September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Dairy farmers from across Stearns County were able to find out how MDA is using their dairy checkoff dollars by attending their annual district meeting on Jan. 10 in Albany, Minn. Barb Luehmann, an industry relations manager with MDA, along with Corrine Lieser, a dairy producer from Belgrade, Minn., and John Merdan, a dairy producer from Avon, Minn., led the meeting.
"The checkoff dollar doesn't operate like it used to," Lieser said.
Growing dairy sales
MDA has been working closely with major food brands, including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Dominos and Quaker.
"This has helped us grow our dairy market," Lieser said.
McDonalds alone has four on-site scientists funded by dairy farmers, to help develop dairy-friendly items. Currently 27 menu items use skim and whole milk or cream.
In 2014, McDonalds is looking to add three billion more pounds of milk through their menu.
McDonalds has also shown their appreciation to dairy farmers through a video tribute thanking dairy farmers.
"It gives special recognition for the work dairy farmers do," Lieser said. "I am proud of what it stands for."
Dominos is also using 10 billion pounds of milk for their pizzas.
Taco Bell has introduced the Doritos Locos Tacos with help from dairy farmers. This has increased their use of dairy products by 5 percent.
"They are starting to brainstorm other ideas using dairy," Merdan said. "These are all new sales for dairy."
Quaker will have new, innovative products being distributed in 2014. There will be the Breakfast Shake consisting of 40 percent dairy products. There will also be the Warm Crunch Oatmeal, which can only be made with milk.
Defending dairy's place in the diet
Under the checkoff dollars, dairy farmers have invested 13 million dollars to go towards dairy research.
"It's exciting to see that the money behind the research has been worth it," Luehmann said.
The research has been able to attract 75 million additional dollars in partnerships for dairy research on behalf of dairy farmers and dairy products.
"Research dollars is dairy sales," Luehmann said.
According to Luehmann, a lot of work is being done with yogurt.
"A lot has to do with greek yogurt," Luehmann said. "It has really taken off."
There is also a lot being done with milk protein concentrate (MPC).
"It used to be imported," Luehmann said. "The product is a benefit to us and is better for the ingredient companies."
Research dollars have also gone towards a study on kids who are well-nourished, particularly with eating breakfast, perform 60 minutes of physical activities each day and how it is linked to academic achievement.
"This has been a milestone piece of the checkoff dollars," Luehmann said.
With this research, there are now 40 schools participating in the Schools Serve Breakfast Challenge.
Building consumer confidence
"The need is at an all time high to reconnect with consumers," Luehmann said. "It's hard to tell our story, but we need to tell it."
Luehmann said MDA is working to increase consumers' trust and protect dairy's image with consumers through issue and crisis management, working with teachers, doctors and retailers as well as being proactive with consumer communication.
MDA recently started a partnership with Feeding America with the initiative to provide more milk to people who are hungry.
"Milk is one of the top five most requested foods at food shelves," Luehmann said. "The need is out there."
On average, one person who comes through the food shelf can buy one gallon of milk per person per year. MDA and Feeding America are looking into why people are not getting milk.
"We are looking at what the problem might be and helping find ways to alleviate that and providing nutritional information to people coming into the food shelves," Luehmann said.
Checkoff dollars are also going to finding ways for dairy farms to remain sustainable.
"We are finding ways for dairy farmers to be more profitable and still meet the expectations of the consumers," Luehmann said.