WMMB's role rolls with changing times

Ray Mueller
Now Media Group


Although the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's mission continues to be to boost consumer demand for the dairy products made from milk produced on the state's approximately 9,500 dairy farms, how that goal is pursued continues to change with the times.

Details of those changes were outlined by the WMMB's senior vice president for corporate communications Patrick Geoghegan in the keynote presentation at Kewaunee County's June Dairy Month kickoff breakfast. His duties include public relations, websites, social media and national advertising.

Before joining the WMMB, Geoghegan was the president of the former Dairy Business Innovation Center, which focused on the development of specialty cheeses, and was the editor of the Supermarket News magazine. He noted that the production of specialty cheese in Wisconsin doubled from 2004 to 2015 and accounts for 46 percent of the nation's total today.

Dairy sector statistics

Geoghegan reminded his audience of current and retired dairy farmers, their employees, and representatives of numerous agribusinesses that 96 percent of the household refrigerators in the United States contain at least one dairy product at any given time.

In addition to the efforts of dairy farmers themselves, those products find their way to consumers thanks of the input of some 1,200 cheesemakers, 200 dairy plants and some 400 milk and product transport organizations within Wisconsin, Geoghegan said.

Since 1988, the total usage of milk has increased by 50 percent although the consumption of fluid milk has fallen by 23 percent during the past 25 plus years, Geoghegan observed. For the same period, consumption of cheese has jumped by 41 percent, yogurt production is up by 276 percent, and sales of butter have increased by 22 percent, recently surpassing total sales of margarine for the first time in several decades, he indicated. A recent phenomenon has been the 17 percent in the production of cheese curds in Wisconsin during the past year.

Championing cheese

Although Wisconsin accounts for 25 percent of the cheese production in the United States today after once holding about a 50 percent share, it more than makes up for that numerical change with the reputation it has gained for the quality of its cheese, Geoghegan suggested.

Geoghegan cited one survey found that 56 percent of consumers linked Wisconsin with quality cheese while the country of Switzerland stood 2nd in that poll with 12 percent. The state also distinguishes itself by having the only 'Master Cheesemaker' training and certification program.

There are about 300 companies that work with the WMMB to put a Wisconsin logo on their cheese packages, Geoghegan reported. Due in part to the WMMB's regional marketing managers, about 80 of the top 100 retail food chains in the United States are handling cheeses made in Wisconsin.

Geoghegan also applauded the efforts of the Center for Dairy Research, which is housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He noted that the WMMB provides $1.8 million or 44 percent of the research facility's budget while the National Dairy Board provides another 40 percent.

Fashionable photo features

Based on fashion photo techniques, the creation of 'iconic images' with pieces of cheese to evoke the smiles from consumers is proving to be highly successful, Geoghegan said. That effort contributes to having the WMMB obtain 2.2 billion consumer impressions in print media per year and for which the new goal is 3 billion.

Wisconsin spends about $3 million per year on broadcast advertisements for cheese while California's spends up to $21 million annually on television advertising for its cheeses, Geoghegan pointed out. He credits the difference to Wisconsin's reliance on the social media, which have the potential to reach 1 billion consumers today. With a dozen social media platforms, the WMMB counts some 704,000 engaged followers.

In the website category, the WMMB has 10 of its own, including Eat Wisconsin Cheese, Grilled Cheese Academy, Cheese Cupid (a cheese and beverage pairing downloadable on apps) and Cheese And Burger, which has been accessed in every country except North Korea, Geoghegan indicated. The quarterly Grate Pair Share publication earns about 2 million consumer impressions per year.

To a question about promotional outlets related to sports, Geoghegan listed the National Football League's 'Fuel Up to Play' for which the player featured in Wisconsin this year will be Morgan Burnett of the Green Bay Packers along with sponsorships for broadcasts of games for teams from the University of Wisconsin campuses at Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee. He noted that nothing similar is likely to happen with Milwaukee Bucks broadcast until the team is able to establish a winning reputation.