Guest Columns

WCMA Update

Thought-provoking gems from CheeseExpo Global Online

John Umhoefer

John Umhoefer is executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. He contributes this column monthly for Cheese Market News®.

Cheese manufacturers are reporting solid sales into retail channels and revived buyer and distributor interest in filling the foodservice pipeline even as states like Wisconsin open up vaccines to all citizens.

Optimism is back, just one year after upset.

And one year after postponing the dairy processing industry’s largest exposition, we’re back with CheeseExpo Global Online, and gems like this:

“I think we’ve turned that crisis into opportunities. …Consumers adapted, we adapted also, and we’ve learned a lot from it. We’ll have to adapt our operations, of course, our distribution networks, but in the end, it was a good shakeup.” That from Emile Cordeau, CEO of Agropur, who joined Carl Colizza, president and COO of Saputo Dairy USA and David Ahlem, CEO and president of Hilmar Cheese Co., for the Keynote Opener airing April 6.

David Ahlem built on that thought: “This is one of those challenging moments where people are given the opportunity to flourish and grow. I think we only grow when we’re challenged … and this was one of those moments, and I think when we look back, we will be better for this as we move forward.”

CheeseExpo Global Online set for April 6-8 mostly features live seminars and live special events like our Championship Cheese Auction, but some taped segments offer a glimpse of the expert knowhow our association, and Center for Dairy Research, gathered for this three-day, online event.

“Look at the dairy aisle today in grocery; we’ve got this massive 40- to 80- linear feet of cheeses and yogurts and milks,” said Paul Ziemnisky, DMI’s executive vice president for global innovation partnerships in the April 8 Keynote Opener. “But with this evolution rapidly to mobile: prior to COVID you had 25% of consumers who ordered their groceries online; since COVID it’s over 56% and growing.… We commanded this massive space, and now we’ve got this little 3 by 6-inch (screen) space for dairy to stand out in grocery.”

Laurie Demeritt, CEO, The Hartman Group, joined Ziemnisky for this Keynote Opener called “Moving On: Trends That will Change the Way You Do Dairy.” Demeritt notes: “Snacking is an area of huge opportunity…A full 48% of all eating and drinking is considered a snack, meaning it’s not what consumers call breakfast, lunch or dinner. Almost half of our consumption is snacking, so the opportunities there are significant.”

Seventy-three percent of consumers report having a mid-morning snack, 84% have an afternoon snack and 90% note a late-night snack — and cheese is a top food chosen by consumers for those eating occasions.

That’s just one important reason cheese sales at retail rose 556 million pounds in 2020.

Your business model may change after the last 12 months, we learn from HR professionals in an April 8 workforce seminar at CheeseExpo Global Online.

“We’re going to see changes in our approach to sick time, our attendance policies and how we support our families with child care needs in flexible work arrangements,” said Denise Lofquist, vice president of human resources at Emmi Roth USA. “Typically, you’ve seen that in some of the higher-tech companies, where it’s a little bit easier. It’s tougher in our industry, when you need people on the front lines day to day, but I think we’re going to really see a shift in mindset in how we approach the changing needs of our workforce. The pandemic has shown us that we can evolve.”

An April 6 seminar on negative PPDs and federal milk order reform moves quickly to a discussion of how orders must change.

“I had a mentor give me this analogy,” said John Newton, chief economist for American Farm Bureau Federation. “You ride a horse and maybe one leg is broken, let’s say the horse is the federal order, there’s not one broken leg, all four legs are broken and it’s laying on the ground and we’re still riding it. We’ve been valuing the Class I market for so long as being the Golden Goose.… The way the trends are looking, probably within a decade, we’re going to export more milk solids than we put in the bottle.”

This year’s online version of CheeseExpo is an unblinking look forward at a new world for dairy.

“Is dairy sustainable long term?” Carl Colizza asked in the CEO Keynote Opener. “We can’t dodge that; we can’t stick our heads in the sand. The consumer is asking the question, and, quite frankly, we need to address it head on. The solutions for all of this are not simple, but we have a fantastic story to tell, and we need to continue to tell that story more loudly than we ever have.”

We’ll see you April 6-8 at the educational event of the year.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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