Center for Dairy Excellence Partners Meeting~ Review

Katie Poppiti, CCEDC Agriculture Program Coordinator, recently attended the Joint Annual Meeting of the Center for Dairy Excellence and the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania. The program began with remarks from Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, followed by the center’s program report, delivered by Executive Director, John Frey.

John Frey also facilitated questions during a dairy “town hall” with Pennsylvania agriculture policy leaders. The town hall discussion included Senator Elder Vogel Junior and Senator Judy Schwank as well as House Ag Committee Leadership, Mike Carroll and Mark Keller. One of the main questions asked of the leaders was to address the trends, opportunities, and threats facing the Pennsylvania dairy industry. Senator Vogel discussed the trends of more milk supply in the eastern U.S. compared to the west due to drought conditions, robotic milkers, and challenges to replace infrastructure and equipment, as well as the cost of labor. Senator Schwank pointed out increased opportunities in food retail while also acknowledging grocery trends of decreasing dairy space and overall decline and competition for shelf space. Another concern raised by the audience was the issue of obtaining permits for expansion. Representative Mark Keller acknowledged this challenge to work with DEP and the need for a better mechanism for permit processing and approval. The audience also asked the legislative panel how best to encourage re-investment or new investment incentives from the state. The recommendation across the panel was to start a Dairy Legislature Day. While the panel members were mostly familiar with agriculture and represented bi-partisan groups, they stressed that their peers, especially in urban centers such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg, are the leadership that the Center for Dairy Excellence needs to share their concerns with in order to best increase understanding of the dairy community’s role in the overall marketplace and Pennsylvania economy.

The second panel of the program was titled “Meeting Consumer Expectations.” Panel guests included Craig Faragalli of WaWa, Andrea Karns, of Karns Quality Food, and Maria Forry of Oregon Dairy. Each panelist shared their business history, current campaigns and/or changes being made to increase milk purchases and overall consumer knowledge. Mr. Faragalli stated that as recent as 5-10 years ago, milk products sold at Wawa have gone from three doors of refrigerator space to one to one and a half doors. He added that each new generation is drinking less milk and drinking less at a younger age. With the 2012-2013 changes to national nutrition standards in the school lunch program, Wawa focused on adapting the new standards which allowed for more flavored, non-fat milk. While Wawa is maintaining its’ school contracts, Wawa markets are still experiencing decreased sales. Faragalli noted the importance of milk on overall health and that this continues to be Wawa’s message. Faragalli also mentioned some ongoing research with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The study focuses on the use of heavy cream in diets to decrease the amount of seizures in youth who suffer from epilepsy.

Andrea Karns, of Karns Quality Foods gave a presentation on the entire “fresh” category of the supermarket and noted changes in consumer preference in dairy. Some noted messaging opportunities are farm to fridge, health and wellness, in-store promotion, packaging, store level point of sales, and flavor enhancement.

Maria Forry provided an excellent history of the Oregon Dairy and focused on the value-added components of the farm that in turn fill the gaps in consumer understanding of the workings of a dairy farm. The dairy hosts an annual event called “Family Farm Days” each June, allowing the public to come to the farm for tours and numerous other farm related activities.

Lastly, Marilyn Hershey, of Ar-Joy Farms, talked about a new consumer education pilot program called the “Udder Truth.” Set up as a similar media platform to The Onion, and produced by, the website addresses misconceptions about dairy farming. Another media group, Acres and Adventures, has also produced a video series where two millennials, a dairy farmer and non farmer, spend a day in each other’s shoes.

For more information on the organizations, businesses, and speakers at the event, please use the links above.