Dairy Industry: Take-Aways from ADPI Conference

Major Strides in Sustainability, Hiring Strategies Continue as Priorities

The American Dairy Products Institute held its annual conference recently where I virtually attended several educational and market-specific keynote sessions focused on the dairy industry.

While there are always challenges to overcome, there was a discernible air of positivity in the industry during the program. Session topics varied from risk mitigation post-pandemic to industry-outlook panels. Three major areas that stood out to me as I listened and discussed topics with industry leaders were:

  • Sustainability
  • Future opportunities & challenges
  • People

Sustainability isn’t a trend.

The dairy industry didn’t hop on to the sustainability train to keep consumer attention. Over the past several decades the industry has pushed for more efficient production methods to cut down on waste, product loss in transport, greener packaging options… the list goes on.

The US dairy industry is now producing twice as much milk with half as many cows compared to 60 years ago. This alone goes a long way toward decarbonizing the marketplace, an initiative the industry takes very seriously.

The number of cows on feed has reached a 20-year high, which is up 1.6% from last year. Year-over-year production is up 3%, including productivity gains. This growth has helped the dairy industry feel positive overall, however that’s not to say there aren’t issues posing serious challenges to the industry.

The future is not without opportunities & challenges.

Other discussion areas centered on topics such as the dairy industry being integral to the future of health and nutrition and how there has been a shift in the demand of dairy products as individuals consume less fluid milk but are eating more cheese and dairy protein products such as Greek yogurt or protein supplements.

These areas are a major opportunity for the industry to be part of, helping to not only direct conversations and explore needs but also to provide research and offers solutions to consumers.  

In addition, the entire industry is feeling the strain of the broken supply chain. Facing shipping lane interruptions, port closures and freight rates that have triple or quadrupled in some areas, the dairy industry has plenty of challenges to face. But even these can be worked around if a company has the right people to lead it.

People matter more than ever.

Hiring and retaining highly qualified individuals is a battle being fought by nearly every industry, and the dairy industry is no exception.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an article written by Senator Rob Portman where he stated that there were 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day1, which has been fact-checked by dozens of sources over the years. The approximation is fairly accurate – or at least it had been until 2020.

According to research by Pew Research Center, the third quarter of 2020 saw an approximate 28.6 million baby boomers report themselves as retired. This is up over 3.2 million more than the same quarter in 2019, where 25.4 million reported their retirement2.

These figures only prove further that the people equation has never been more important than it is today. From the front line to the CEO, attracting talent and keeping them with the company is critical to survival. The only way to achieve this in today’s hiring landscape is shift the mindset of hiring and retention. Companies need to be looking in new places, i.e. outside the industry, for talent as well as dedicating time and energy into detailed succession planning and putting an emphasis on development and encouragement to support retention of current employees.

Hiring leaders from outside the industry is a guaranteed way to gain perspective and introduce new ideas within a company. It’s comfortable to hire from within an industry and there are obstacles that an outside hire will face when they are familiarized with the industry, but it’s often worth working through those potential snags to receive unique solutions from someone who is looking at problems and strategies with fresh eyes.

Kincannon & Reed utilizes extensive networks both inside and outside our client’s sectors to ensure we’re giving the most comprehensive list of candidates possible, while our executive coaching options help to develop professionals even further. If you’re interested in discussing a possible search or executive coaching opportunity with a partner who knows your industry, we would love to connect with you.

“Heading Off the Entitlement Meltdown” article by Wall Street Journal

“The pace of Boomer retirements has accelerated in the past year” article by Pew Research Center