Jim Neugebauer, Dairy farmer
Jim Neugebauer, Dairy farmer

    DIMOCK, S.D. – Like many farmers, when dairyman Jim Neugebauer sees a problem he does not wait around for a solution to present itself. It is more likely he will simply roll up his sleeves and tackle the problem himself.

    Neugebauer, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and his family milk 60 cows on their farm located near Dimock, S.D. They operate about 500 acres planted to corn, alfalfa and soybeans. Neugebauer and his son, Ben, also custom baleage for neighborhood farmers.
    The problem that caught Neugebauer’s eye some years ago were the checkout lane signs at his local supermarket.
    “The checkout lane signs were old and dingy and were promoting cigarettes,” Neugebauer said. “I thought that we could use the signs as a way to promote dairy products instead of cigarettes.”
    Neugebauer is no stranger to dairy promotion. He is a board member for the South Dakota division of the Midwest Dairy Association, chairman of the South Dakota Dairy Promotion board and serves on the corporate board of directors for the Midwest Dairy Association. He is also a farmer member on the advisory council for Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center.

    “I’m always thinking outside of the box,” Neugebauer said. “So, I thought why not put a picture of a child on the checkout lane signs along with a reminder to buy dairy products?”
    Neugebauer took his sign idea to the owner of a local print shop. The printer obtained a photo of a little blonde girl holding a cheese grater and added the messages, “Ahh, the power of cheese,” and “Don’t forget the cheese.”
    Neugebauer asked the printer to manufacture a set of the signs. One of the first stores to use Neugebauer’s checkout lanes signs was the County Fair Food Store in Mitchell, S.D.
    “We began placing the signs in supermarkets and grocery stores 14 years ago,” Neugebauer said. “The little blonde girl featured on the original signs is now all grown up and has graduated from high school.”
    Charles Heisinger, the dairy case manager at the Mitchell County Fair Food Store, thinks the checkout lane signs have had an impact.
    “I have heard some of our customers mention them,” Heisinger said. “People have told me that they look nice. I think that the signs have helped boost the sales of dairy products.”
    Neugebauer’s grassroots, do-it-yourself dairy promotion initiative has met with some good success. He estimates he has placed about 150 checkout lane signs in grocery stores and supermarkets all across the state of South Dakota.
    “We make sure that each store has enough signs for all of their checkout lanes,” he said. “The managers of the stores where we placed the signs are excited about them. They like the photo of the child and the fact that the signs are promoting dairy products.”
    The checkout lane signs were updated a few years ago. The signs now feature a photo of a boy chugging a gallon of milk. A supermarket dairy case filled with jugs of milk is in the background. The signs carry the message, “Don’t forget the milk,” along with the trademarked Undeniably Dairy seal.
    Neugebauer has funded the manufacture and distribution of the checkout lane signs through the local sales of dairy products.
    “For the past 22 years, we have operated the malt wagon at DakotaFest, which is held each August in Mitchell,” he said. “We have used the profits from our malt sales to pay for the checkout lane signs. Our checkout lane signs are strictly a local dairy promotion. We don’t use any checkoff dollars.”
    Neugebauer hopes to spread his dairy promotion checkout lane signs well beyond the state and the region.
    “I have taken our checkout lane signs to national dairy meetings and have shown them to people from places like California and Washington,” Neugebauer said. “I have also shown them to the folks at Dairy Management Inc. in Chicago. They really liked the idea. If I had more signs, I would like to get them placed in larger chain stores such as Walmart. But, it’s difficult to get past their corporate structure.”
    Josh Mikeworth, night manager at Sunshine Foods in Madison, S.D., is sold on the dairy promotion checkout lane signs. His store began using the signs this past winter.
    “Our customers really appreciate the dairy message on the signs,” Mikeworth said. “They like it that the signs remind them to pick up some milk. They have also commented that they appreciate that we are now advertising a product that is wholesome and nutritious. Our old signs had featured cigarettes.”
    Neugebauer believes the natural placement of checkout lane signs makes the area a perfect fit for promotion.
    “These signs are often the last thing that the grocery shopper sees before they leave the store,” Neugebauer said. “The checkout lane sign might be enough to spark the thought that they need to pick up some milk before they go home. I hope that these signs will help promote dairy products and will make a difference.”
    Anyone interested in providing funding for dairy promotion checkout lane signs or would like to obtain signs can contact Neugebauer at neugebauerjim@santel.net.