By Jim Dudlicek, NGA Director of Communications and External Affairs
June 1 was World Milk Day, kicking off a 30-day celebration known since 1939 as National Dairy Month. It’s an opportunity for independent supermarkets to continue the momentum of increased dairy product sales that have grown since pandemic-related restrictions began nearly three months ago.
From March 8 to 22, milk sales were 43% higher than the year-ago period; yogurt rose 31%, ice cream 40% and cheese 76%, while butter sales more than doubled, according to the National Milk Producers Federation. “Gains have continued into the ‘new normal,’ and in fact take up more of a consumer’s retail dollar than they did during the panic peak,” NMPF reports, noting that dairy sales from late March through May 17 remain 25% higher than a year ago.
“Dairy has been a pandemic powerhouse,” Abrielle Backhaus, research coordinator with the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, said in the trade group’s May 26 COVID Impact Report. “We continue to see very strong consumer demand for items such as milk, cheese, eggs, butter and creamers.”
Natural cheese had the highest increase in absolute dollars, IDDBA reports, with year-over-year sales up $74 million, followed by milk that sold an additional $38 million, and eggs, with an additional $37 million.
Cheese presents a good opportunity to shore up deli sales eroded by the drop in prepared foods as grocers closed their hot bars and consumers favored packaged items out of safety concerns.
Random-weight deli cheese has exhibited better performance throughout the pandemic, IDDBA reports; dollar sales were up 14.4% during the week of May 17 versus the same week last year. As with deli meat, grocers who offered grab-and-go deli cheese options did well; while service counter sales were down 0.6%, non-UPC grab-and-go cheese was up 71.2%.
“We do continue to see customer comments on package size variety relative to deli cheese, deli meat and deli-prepared items,” Angela Bozo, IDDBA’s education director said, advising, “Consider some variety in the thickness of slices as well as package size variety. Shoppers cite budget, household size and variety as reasons for wanting to see more than just one-pound packages.”
Sales of packaged (UPC) cheese continue to do well, rising 30.2% in dollars and 22.2% in volume during the week of May 17.
Grocers should work with local suppliers and state and regional associations to leverage marketing programs and tap online resources for related materials to commemorate June Dairy Month. Organizations across the country are celebrating everything dairy, from the strength of their family farmers to the goodness of dairy ingredients in comfort foods like mac & cheese and pizza.
But in a year beset by a pandemic that has squeezed supply chains and personal incomes, not to mention curtailed celebrations, some are thinking twice about traditional marketing schemes. For example, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin opted to not send out National Dairy Month kits and event support materials that encourage social gatherings, instead urging consumers to buy local.
Independent supermarkets, who are used to selling local and telling the stories behind their products, would be well advised to keep in mind the priorities guiding their consumers: eating more meals at home, feeling comfort and security, and maximizing the value of their food dollars. Including beloved dairy products in shopper-centric solution-focused merchandising is win-win.