Dairy farmers, industry experts and partners who attended Midwest Dairy’s inaugural Dairy Experience Forum in late June gained “valuable insights on how to better meet the needs of today’s consumers with the goal of giving them a better dairy experience and driving overall demand for dairy foods,” the organization says.
Held at the Radisson Blu in Bloomington, Minnesota, the two-day forum presented evidence to support—and the opportunity to discuss—the forum’s theme: “The Critical Connection – Engaging with Consumers to Build Dairy Demand.” Midwest Dairy was the event’s premier sponsor.
Among the highlights, the forum kicked off with a live consumer focus group, where participants shared their perceptions of food and dairy and how their personal values impact their purchase decisions. The group identified themselves as conflicted health seekers looking to make the right choices for themselves and their families but are often confused by the amount of nutrition information available. The panel shed light on the challenges consumers face when making purchases, including which fat level of milk to buy or whether to choose conventional versus organic. Their comments drove home the opportunity for the dairy industry to get more involved in the conversation by sharing their on-farm stories to offer transparency in how dairy is produced, and highlight how it delivers “taste, nutrition and versatility and can fit into different lifestyles.”
Mike Lee, food designer and founder of Alpha Food Labs and The Future Market, shared that the food industry is no longer about supply, but about demand. The future market needs to be flexible and fit the lifestyles of shoppers. Consumers are increasingly choosing foods that reflect their identities, and in a sea of choice, differentiation is crucial. Lee challenged attendees to better showcase how dairy can differentiate itself, including the research pointing to the health benefits of dairy fat, sustainability successes, nutrition, clean labels and locally sourced ingredients.
During a panel discussion, Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association; Brad Gruen, VP of marketing from Fairlife; and Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, discussed that in today’s culture of choice, there is a tremendous opportunity for the dairy industry to better understand the consumer and connect on the values they share with farmers. While it’s natural to want to educate consumers on why dairy is good for them, the emotional connection to dairy farmers needs to be established first, they concluded.
“I am energized about the insights shared at The Dairy Experience Forum, as we’ve all been challenged to shift our mindset about how to address the current marketplace to connect with consumers as a way of driving demand,” says Lucas Lentsch, CEO of Midwest Dairy. “It is critical that we continue to have these conversations not only within the dairy community, but especially with consumers so that we can learn more about their wants and needs and build a deeper, more emotional connection based on shared values. By remaining focused on the consumer, we will be able to provide an excellent dairy experience and move this industry forward.”
“The forum’s sessions—from the panel discussions to the tastes tests of innovative dairy and non-dairy products—were real eye openers to the dairy farmers in attendance,” said Alex Peterson, a dairy farmer from Trenton, Missouri. “As farmers, we don’t often think about the experiences consumers have with our product once it leaves the bulk tank. But it’s clear that consumers want to have more of a relationship with their food and understand where it comes from and who makes it. This offers a tremendous opportunity to have a two-way conversation with consumers, to align on our shared values and help consumers become strong advocates for dairy.”
Midwest Dairy represents 7,000 dairy farm families and works on their behalf to build dairy demand by inspiring consumer confidence. The organization is funded by farmers across a 10-state region, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.