Guest Columns

Dairy Marketing

Beyond the great pivot of 2020

Jennifer Giambroni

Jennifer Giambroni, vice president of communications for the California Milk Advisory Board, is a guest columnist for Cheese Market News®.

Whew, it’s been a minute. That phrase captures the past year, which at times felt like a decade and others just a momentary flash. And here we are again: It’s June Dairy Month and we aren’t meeting for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Show. But it’s far from a Groundhog Day moment because so much has happened.

Our collective timeout has changed us — in many ways we can’t quite yet define. It can be said that 2020 was a communal test and learning experience for all brands and organizations. We triaged, we pivoted and we worked hard to balance. The acceleration of innovation was mind boggling. The exploration and expression of creativity was inspiring. And we know we’ll never be the same.

So, what have we learned? The “Next Normal” as McKinsey calls it will be shaped by the habits we established over the past year. Since COVID began, we’ve developed new routines and amplified incipient behaviors in pretty much every area of our lives. What will stick? This is the topic du jour and the primary area of focus for the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) as we prioritize farmer dairy marketing dollars for the near future.

We know the reality of “home as the new hub” is not going away. As we emerge from our collective shell (and with more than a little shell shock), we’ll continue spending more time at home — working, eating, schooling and entertaining. While some are jumping back in with both feet, many will be looking to maintain a sense of distance and preserve the comfort and convenience of being in the safe space we’ve grown accustomed to. While screen fatigue is real and there are certainly downsides, the benefits and savings of virtual connections are having an impact on businesses and the way we reach our consumers.

This time at home and the focus on priorities of convenience and personal hygiene/protection is a catalyst for redefining our purchase behaviors. A recent IPSOS survey showcases how consumers have stepped out of their comfort zones during this time to try products, services or features they’ve never used before, like home delivery/pickup at restaurants (24%), home delivery of groceries (19%), pre-order and pickup of groceries (18%) and home delivery of meal kits (9%). Our adoption of e-commerce, forecasted to reach 24% by 2024, accelerated exponentially as we grew into our on-demand lifestyles. According to McKinsey, the first half of 2020 saw an increase in e-commerce equivalent to that of the previous 10 years — reaching 33% of total retail sales by July 2020.

For CMAB, we saw a payoff on our investment in national and retailer specific e-commerce initiatives and are continuing our exploration of exciting new platforms for ensuring California dairy products are available where and when consumers want them. And whether it’s a digital version of traditional retail or a virtual model, we are looking at ways to ensure the consumer experience is maintained because, after a year of remote everything, we expect more — we want something curated and personal.

Prior to 2020, consumers were experiencing an evolution of their ideas about health and wellness. Living through a physical and mental health crisis like a pandemic has further refined what we need for nourishing our bodies, minds and spirits. Our focus is to connect consumers with the value of dairy in delivering not only the nutritional benefits essential to maintaining optimal health but also the functional benefits that help us live better lives, however that is defined.

Riding the wave of innovation led by the necessity of the COVID downturn, CMAB is continuing to shape our innovation ecosystem to do just that. This year’s Real California Milk Excelerator new product competition is focused on new and emerging dairy-based products that play a critical role in personal performance (focus, energy, exercise, strength) and/or recovery (rejuvenation, relaxation, gut health, sleep and more). We’ve rounded out our innovation imperative with the recent establishment of the California Dairy Innovation Center, a virtual platform for collaboration between producers, processors and universities to support ideas and help to rapidly bring them to market.

Finally, as consumers have centered themselves around what is most important in their lives, their quest for value in the products they purchase has merged with their personal values. More and more consumers are making purpose-driven decisions in the brands they support. Climate change and the sustainability of food sources has become an increasing focus, with a lot of misinformation calling animal-based products into question. As we continue to promote the flavor, function and nutritional benefits of dairy, we’ve stepped up communications about the progress we’re making in achieving sustainability milestones and how dairy aligns with overall consumer values. We have a good story to share and great products behind it.

Looking ahead to next June, it will be interesting to see how many of these behaviors remain and the impact they will continue to have on how we market and sell dairy. One thing is certain: No matter what the table looks like or where it is located, our products will be there to serve, delight and nourish.


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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