Make your meals `sing' with cheese, beef and -- Mr. Potatohead?
Milk. In a dozen ways, the message is projected in the conference room of this Chicago hotel:Skip to next paragraph
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``Have more milk 'cause milk's got more,'' goes one TV jingle.
``Make your meals sing with cheddar cheese,'' says a full-color magazine ad, one of three being passed out.
The audience of men and women listen attentively. Then, without dissent, they approve the ads -- part of a $64 million promotion campaign.
Welcome to the latest meeting of the National Dairy Board -- an appointed group of 36 dairy farmers plus staff, whose sole job it is to boost sales of dairy and dairy products.
``If we could get everyone to drink one more glass of milk a week, we could destroy the [dairy] surplus,'' says Joe Westwater, the board's plucky chief executive officer.
In some ways, the board is a sign of the times in United States agriculture. Stuck with burdensome surpluses or the prospect of flat sales, producers of a number of different commodities are reaching the same conclusion: To boost sales, they'll have to advertise.
``We all realize that we've got to start acting like the food industry rather than producers,'' says Jeanne Sowa, promotion manager for the Beef Industry Council. ``The challenge for us is to show that beef can be fun -- that it doesn't have to be roast beef with mashed potatoes or meatloaf.''
The trend toward more generic advertising -- called generic because it advertises a food rather than a brand name -- is not particularly new. But just now there is a flurry of activity.
Cattlemen, for example, are preparing to vote on whether to set up a national beef board. The American Beekeeping Federation wants Congress to authorize a honey board. If both succeed, that would bring to eight the number of commodity boards specifically authorized by Congress, including the American Egg Board, the Cotton Board, the Potato Board, the Wheat Industry Council.
Meanwhile, 21 of 48 fruit-and-vegetable grower groups also have set up research and promotion programs. They range from California almonds to Florida limes, Idaho-Oregon onions to Hawaiian papayas.
Why all the interest? There are many reasons.
Consider the plight of Doug McGinnis. A partner in a honey producing and packing company in Edgewater, Fla., he has seen a sharp drop in retail and export sales. The company has begun packing surplus honey for the federal government to stay in business.
``But that won't last forever,'' Mr. McGinnis says. ``We're quite convinced that people need to eat more honey.''
In almost all cases, though, the promotion efforts come at a price. Usually, farmers fund the programs themselves by paying a kind of mandatory or voluntary tax on whatever they sell. To fund the large dairy promotion programs, for example, dairymen are required to chip in 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk they sell. Apparently, the idea isn't controversial: Last month, 89.7 percent of dairymen voting approved a continuation of the 15-cent assessment.
For the board members meeting here in Chicago, news of the vote is one of several encouraging signs. After decades of decline in milk consumption, the industry saw a dramatic 3.5 percent increase last year. Even more encouraging, 1985 could register another 1 percent boost in commercial sales. Meanwhile, a six-week summer promotion of ice cream, which was coordinated with brand-name advertisers, scored well.
The problems, according to the board's advertising evaluation committee, lie in the cheese and butter campaigns. Cheese and butter are key, Mr. Westwater says later, because it takes 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese; 20 pounds of milk for 1 pound of butter. But the advertising, geared to home use, had no discernible effect on at-home sales. The board votes to let the committee come up with new options.