COVID-19 has permanently changed dairy consumer habits in grocery stores

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Chad Vincent believes that many Wisconsinites won't go back to their old ways of grocery shopping and will continue to order groceries online for delivery or curbside pickup.

The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed consumer attitudes around grocery shopping, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin CEO Chad Vincent says, calling online grocery ordering and increased dairy consumption "the new normal."

Vincent, a recent guest on the Dairy Stream podcast produced by the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said dairy sales have skyrocketed since people began quarantining across Wisconsin.

The March and April months were "unlike any other" in the history of dairy product purchasing, including an increase in fluid milk sales. He claimed 20% of the national population ordered groceries online for the first time in the last two months.

"When you're looking at the output numbers, it proves the power of dairy," Vincent said.

He said it was also difficult for grocery stores to keep dairy products in stock for customers, even implementing purchase limits to prevent hoarding. Vincent said he heard from dairy farmers that it was painful to see the shelves depleted of milk, cheese and butter, but he believed he could turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has begun to campaign harder for Wisconsin dairy in light of the pandemic, Vincent said on the podcast. He said the organization has begun to distribute digital ads about the importance of dairy in a balanced diet, and TV ads have also become more important in their marketing strategy.

He said large amounts of ad space opened up after the pandemic was declared due to companies pulling airtime to save money. Vincent said he took advantage of the airtime to promote Wisconsin's dairy farmers.

"We thought it was an incredible investment opportunity because you have plenty (of people) at home, you have a 40% increase in people watching screens and the media costs cut by half," Vincent said. "So we're able to almost double or quadruple our media effectiveness in our minds."

Chad Vincent

Vincent said he thinks many Wisconsinites won't go back to their old ways of grocery shopping and will continue to order groceries online for delivery or curbside pickup. He also said this is an important time to build brands because consumers want to know if their products are sustainable, environmentally friendly and nutritious. Even though price is a big factor, quality is a bigger one, he said.

"We continue to move along the lines of promoting Wisconsin cheese and making sure that people understand that not only do we make the most in the country, but we make the best," Vincent said. "What we believe is that by building the Wisconsin Cheese brand, people will talk about them."

Right now is the time for farmers to become digitally connected to their customers, Vincent said, through social media and storytelling. He said consumers want to know more about the product they're buying, especially if it's locally sourced. Vincent said Wisconsin Cheese hit the 1 million website visitor milestone this year, and the group will continue to work with grocery stores and social media "foodies" to promote Wisconsin dairy products.

"We're working with a multitude of partners in states across the country, across the globe, to make sure that we're figuring out how best to tell our stories so people trust farming, trust our product, and are excited about buying it without any reservation," Vincent said.