Last month, I virtually attended the Dairy Experience Forum with my fellow Dairy Experience and Agricultural Leadership Program participants. We learned about current and future dairy consumers, areas of opportunity, and how we as farmers can connect with consumers and help dairy thrive.
    As a fifth-generation farmer, I’ve always been passionate about dairy. Through the Dairy Experience Forum, the DEAL program – which is a leadership program for young dairy farmers under the age of 40 – and ENGAGE communications workshops offered by Midwest Dairy, I’ve strengthened my communication and leadership skills to better serve our community by sharing dairy’s story.
    Here are some key takeaways from the event, along with how we can take action to drive dairy demand.
    Farmers are busy, hard-working people, and while we have so much to juggle, attending the Dairy Experience Forum reminded me why we have to make time to listen and learn about the people who purchase our products. We need to understand consumers’ needs and what drives their purchasing decisions in order to connect with them, address questions and allow them to feel confident in choosing dairy.
    Although we may not understand all consumers, we must embrace them and welcome opportunities to help incorporate dairy into their lifestyles. When it comes to Generation Z (born between 1997-2012) – whose buying power continues growing exponentially – we need to share stories about our dairies and commitment to animal care and environmental stewardship. Many consumers are more removed from life on the farm than any previous generation and are seeking to understand how dairy foods get from our farms to their tables. They are questioning dairy but have an openness to learn. Of Gen Z, 58% said they read labels and 67% said they care about nutrition facts. Milk is the ultimate clean label food, packed with 13 essential nutrients as well as other attributes such as immunity, calming, energy and digestive health benefits that Gen Z is seeking. Knowing this, the dairy community can continue making small shifts in showcasing the nutritional aspects of dairy to better align with this generation’s needs, and highlight how dairy can fit their lifestyle.
    Exports present a huge potential for increasing demand too. With Asian countries showing an expanded interest in dairy, we have new horizons to explore. Instead of looking primarily within the U.S. for growth, we’re looking beyond our borders for opportunities. And, there are many, particularly as people look to add more protein to their diets.
    One common denominator with most consumers is the desire to connect over shared values. As farmers, we hold the keys to unlocking the mystery for them by creating personal connections that build trust. Consumers aren’t looking for polished, lengthy videos with talking heads. They want bite-sized nuggets and visuals that show the unfiltered truth. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are perfect for sharing day-in-the-life moments from the farm. Or, if those aren’t the right fit for a farmer’s personal style, a conversation with someone in the dairy aisle can go a long way. If we’d each spend a few minutes a day sharing how we care for our animals, recycle water and are good stewards of the land, we can provide the transparency consumers are looking for. If you’re not sure where to start, have a conversation with your farmer relations representative from Midwest Dairy to spark ideas.
    As a united dairy community, we also need to continue working with and through partners. Midwest Dairy has been doing this for years and has expanded partnerships to include medical professionals, nutritionists, influencers and even museums to add third-party credibility to our story. This hybrid approach of farmers showing life on the farm plus partners reinforcing our messages by sharing them with their audiences builds consumer trust and drives dairy demand.
    Attending the Dairy Experience Forum opened my eyes to new ideas and ways of thinking. We have exciting opportunities ahead of us. Bringing them to life will rely on all of us doing our part. I’m energized to share our story and connect with consumers online and in person. I hope you’ll join me.