Woman buying milk.
July 15, 2020

Focus Group Shows Why Dairy Grocery Sales Up

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

A focus group of 5 consumers featured at the start of the virtual Dairy Experience Conference today gave a good indication of why dairy sales are up some 16 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dairy Experience, now in its third year, is hosted by Midwest Dairy and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to give retailers and other interested in the dairy category an unvarnished look at consumers’ perception of dairy products, practices and image.

Today’s focus group consisted of three women and two men: Karen, an HR manager from Des Plaines, Ill.; Lea, a public health analyst from Rockville, Md.; Mariah, a program assistant in public health with the Centers for Disease Control from Atlanta; Alex, a pediatrician based in Seattle, Wash., and Nick, a program manager for a real estate broker and construction firm in Des Moines, Iowa.

All 5 panelists say they are eating at home much due to the pandemic. Mariah and Karen report cooking a lot more because restaurants in their areas had been closed and only allow take-out. Mariah reports moving in with her boyfriend due to the pandemic, and cooking much more. “I’m having a ball, cooking for two. We use a lot of buttermilk and cottage cheese in our cooking, and our dairy use has increased because of COVID,” she says.

Karen says she is using more fermented dairy products, such as kefir and yogurt, which she believes are more healthful and help deal with increased stress. “Fermented products get me on a more healthful path,” she says.

Lea reports cooking and baking more for her family and using more milk and buttermilk. “With my child, we were relying on plant-based milks for calcium, but now we are relying more on yogurt,” she says.

Alex reports his family uses dairy about once a day. “We’re eating much more at home, but try to have a diversified diet,” he says. “We use cheese as a snack, and are trying new varieties.”

Nick views dairy as nutritious, but tries to stay with organic products because he believes they are “purest in form.” He uses milk working out, saying the sugar and protein in dairy products helps in muscle recovery.  

While all the panelists like dairy and say it offers good nutrition, dairy products are not without issues and concerns. Alex, the pediatrician, was likely the most knowledgeable about dairy nutrition. But even he was confused about certain issues such as rBST labeling, A1 versus A2 and school milk mandates.

Other panelists, such as Nick and Lea, believe organic milk is better because they say it offers better nutrition and is produced more humanely and sustainably. Mariah had a long list of concerns regarding animal welfare, antibiotic use and the even the use of milk for human consumption versus food for calves.

The point of the focus group was not to judge whether panelists were right or wrong in their knowledge and beliefs but to gain a better understanding of what drove both. It seemed clear that the dairy industry has done a reasonably good job of driving home its nutrition message. But challenges remain when it comes to animal welfare and environmental issues.