace,” says Larry Jensen, chair of the Innovation Center board of directors and president of Leprino Foods Company. “By working together, we will develop new approaches to ensure that we meet consumer demand for the products they want, when and where they want them.”
The competitive marketplace and vast portfolio of product choices available to consumers is why it is increasingly important for the dairy industry to work together to address industry-wide, pre-competitive priorities, adds Jensen. Doing so allows the industry as a whole to tap into expertise and resources throughout the dairy value chain, from farm to consumer table, to meet unmet consumer demand, he says.
“The Innovation Center represents a tremendous opportunity to extend the effectiveness of the checkoff program,” says Clyde Rutherford, treasurer of the Innovation Center board of directors and president of Dairylea Cooperative Inc. “It leverages industry-wide resources to address consumption of milk and dairy products to create the kind of demand growth dairy farmers want and need.”
The Innovation Center will move forward its priorities through enlisting cross-industry Operational Committees charged with developing action plans. The action plans will also recommend industry funding and human resources needs to support these efforts.
“This is an exciting and crucial moment in time for the dairy industry,” says Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the Innovation Center and chief executive officer of DMI. “We, as dairy leaders, recognize that transforming the industry requires a different approach to working together, and the Innovation Center provides the forum to address industry opportunities and issues and establish realistic priorities. Industry-wide commitment will ensure that we meet the ever-changing needs of our consumers, not only today, but well into the future.”

Other members of the Innovation Center Executive Committee are vice chair Richard Clauss, founding chair of Hilmar Cheese Co., and secretary Miriam Erickson Brown, president and chief executive officer of Anderson Erickson Dairy.

Two at-large executive board members include Chris Policinski, president and chief executive officer of Land O’ Lakes and Rick Smith, chief executive officer of Dairy Farmers of America.

It is the policy of The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to fully comply with all applicable antitrust laws and requirements. Each participant is encouraged to exercise independent business judgment.

Source: Dairy Management Inc.