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Engaging health seeking consumers is focus to build trust in dairy industry

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
The dairy community has to work harder than ever to adapt to changing consumer preferences and marketplace dynamics while remaining focused on providing quality dairy products the world wants and needs.

MADISON - Morgan Robers, with Hidden Acres Dairy, is in the generation of people considered conflicted health seekers. Several people she went to high school with are leaning "on the vegan side of things." As a dairy producer, she knows the truth behind consumer dairy information is construed. 

So the information Nate Janseen, with Dairy Management, Inc. provided at an in-booth presentation, Engaging with Consumers Today: Breaking Through and Building Bridges, at Dairy Strong on Jan. 22 provided her with information she could take home to "help fight the fight."

Modern consumers have more information in the palm of their hands and will buy or boycott food based on social or political beliefs. They are environmentally conscious. It's a conversation that is going to continue to exist and the dairy industry has to be part of it, Janssen explained. 

With all the information available to consumers, attention scarcity is real. People lose interest after reading an email for 30 seconds. On average, the modern consumer has 120 emails a day to read and switches between screens 21 times an hour. The average attention span when talking to a co-worker - 15 seconds. 

Along with that, talk about food competes with trending social media phenomena like the Angry Cat.

So how can the dairy industry catch the attention of consumers? One way is visually, Janssen said. Visual storytelling with short, compelling videos rises to the top as a way to grab attention. 

Another way to capture that attention is focusing on a specific segment of consumers - the conflicted health seekers. This consumer tends to be more female than male. Some are millennials, some are in the generation X group. They tend to be married, have children, have a relatively good income and like to be in the know and on top of all the latest trends, fads and topics. 

The conflicted health seeker consumer wants a high quality product, want to know how it was produced and that the process doesn’t harm the environment.

The conflicted health seeker likes to combine their impact on society with society's impact on them. When it comes to resources for food they want that to make a minimal impact. To them a high quality dairy product means cows are treated humanely, maybe the food is certified organic and locally sourced. 

"They want to know how it was produced and they want to know the process doesn't harm the environment," Janssen said. 

Some things the dairy industry can work on are to change some of the consumer perceptions about the environmental impacts of dairy on the farm, that plant-based alternative might be healthier and those nutrients can be found in other foods. 

"That kind of gives us a baseline of some of the talking points we need to work with when we communicate with them," said Janssen. "Just as importantly, they consider themselves influencers, so they influence peers, they interact online, they make very informed decisions. They are engaging in a spectrum regarding health and wellness. I'ts a little of that influence the influencer strategy."

The conflicted health seeking consumer is influenced in a number of ways. There are real life influences of dietary guidelines and nutrition labels. They are influenced by family, friends and professionals such as doctors, fitness professionals or dietitians. 

"So it's important when we're talking that we're talking to all these folds so we have the influence on the influencers that we want to. We're really starting to lean into those professional influencers," added Janssen . 

The Undeniably Dairy campaign, a social responsibility platform to grow trust and relevance with the consumer, has been one way to talk with the conflicted health seeking consumers through nutrition and sustainability. 

Conflicted health seeking consumers are influenced by nutrition labeling and dietary guidelines.

"If you think about it, we know that milk has a nutritious package. We know that milk supplies us with protein. We know that as a dairy community we help support food banks. We know that the carbon footprint (of a glass of milk) is two-thirds lower than it was a couple of years ago. We know that manure is a valuable asset. We know that cows are upcyclers," said Janssen . "So it's putting all of this message together and being able to tell that narrative to those folks that utilize those venues to grab their attention."

Janssen said the goal is to have a unified voice - not just the farmer or processor, but all the way across the chain - to talk to customers and consumers and move them out of the conflicted health seekers category into the dairy lovers category. 

It starts with building trust with the conflicted health seeking consumers "because those are the one that are going to influence everybody else," said Janssen . "We need to start young and influence them when they are young and we need to influence the people that influence others." 

Along with farming with her husband and his parents, Robers is also a 4-H leader for children in kindergarten through second grade. From Dairy Strong presentations such as Janssen 's she was hoping to take home some statistics and information that's would be easy for little ones to understand. 

Recently, her fourth grade daughter's class had a nutritionist talk to the class and told the class that butter is not a dairy product. 

"She was trying to go on the health side of things — more in the oils and fats category when looking at the food pyramid — but all these 10-year-olds got out of her message was that butter's not dairy," said Robers. "So some of this information will be nice to relate to the kids so they understand, going into adulthood, that's not what she meant."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.