Q&A with Dairy MAX: 2023 and beyond

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Dairy MAX will launch in 2023 to fulfill its mission of advocating with purpose by connecting dairy experiences with hearts, minds and communities everywhere. The nonprofit regional dairy council represents more than 900 dairy farmers in eight states. Dairy MAX aligns its program strategy by focusing on the three strategic pillars: sales, trust and team. In early 2022, he announced the promotion of Marty McKinzie, previously vice president of image and industry relations, to chief growth officer and the addition of Kay Johnson Smith as chief operating officer. As they geared up for the new year, McKinzie and Johnson Smith sat down to recap 2022 and discuss Dairy MAX’s growth in their new roles in 2023.

Q: Looking back over the last year, what are some key accomplishments for Dairy MAX and Checkoff?

McKinzie: I’m proud of the work we’ve done in esports and the relationship with Complexity. Complexity is a professional esports team that is able to influence a large demographic of gamers in the Gen Z-Millennial age group from an influencer standpoint. We also established another partnership with Optic, one of the most notable esports organizations in the world, where we are an Official Nutrition Partner.

Given how we evolved during COVID and the challenges presented, our focus shifted to food banks and current needs. Many of these food banks have the opportunity to purchase food and realize the nutritional benefits that dairy provides, but we learned that they did not have a mechanism to store dairy. There are significant pounds of milk going through food banks. This opportunity opened a sales channel for the dairy industry. Our partnership with food banks led to the establishment of a cooler program where we place coolers at food banks to facilitate the delivery and availability of dairy products.

Q: Explain the importance of associations for the verification of dairy products?

Johnson Smith: I always say we can’t do it alone. By leveraging partnerships and external relationships, we are able to reach more people and support our farmers while building trust.

McKinzie: Not only can we not do it alone, but the necessary investment and resources should not be the sole responsibility of the farmer.

Q: With the shakeup, you’ve talked a bit about your approach. What led DMX to reorganize?

McKinzie: If you look back organizationally, Dairy MAX has grown geographically. Several years ago, the organization was responsible for Texas, New Mexico, the western two-thirds of Oklahoma, and the southwestern corner of Kansas. Over the past five years, we have grown through a merger with the Western Dairy Association and expanded our geography to include Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and, shortly thereafter, Louisiana through a partnership opportunity. At the time of the mergers, with our increasing size and scope, we wanted to make sure that the people doing the work were where they needed to be and that fully staffed departments could get the job done effectively. One area that did not adjust at the time was management, particularly senior management. We had a strong system and a great strategy to expand from a business standpoint, but leadership and management at the highest level was something that Mike Konkle, our CEO, had taken on for the past five years.

Johnson Smith: Coming from the Animal Ag Alliance and running a national organization for 27 years, I hope to bring some of that operational understanding to Dairy MAX to help streamline some of our processes and help with collaboration and communication between departments, bringing more cohesion to the organization. .

Q: Share the work done with strategic planning regarding the ‘DMX sales, trust and team strategic pillars.

McKinzie: We’ve been doing strategic planning for quite some time. But we have evolved in our approach; it allows for a more collaborative and cohesive opportunity to focus on sales, trust and the team. Sales are essential for our dairy farmers as we seek to increase dairy consumption. The element of trust and the reputation of the industry certainly lends itself to making purchase decisions and having confidence in the nutrition and value of dairy products. From a team standpoint, we work for dairy farmers, which is at the forefront of our mission as a company. So together we are constantly focused on making sure we have the skills to attribute as much as we can to hard-working dairy farm families throughout the region we serve.

Johnson Smith: Marty summed it up well on what our priorities are. Looking long term, one of our values ​​is to be progressive. This strategic planning process is for a three-year period that allows us to be a little more aspirational and more forward-thinking. With checkpoints established throughout the three years, we can ensure we stay on track and allow for adjustments along the way. The other point that he would add is the commitment of the team. We have been intentional with the team commitment because we can do more together on behalf of the dairy industry and our farmers. This process ensures that we work together as a team, being more intentional in our efforts across different departments and pursuing shared projects and goals.

Q: As we move into 2023, what are the key focus areas for Dairy MAX?

Johnson Smith: In the past year, Dairy MAX invested in research to better understand the demographics of the region we serve. It is essential to understand who our consumers are throughout our region. When you look from Louisiana to Texas to Colorado and all the way to Montana, it’s a very diverse consumer base and every state is different. This investment shows Dairy MAX’s commitment to being knowledge driven. Not everyone grew up with dairy necessarily as a natural part of their diet, or they may have reservations about it. So this year in 2023, we’re going to do more research on the perceptions of dairy among our consumers in our diverse region. We will use that information to inform our communications and outreach because we need to know people where they are. We need to understand their likes, dislikes, concerns, reservations and biases they may have for or against dairy and tailor our messages and communications to make an impact.

Q: How does the dairy industry create a holistic approach to have true long-term sustainability and define it where it makes sense for so many people?

McKinzie: When you look at sustainability, we need to link it to nutrition, regardless of your definition. As an industry, we have highlighted the value of sustainable nutrition. We must communicate to the consumer the value of the nutrition they are receiving and the relatively small environmental costs compared to the value of the food. Dairy products provide about 54% of the calcium, 56% of the vitamin D and 18% of the protein that Americans consume, which is a small price in environmental terms with less than two percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. US greenhouse gases and about five percent of the water to get that kind of nutritional value.

Q: Dairy MAX has been a leader in problems and crises. When we think of problems and crises, the first thing we think of is animal activism. Tell us how the organization will help protect the dairy’s image and reputation in the future.

Johnson Smith: It is more than activists. I know that’s what people tend to think, and we often do, but it could be anything from natural disasters, food safety issues, regulations, or what’s happening in other countries. We need to be aware of many issues, not just activism. We want to understand the vulnerabilities in our departments and the potential issues for all of our stakeholders.

Q: How is DMX working to help but also expand programs and amplify national programming?

Johnson Smith: For me, we are elevating the workflow on issues and crises. With my experience at Animal Ag Alliance and now having a dedicated team focused on issues and crises, we will be able to build on the foundation that Dairy MAX has built. They have done a great job being proactive in storytelling training, crisis drills, and establishing resources and protocols for handling a crisis.

McKinzie: When it comes to sustainability, specifically as a new area of ​​work within Dairy MAX and under my new role, there is a tremendous amount of research focus within the dairy industry. The dairy industry has a long history of improving sustainability. Over the past 70 years, we have reduced our carbon footprint by two-thirds. We are producing more milk today, with nine million cows, than 70 years ago, with 26 million cows. So that’s the definition of sustainability, doing more with less. Our dairy farmers are increasing that efficiency and becoming more sustainable in the dairy industry. Communicating about that will be crucial, not only what we have done so far, but also what we are looking to do in the future. Over the past six months, I have focused a lot of my efforts on identifying new opportunities. For example, there are some great options with our regional universities. We have a strong system through extension with our dairy extension specialists, and many of them are committed to sustainability and different aspects of research.