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  • Farrah Newberry

Dairy must emerge stronger

With COVID-19 leading to major shifts in cultural dynamics, dairy must seize new opportunities to emerge stronger from this crisis.

I am sure by now you are all seeing the same advertisements as I am that are tied to COVID-19. Ads splashed across your TVs, phones and computers emphasizing safety, ways to remain calm during this time of uncertainty and the use of countless messages to describe these unprecedented times. So many brands are using key phrases to emotionally connect to consumers during this new era.

For the first time in my life, companies have the opportunity to market to audiences stuck at home. If done right, they can increase brand awareness, develop consumer loyalty, and emerge stronger, more successful in the end. Of course this is not the case for all industries; recovery for the travel industry will take years. Most people refuse to stay in a hotel room or fly right now due to COVID-19.

However, this is not the case for fluid milk.

Before the pandemic hit, fluid milk sales were declining drastically year over year. For decades, population increase kept overall milk consumption stable - until the last ten years. It became very evident to Southeast dairy farmers producing for the gallon jug that if conditions continued, most would go out of business. Fluid milk marketers needed to change perceptions and improve product innovation.

Then COVID-19 hit and panic buying began.

Consumers filled their pantries and stocked their refrigerators. Milk was at the top of grocery lists as families began to prepare meals at home. According to Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) at the height of the pandemic, fluid milk sales were up 34%. It has now settled back to a 10% increase. Cereal and frozen pizza sales (which were falling before the pandemic) have greatly increased as well. Families are no longer seeking convenience but rather good ingredients for the recipes they plan to prepare.

Now is the time for fluid milk to thrive. We must spend advertising dollars to capitalize on the goodness of our product. It is healthy, inexpensive and reliable. We must thank consumers for returning to milk when they needed to provide nutritious meals for their families. We must adapt to this new era, reach past our competitors and emerge stronger from this crisis.

MilkPep, the milk processor checkoff organization, has already taken the first step with their "Love What's Real" campaign. Let's build upon that and search for extraordinary, creative solutions to market our product. We must do what's necessary to grow milk drinker numbers. Sure - some consumers may bounce back to old habits once this over – but this is an opportunity fluid milk can’t miss!

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