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Dykes: Dairy processors need more urban allies

PHOENIX – In a wide-ranging speech on the status of the dairy industry here last week, International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes highlighted IDFA’s cooperation with the National Milk Producers Federation on the farm bill, but also said IDFA needs more urban allies in the future.

In a January 27 speech to the 1,147 IDFA members and allies attending the group’s annual Dairy Forum, Dykes noted that IDFA and National Milk were in agreement on the farm bill. But then he added, “Rural representation in our government continues to decline. It is in this new environment that IDFA has developed a fresh outlook on how we collaborate with our industry leaders to build influence. The bottom line is this: We must have a broad, diverse, more urban coalition that can influence policymakers in this changing demographic landscape.”

Dykes said that the dairy industry needs allies outside agriculture to work on regulatory issues so that innovation can be encouraged.

Asked at a news conference about the bankruptcy filings of Dean Foods and Borden’s and the sale of Fairlife to Coca-Cola, Dykes noted that all three companies were in the business of fluid milk, which has been decreasing in consumption. Of Fairlife, he said, “If there’s one thing Coke knows, it is beverages.”

But Dykes noted that, while the media focuses on the decline in fluid milk consumption, overall dairy consumption is up since the 1970s.

“We are eating more dairy and drinking less,” Dykes said.

In his speech, Dykes said the dairy industry is innovative, but must be even more innovative in the future to please consumers.

“The consumer is our boss. They are changing on us,” Dykes said. “They don’t sit and eat breakfast,” but “are grabbing something.”

Dykes also said farmers and dairy companies must communicate with consumers.

“Food is produced in red America and consumed in blue America. We can’t assume consumers know what we do,” he said.

Dykes said that sustainability is important to both consumers and investors.

“Six in ten consumers say sustainability is important,” while “seven in ten say they’ll pay more” for a sustainable product, he said, adding that definitions of sustainability vary but include animal care.

Noting Starbucks’ recent announcement of sustainability goals that include the use of plant-based foods and Goldman Sachs’ announcement that it will not help companies go public if they do not have diverse boards, Dykes said that investors’ views on issues influence company policy.

Dykes said IDFA’s sustainability efforts will focus on offering guidance and support in five distinct areas:

▪ Animal care;

▪ Products and materials sourcing;

▪ Environmental stewardship;

▪ Ensuring workforce and workplace wellbeing; and

▪ Harnessing information technology — such as AI and digitalization—to create the conditions for continued growth across our industry.

Dykes also urged the dairy executives to visit farms to see phenomena such as robotic milkers, saying, “If you haven’t been on a farm in the last five years, you are out of touch.”

Asked what excited him, Dykes said that after international trade, it’s IDFA’s collaboration with Feeding America to distribute the $253 million in dairy products that the government bought as part of the trade aid package to make up for lost exports.

Dykes said he is excited about getting milk seen as “doing something good.”

“I used to think that people who went to food banks were homeless,” Dykes said. People who go to food banks “may be people you encounter at the cleaners or the fast-food restaurant,” he added. Dykes said he was particularly thrilled by the parent in Orlando who said that the milk from a food bank made it possible to put milk instead of water on a child’s cereal.

Dykes said that he would like Congress to create an incentive in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for people to buy more dairy products in the same way they have incentives to buy more fruits and vegetables.

–The Hagstrom Report




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