John Ellenberger: Quality is the unsung hero of every thriving dairy industry

This June Dairy Month, let’s acknowledge the important role of food quality and safety

Kids Smiling Drinking Glasses Of Milk

In my former role with Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s Dairy Foods business, June Dairy Month was a time of celebration. Since the farmer-owned cooperative’s start 1921, Land O’Lakes was at the forefront of the emerging U.S. dairy industry. And with that, at the forefront of food quality practices.

In my current role as Vice President of Land O’Lakes International Development, June Dairy Month has got me thinking about this nonprofit’s history in food quality. Our goal is to support producers in emerging economies – people just like the original Land O’Lakes member-owners – to increase yields and reach food quality standards that are safe, as well as up-to-par for international markets.

Today, I’m tipping my hat to two projects that remind me of the early days of Land O’Lakes, Inc’s history of quality:

Macedonia: Back when the USAID-funded Macedonia Agricultural Marketing Activity (MAMA) project started in 2003, Macedonia was importing about 60% of its processed milk. MAMA aimed to grow the dairy industry by fostering a competitive market that centered around a Macedonia Seal of Quality (SOQ) program. Fifteen years later, this program still exists today.

MAMA achieved success through the establishment of a system for certifying and monitoring product quality. The project set SOQ manufacturers up for success by assisting them to improve their facilities and market the importance of SOQ product to consumers. MAMA enhanced this effort by running a national campaign that resulted in an 85% increase in SOQ product recognition.

Today, almost 90% of cheese is marketed through the SOQ program. Macedonia is now relying almost entirely on domestic dairy products, and even doing some exporting to neighboring countries.

Rwanda: In 2012, we led a USAID-funded project called the Rwanda Dairy Competitiveness Program II’s (RDCP II) to support the Rwandan dairy industry in maintaining product quality.

The project collaborated with the Rwandan government and dairy industry to build Rwanda’s first SOQ program. The SOQ certificate was, and still is today, awarded to different actors in the milk supply chain that meet quality standards. Like in Macedonia, RDCP II enhanced this effort this with a milk consumption campaign that reached over 1.6 million people. By project close in 2017, 68% of total milk was marketed by coops under the SOQ.

For the first time, Rwandans are now enjoying a variety of trusted, locally-made products, like cheese, butter and strawberry yogurt. Thanks to the internationally recognized SOQ certification, Rwanda’s neighbors are now enjoying these products too.

If Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s history and these two projects tell us anything, it’s that a focus on quality can expedite a dairy enterprise’s competitive potential to access local and export markets. Though each industry requires customization, the good news is – we’ve already got proven quality programs and practices that can be applied worldwide.

Now that’s something to celebrate.