The International Dairy Federation (IDF) today held its traditional Leaders Panel – in light of the constraints imposed by the pandemic – as a global online event with over 180 participants. The speakers are renowned in the international dairy scene, so the good response to the Leaders Panel was not necessarily surprising.
The discussion focused on the experience gained in coping with the consequences of the pandemic and future prospects.
Jeffrey Lee, head of China Mengniu Dairy, spoke of a significant influence that Covid-19 had on the dairy industry. In China, consumer awareness of healthy eating has increased significantly as a result of the pandemic. Mengniu addressed this with an advertising campaign entitled “A glass of milk a day keeps the doctor away”. “We want to further develop the healthy lifestyle and firmly establish milk consumption in it,” Lee said. Corona gave an impetus to dairy sales, he said, and this development should now be supported by innovation and high-quality products.
Lino Saputo, Managing Director of the Canadian group of the same name, pointed out the importance of a solid balance sheet for crisis management. He said companies had to live up to their promises to employees, retailers and consumers every day. Saputo also believes that R&D and creativity are needed to further develop the dairy products offering.
Gunnar Hovland, director of the Norwegian dairy cooperative TINE, reported that the trend towards the home office has also boosted sales of cheese, yoghurt and liquid milk in Norway. Milk production in the country increased, while imports decreased. Hovland sees the key to future development in focusing on how the dairy industry can become even more sustainable. This requires a dialogue with all relevant groups.
All three speakers see no real danger for dairy brought about by plant-based alternative products. Saputo and Hovland pointed out that the world population is growing and needs to be fed. Dairy is an ideal carrier of nutrients due to its composition, both noted. However, given the prevailing disinformation everywhere, consumers will have to be informed on the basis of scientific knowledge about the importance of dairy for nutrition and also about the contribution of the dairy industry to rural livelihoods.
Covid-19 showed that consumers have returned to their “comfort foods”, Saputo said, and “It is time we told our story better and louder”. The industry should also focus more on its contribution to sustainability and communicate this. Lee sees Covid-19 not as a crisis but as an opportunity. He is confident that the dairy industry will continue to develop positively in the future. This statement was topped by Saputo, who said “I am extremely bullish about dairy”.