In her keynote speech at Dairy Forum 2015, Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, outlined her vision of the dairy landscape through 2020. Noting that consumers are the driving force, Tipton called for broader industry collaboration on policy and regulatory changes that would encourage industry innovation to meet escalating consumer demands and growing global markets.

Tipton addressed a record crowd of 1,050 dairy producers, processors, suppliers and other industry participants gathered at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Fla., this week for the 30th annual Dairy Forum.

Consumers Crave Information

Today’s segmented consumers require a rich array of products far beyond the traditional milk and milk products that dairy companies have provided for decades, Tipton said. Collectively, however, these consumers are just as demanding; they crave in-depth information about the ingredients and processing techniques used, and can be harsh critics on topics such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and animal care. Many new factors may “make or break” the consumer purchase today, she said.

Engaging the consumer is a must, and innovation is key, Tipton said, but many impediments and hurdles still exist.

“Whether they are milk pricing, product standards of identity or restrictive labeling requirements, they all add up to a straightjacket on innovation and marketing, which we can ill afford in today’s dynamic global marketplace,” Tipton said.

Deregulation, she added, would help to spawn greater competition, innovation and consumer choice.

Federal Pricing System Has Chilling Effect

While global demand is a boon to the dairy industry, the U.S. federal milk pricing system in particular continues to have a chilling effect on some sectors, Tipton explained.

“Now is the time to move away from our domestic pricing system. And now is the time to allow milk to flow to its highest value use dictated by market forces, not regulations,” Tipton said.

She noted that the IDFA boards of directors have taken the first step by adopting a policy to promote market-based pricing rather than regulated pricing. But, she added, it will take much more work for the industry to embrace and work toward this goal.

Outdated standards of identity also remain barriers to innovation and growth, Tipton said. Commending industry innovators for attempting new approaches and products, she called for industry collaboration to convince the Food and Drug Administration to allow more “better-for-you” product innovations to fit within the dairy standards of identity.

“We all know that First Lady Michelle Obama has put a major focus on combatting childhood obesity and healthier eating, so we are urging the White House and FDA to take another look at how standards are interpreted, in hopes of getting the greater flexibility it takes to offer milks to meet varying needs,” she said. “A change in this area could be a significant breakthrough for milk and other dairy products.”

In conclusion, Tipton said, “It’s time to push the envelope, it’s time to take advantage of our opportunities, and it’s time to surmount our challenges and be the best that we can be. It will take collaboration and cooperation, and also entrepreneurship and innovation. But I am confident we will succeed if we take steps together.”