DAIRY ASSOCIATION LOOKS OVER FIELD, MAPS NEW PASTURES

CHICAGO -- The dairy industry took a look at some of its past achievements and future challenges during an hour-long session at the Worldwide Food Expo here.Connie Tipton, senior vice president of legislation at the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, opened the session in McCormick's Grand Ballroom by stating "our goal is to create a vision of where we need to grow as an industry."She

CHICAGO -- The dairy industry took a look at some of its past achievements and future challenges during an hour-long session at the Worldwide Food Expo here.

Connie Tipton, senior vice president of legislation at the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, opened the session in McCormick's Grand Ballroom by stating "our goal is to create a vision of where we need to grow as an industry."

She then added that the cheese suppliers needed to "think bigger and work smarter," presenting a new dairy industry tag line that would be repeated throughout the session.

"The way we eat our meals, where, when and how is changing," noted Tipton. As a result, "the industry is changing at an incredible rate and with each change we become more attuned to the consumer."

Before showing recent footage of the dairy industry in the news, Tipton noted "consumers love American ice cream and cheese and there is more excitement about milk than there has been for years."

Tipton went on to cite some major dairy industry trends. "On the supply side we are seeing less government involvement," she said. And "this year we have seen continued volatility with milk prices," a sign that she said was evidence of a healthy marketplace.

The session's second speaker, Kurt Graetzer, a vice president at the IDFA, noted "dairy's No. 1 asset is nutrition."

Graetzer went on to update attendees on a variety of relevant dairy industry events. He said that a new relationship had been forged with the American Heart Association, Washington, allowing fat-free milk to carry the heart symbol.

Graetzer also said Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill., had recently completed a comprehensive study on the use of cheese, milk and butter (as reported in SN, Sept. 29) identifying key growth areas for dairy -- a study he said was helping the IDFA to re-evaluate its promotion programs.

The dairy industry's goal now is to increase milk consumption by 1% a year between 1999 and 2003, according to Graetzer.

He said some of the main barriers the dairy industry is still grappling with are milk's fat content, image, the idea it's just for kids and the concept that it only goes with certain foods.

Although the fat content of whole milk continues to be a consumer concern, Graetzer noted "Consumers are [also] turned off by the color of fat-free milk."

Graetzer noted many of the processors in the audience had improved milk packaging and expanded their product lines. However, he added, "It's critical that we do a better job with packaging and labeling."

Beyond milk, he noted, good marketing strategies and team efforts are having a positive effect on other dairy categories as well.

"Cheese is hard to beat as an ingredient in prepared and frozen foods," said Graetzer. "Cheese is the perfect partner and that's the image we are promoting."

Graetzer also said the level of innovation in the yogurt category would not be hard to imagine in other dairy products.

Cottage cheese had seen a 30% decline in 10 years, and Graetzer said "IDFA is continuing to investigate ways to launch sales."

After Graetzer's comments, Tipton took the stage again to sum up some of the important political events that would affect the dairy industry, such as the passage of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

The compact, passed in April of 1996, "authorizes the establishment of a commission with the power to regulate the price of fluid milk above the federally established minimum price if the commission determines that regulation is in the public interest," explained Dan Smith, executive director of the Northeast Dairy Compact Commission, based in Montpelier, Vt.

Commission-regulated pricing, according to Smith, went into effect in July of 1997 for milk sold in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Tipton said the IDFA opposed the compact because it interferes with the market and "unnecessarily raises the cost of milk, and we think in the long run it will hurt the consumption of milk."

She said the industry faces the risk of similar compacts in other states and "we hope our efforts in court will be successful in overturning the Northeast Dairy Compact, and we need your support on a state-by-state basis."

She also touched on the bad press the dairy industry had received when it was disclosed a notable percentage of dairy containers were not filled to capacity.

"Short-fill drew a flurry of media attention and it should never be an item again," she concluded.

Tipton went on to stress that training is more important today than ever and that "We need to keep our eyes on the prize of the goal of consumer satisfaction."

She noted the global marketplace holds great potential for U.S. dairy manufacturers. "We are destined to become a primary supplier of dairy products," she said, but "we have a long way to go before leveling the playing field."

Looking to the future, Tipton said the pipeline from the farmer to the consumer will be cheaper and all the members of the dairy industry need to be partners and focus on innovation.

"We need to find ways to clear hurdles to the marketplace," she said.

Tipton concluded that through all these efforts the dairy industry is striving toward a common goal of making "U.S. dairy as safe, efficient and productive as possible."