Checkoff Strategies Building Consumer Trust In Dairy by: Marilyn Hershey, DMI Chair

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Most people are exposed to about 4,000 advertising messages a day.

Complicating matters is their average attention span is around six seconds. This, sadly, is about two seconds lower than that of a goldfish, or about the same period of a calf waiting for milk!

Dairy – or any industry or company looking to break through and build trust with consumers – certainly has its work cut out. Think of trust as the North Star for what the dairy community is ultimately hoping to achieve. Trust is earned over time and each day, U.S. dairy farmers and companies make deposits into the trust bank with our sustainable and responsible production of nutritious dairy foods.

Fortunately, we’re starting from a good place. According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in farmers ranks high with consumers, as do most food and beverage sectors.

The dairy checkoff’s opportunity is to build on this solid foundation and ensure consumers view dairy foods as relevant to their lifestyle and overall health and wellness. This requires new approaches to dairy marketing. Mass marketing is no longer possible; it’s now mass personalization. Trust is personal to everyone based on who they are, where they live, what their experiences have been, etc. An industry such as dairy cannot simply say “trust us.”

We’re using consumer research and AI-powered social listening platforms to understand what people want to know about dairy. This includes their current beliefs and the questions they may have so we can tailor our content in the right channels with the right voices that resonates.

I’d like to share some ways the checkoff continues to build upon the strong trust consumers have in us. Examples of strategies include:

NextGen Scientist program – It isn’t just the average consumer who is disconnected from the true source of food and farming. Many people in the scientific arena also lack a connection to America’s farm families.

This is why the checkoff created the NextGen Scientist program in 2022 to identify and form relationships with emerging leaders in the nutrition, public health, social and animal sciences spaces. Our research shows Gen Z consumers consider physicians, nutritionists/dietitians, scientists and university professors highly trustworthy when it comes to sources of dairy and health/wellness information.

We recruited 11 members, including some from historically black colleges and universities, to participate in the three-year program. These are the thought leaders of tomorrow, and they have high visibility and touch points with their peers, students and the public through their social channels and professional networks.

Through the program, we seek to:

  • Address dairy misperceptions
  • Amplify dairy science in health, wellness and sustainable food systems
  • Support experiences that advance their professional development and build trust in dairy
  • Establish National Dairy Council as a go-to science-based resource
  • Increase diversity of nutrition scientists interested in doing dairy-related research.

Feedback shows these members have improved knowledge, understanding and perceptions on dairy’s role in health, wellness and sustainable food systems, and about 90% say their skills to communicate on dairy has been enhanced.

Engaging Consumers and Thought Leaders​ – the checkoff is partnering with reputable media outlets, such as USA Today, Washington Post, Wired and TIME to drive engagement with thought leader and consumer audiences through insightful and credible storytelling focused on dairy.

A recent partnership with TIME created an in-depth story and video that showcase how farmers care about water – a hot topic of interest. The content details farmers’ innovative ways to reduce water use and increase recycling to ensure a more sustainable future.

The TIME partnership and others in 2023 generated nearly 6 million impressions. Building from this success, the checkoff will pursue similar opportunities with media partners this year.

Social media strategy – We know trust can be gone in a second in today’s social media world. This is why the checkoff is engaging with third-party voices who are credible to consumers, particularly young parents and Gen Z.

This is happening through the “Dairy Dream Team” the checkoff assembled to help promote dairy. The team of chefs, recipe developers, foodies, gamers and lifestyle influencers has a combined 25 million social media followers. They are sharing surprising and refreshing new ways about dairy’s essential role in everyday life.

Influencers play a big role in driving food trends, such as the butter board craze. An influencer posted about a butter board (think charcuterie board, but with butter), which sparked a viral sensation, inspiring boards for other foods, including ice cream and cream cheese.