Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 9, 2004

Fasching explains how MDA touches consumers

By David Cox

The Midwest Dairy Association (MDA) touches more than 30 million consumers in its nine-state area, said Jeff Fasching of Winsted.

MDA is funded and directed entirely by dairy farmers, Fasching said.

Fasching is one of two representatives from District 7, which includes McLeod, Carver, Wright and Hennepin counties.

"There are 425 dairy farmers left in the four-state area, including 145 in Carver, 138 in Wright, 117 in McLeod and 25 in Hennepin," Fasching stated.

Dairy farmers in the Midwest invest 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk that they produce to promote dairy products.

"Ten cents of that stays in the state for advertising, promotion and research, and a nickel goes to the national level and that is pooled together with money from other states for promotion and advertising," Fasching explained.

The MDA is the result of efforts to use resources as effectively as possible. Its history can be traced back to the Midland Dairy Association, which was formed in 1971 by farmers in Iowa, Missouri and eastern Kansas.

Their counterparts in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota ­ all states that produce more milk than they can consume ­ combined their state promotional organizations in 1993, forming the American Dairy Association (ADA).

The two organizations merged in 2000 to form the MDA. Dairy farmers and consumers in Arkansas, western Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and Illinois were soon added.

"A lot of our production was going down that way anyway, because we couldn't consume everything that we produced. They had the people, and we had the production," Fasching said.

The result was that the MDA was able to become more efficient by combining resources.

"We were able to utilize one staff, instead of a separate staff in each area, and that allowed us to use our checkoff dollars more effectively," Fasching stated.

Today the MDA represents nearly 17,000 dairy farmers ­ about 20 percent of all US dairy operations.

"The main goal is to move product to market," Fasching stated.

"All of our promotions are funded by dairy farmers and only dairy farmers," Fasching said.

Marketing programs are designed to increase awareness of dairy products. The Real Seal was developed in the mid-'80s to identify products containing real dairy products.

Other initiatives have included "Got Milk?" and "Behold the Power of Cheese." The latest program is "Three a Day" which stresses the need to consume three servings of dairy products per day, including milk, cheese and yogurt, to have adequate calcium intake.

In addition to these national programs, each state has its own local programs.

Fasching serves on the state dairy princess committee. Each year a dairy princess is selected to promote dairy products. Minnesota celebrated the 50th anniversary of its dairy princess program last year, and has one of the largest programs in the country.

"Out of approximately 100 girls that will attend the princess training seminar in May, 12 finalists will be picked to go on to the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition which is held at the state fair," Fasching explained.

Other visible state fair activities sponsored by checkoff dollars from Minnesota farmers are the malt concession and the all you can drink milk stand.

The research portion of the mission includes finding new ways to promote dairy products.

We spend dairy farmer-funded dollars on research on subjects such as school milk programs.

"We have had tests done in many states that show if we have milk in school vending machines in plastic containers with twist-off lids, we will sell a lot more milk; kids are more interested in it."

In addition to packaging changes, the research indicates that flavored milk is a key to developing the youth market.

"Flavored milk is very important to kids. Flavored milk sells nine to one versus white milk," Fasching said.

The program has had some initial success, and the MDA hopes to expand the program.

"That has taken off very well, and now we are trying to convince food services in the schools to have the same plastic bottles with twist off lids versus the little cardboard boxes."

"We are not in the vending machine business and we don't sell vending machines, but we will give information to people who want to put these machines in."

"Another big thing that we are going to be kicking off this year is we are going to partner with Wendy's and McDonalds to put eight-ounce screw-top bottles of milk in their kids meals. Wendy's is doing this already in its test locations and it is turning out very well, and McDonald's plans to start in June," Fasching said.

"That is a big step for us to get into the fast food service, because of the pop competition. A lot of it is starting to come back to a health issue."

The benefit to the consumer is convenient access to the health benefits of drinking milk. The benefit to the restaurant is that serving milk creates a healthy image.

The convenience factor of the screw-top plastic bottles is a big factor. Fasching observed the changes brought about by today's busy lifestyle.

"Did you ever try to put one of those square cartons in a round cup holder? It just doesn't work," he noted.

In spite of the benefits of the new packaging, it can still be a challenge to convince processors.

"It is going to cost them a lot of money to convert to plastic. They need to be able to see that there is going to be some profit out there, and I think once we get in to the McDonald's and the Wendy's, that is going to start the process rolling," Fasching noted.

"We need to number one convince the moms to drink milk, and bring it home, and number two, convince the kids to drink milk.

"If they don't start when they are young, we are not going to have them as consumers when they get to be 16 or 17."

"That is our future, the kids coming up through school. That is why it is important that we have something in the schools that makes drinking milk a good experience," he said.

"We also partner with many medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. We work with them by sharing our research, and they help us by letting their clients know that dairy products are good for you."

"This just came out. The Academy of Pediatrics recently drafted a policy statement stating that soft drinks should not be served in elementary or high schools. It urges doctors to contact school districts to help ensure that children receive healthy alternatives to other beverages," Fasching pointed out.

"A lot of people have an image that dairy is a high fat food, that it is going to hurt you, but it is probably one of the healthiest foods you can have.

"Research has shown that dairy products can help you lose weight. Increased dietary calcium increases fat breakdown and reduces fat storage. They also found out that dairy products are twice as effective at reducing body fat as calcium supplements are."

"A program called 'Action for Healthy Kids' is where that started out, because of the obesity issue," Fasching stated.

The Wright County ADA meeting is set for Tuesday, Feb. 10. This is one the many regional annual meetings where dairy farmers can learn about how their checkoff dollars are being used.

"Minnesota is unique in that none of it is represented by co-ops. It is all represented and directed by individual dairy farmers," Fasching noted.

After nearly 15 years in the ADA, Fasching remains committed to the organization.

"I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel it was worth the time and effort," Fasching said.

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