USDEC group
December 7, 2018

Dairy Producers Are Bullish on Exports

 |  By: Mark O'Keefe

Four Dairy Management Inc. board members examined the dairy checkoff program’s investment in exports on a trip to Japan and Hong Kong, concluding significant growth opportunities remain, particularly for cheese and dairy-fortified wellness products.

The trip was organized by the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). As both overseers and ambassadors of the checkoff, the farmers met with as many people as possible on the ground, including chefs, nutritionists, dairy buyers, consumers and USDEC staff.

The farmers also interacted with U.S. cheese suppliers who were in Asia on a parallel trip. That, in turn, gave the farmers a better understanding of the logistical challenges in getting products to overseas markets.  

Many times, dairy farmers have “tunnel vision” about producing high-quality milk, said Brad Scott, one of the farmers on the trip. “But once it leaves our farms, we don’t understand some of the hurdles (with processing and logistics) in getting the dairy products finally to the consumer in Japan.”
Scott, a dairy farmer from San Jacinto, California, was joined by fellow farmers and DMI board members Marilyn Hershey (board chair), of Cochranville, Pennsylvania; Lowell Mueller, of Hooper, Nebraska, and Cheri Chapin, of Remus, Michigan.

What follows are the four farmers’ impressions of the opportunities they saw for U.S. dairy exports, based on interviews conducted in Asia. Their answers, presented in a Q&A format, have been edited for brevity, clarity and grammar.

Q. What did you find most interesting about your time here in Japan?
Chapin: I’m seeing a lot of very health-conscious people in Japan. They really care about nutrition and exercise, so I think it is a great opportunity for U.S. Dairy. Our whey protein is going to make a big difference in a lot of their health issues, and I think they’re finding that cheese is a healthy part of their diet.

Mueller: I found out that Japan is the No. 1 cheese importer in the world, which gives us a lot of opportunities. (Japan is also the United States’ No. 3 market for cheese.) 

Q. Has this trip reaffirmed your belief in exports?
Mueller: I’ve always been a firm believer in exports. Any time you can market more product, you have more sales. We just need more sales to get a better price. I feel very strongly that (the extra funding for exports provided this year by state and regional dairy organizations) is really helping. I can already see the benefits from it. It’s exciting to see the progress we have made in such a short time.  

Q: What would you say to the other dairy farmers back in the United States?
Hershey: There is hope. Farmers want innovation. They want different ways to use dairy products, and this has certainly opened my eyes to the different ways we can use dairy products. USDEC is not sitting on its hands just because there are some tariff issues (with China and Mexico). USDEC is out there finding new markets, and obviously Japan is a very strong, new market for us.

Chapin: I would say that USDEC is really toeing the line here. They are pulling their weight and then some. They know much we are hurting (financially) back home, and they’re putting extra effort into making sure we have a market for our dairy products.

Q. After spending a few days in Hong Kong, what are your impressions?
Chapin: From what I’ve seen of the people of Hong Kong, they work hard. They have a very low unemployment rate. But they look like they enjoy life, and I think there’s a market for people to buy more of our product so that they can enjoy their lives a little more. Yes, it’s an opportunity for U.S. products and U.S. artisan cheese.

Scott: It’s obvious after being here for several days the uniqueness and diversity of the cultures here in Hong Kong. You can see that in the kinds of food that they have, and when you go to the stores the diversity in the dairy case…There are so many different levels of dairy products available and a lot of needs that we can work on filling. It’s having the right products for the right people—everything from the household all the way up to the higher-end restaurants. As an industry, we need to come together and be more collaborative to address those needs―and not just put a commodity (out there) but something that’s value-added that people want. 

Q. There’s a lot of wealth here in Hong Kong. Do you see that as an opportunity for U.S. dairy products in general and artisan cheese specifically?
Hershey: Yes, it’s a huge opportunity. Ten times a week people are eating out, so you look at the number of restaurants that are here in Hong Kong. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us and especially the artisan cheeses. 

For a video interview of the four producers sharing why they are bullish on exports, click here

Mark O'Keefe is vice president of editorial services at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. 

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