Grocers Customize Dairy Observance Programs to Bolster Traffic, Sales
In an era in which a day is set aside for virtually every food, from soup (National Turkey Neck Soup Day) to nuts (National Macadamia Nut Day), some calendar-related promotions are tried, true and effective in garnering attention and sales. June Dairy Month is an example of an established annual marketing promotion that extends from farm to table, with a strong retail component.
June Dairy Month began during the Great Depression, out of the need to stabilize demand for dairy products during a high-production time of year and provide nutrition to hungry Americans. Through the years, June Dairy Month has reflected the times, whether it was an expansion of advertising efforts in the booming postwar 1950s, to messages about dietary concerns and misperceptions in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The event has always had grassroots elements, such as the crowning of local dairy princesses, and farm breakfasts, but also encompasses broad merchandising programs that retailers can leverage to increase traffic and purchases in their stores.
At its core, June Dairy Month spotlights products that are a significant part of consumers’ diets. While Americans are drinking less fluid milk, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they’re eating more cheese, butter and yogurt.
“June Dairy Month is a great time to remind consumers of the importance of dairy products, which are a great solution for consumers who are looking for real, fresh and natural products that are packed with nutrition,” notes Jamie Liebich, business development manager, retail for Midwest Dairy Association, in St. Paul, Minn. The association offers a variety of tools and information to those in the dairy chain in the country’s heartland, including grocers, to maximize sales this time of year.
The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA), based in Harrisburg, Pa., is a national resource that helps grocers make the most of this annual opportunity. This year’s June Dairy Month theme from NFRA is “Discover Cool Possibilities,” and the organization is providing an idea book with merchandising tips, coordinating logos and artwork, digital marketing, and redesigned point-of-purchase materials. NFRA is also teaming with New York-based massmedia company WestwoodOne to provide messages to consumers through an integrated media program, and working with celebrity chef Ceci Carmichael to share recipes and product information via a satellite media tour.
To help retailers best employ its resources, NRFA has published a checklist of 12 ways to plan and promote June Dairy Month, such as leveraging sponsoring brands, decorating stores with POS items, promoting the national NFRA sweepstakes, and coordinating social media and in-store events.
While the taste-and-nutrition crux of dairy products’ widespread appeal hasn’t changed, June Dairy Month initiatives mirror the current marketplace, both in what consumers want and what dairy providers are producing.
“In the past, efforts were focused on strictly promotional opportunities, such as coupons or hot advertisements that resulted in short-term sales lifts,” says Liebich. “Today, June Dairy Month efforts are focused more on educating shoppers, focusing on things like protein and nutrition, where the product comes from, and letting consumers know that milk is one of the most local products in the store.”
Millennial shoppers, in particular, she says, want to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated in the food production process. “Most consumers don’t know milk comes from a farm, on average, 100 miles away, and left that farm about 48 hours earlier,” Liebich observes.
To share that background, an online toolkit from Midwest Dairy Association provides consumer FAQs, dairy farmer stories, and social media content and resources, as well as copy for use in weekly circulars and a guide for in-store sampling. Another educational tool is a virtual farm tour posted on the association’s website, enabling people to “experience” what happens on a dairy farm.“Shoppers are also time-crunched and often speed through the dairy department for preplanned purchases,” notes Liebich. “Creating ‘speed bumps’ … such as signage to highlight new products, nutrition information, and details about the journey milk and dairy foods take from the farm to the store, will help slow shoppers down and add more items to the basket.”
Liebich also points to efforts by the Chicago-based Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) to provide shoppers with information about dairy products and dairy production in an engaging way. “Each June, IGA creates a trivia contest for their shoppers with a new dairy question every day,” she explains. “The questions are focused on dairy nutrition, food safety and quality, animal care, and milk’s journey from farm to store. Shoppers can enter daily, and every entry allows them a chance to win dairy products for a month. That education is key because it influences their future purchasing decisions.”
Educational efforts also tout the many new products on the market. NFRA’s Discover the Cool Possibilities campaign, for instance, communicates to shoppers that the dairy category is full of versatile and innovative products.
Many retailers combine education on milk production and sourcing with a spotlight on the diverse types of dairy products now available. The Jewel-Osco chain in the Chicago area, under the Albertsons/Safeway umbrella, is one example. “Jewel-Osco will use the month of June to drive excitement in the dairy department for both the consumer and our hard-working associates,” says Ian Neitzke, assistant grocery sales manager for dairy. “It’s important that people understand dairy is more than the milk they pour on cereal, or the cheese they put on sandwiches. Dairy products are healthy, tasty, and the manufacturers are constantly innovating.”
Meanwhile, as more products in trending categories like cheese and yogurt expand the dairy section, June Dairy Month merchandising can make store navigation easier for consumers. “Retailers can add simple signage within the department to segment these large categories, or they can create destination areas within the department with portable coolers or end caps,” Liebich suggests. “Having a cooler with single-serve milk items, a variety of snacking cheeses, and yogurt is a great way to help shoppers identify healthy snacks quickly.”
In addition to in-store materials and events and broader social media efforts, community outreach is another way to tie together a retailer’s dairy department and June Dairy Month. To that end, the Great American Milk Drive is a cause marketing program with an important drive period held before and during the month of June. Now in its fourth year, the drive fills gaps from the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which go on hiatus during the summer vacation.
Spearheaded by the Washington, D.C.-based Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), the Great American Milk Drive aims to assist local communities while also helping to spur store profits, according to Victor Zaborsky, VP, marketing for MilkPEP. “June Dairy Month presents a unique and ownable opportunity for The Great American Milk Drive to spotlight the critical role milk can play in helping to fight child hunger,” he says. “The program has been shown to lift in-store fluid-milk sales without discounting, drive foot traffic and bring in new customers while strengthening community presence and doing good.”
As part of June Dairy Month, retailers can use MilkPEP’s resources to reach customers and communicate the program to store employees, an effort that spans checkout programs, point-of-sale materials and marketing support.
“Consumer research has proven that the grocery checkout counter is key, with the majority of all Great American Milk Drive donations made by shoppers at register by adding it on to their grocery bill,” observes Zaborsky. “Retailers have also successfully supported the effort by displaying Great American Milk Drive POS in the dairy aisle and strategically throughout the store.”
Retail partners have reported category sales lift during the program, due to the supporting POS, Zaborsky says, with a relative category lift as high as 3.5 percent.