What to Say When Shoppers Ask You About $8 Milk

What to Say When Shoppers Ask You About $8 Milk

January 21, 2013

By Phil Lempert

Retail Dietitians are on the front lines. Shoppers ask questions that go way beyond nutrition issues - and too often merchandising, buying, marketing and the Retail Dietitians don't have the time to confer or coordinate the answer.

Just about a month ago we were witness to newspaper headlines and television news reports warning that without a "fiscal cliff" deal in place, shoppers would be faced with $8 per gallon milk in the dairy case. Theses headlines, and possible scare tactics, played an important role in forming the anti-fiscal cliff sentiment with consumers. After all, we may not be able to relate to an almost $17 trillion dollar debt ceiling or the US government not being able to pay its bills - but we can relate to the milk we buy for our family doubling in price.

Starting late November and right up through New Years Eve, I received thousands of emails from shoppers expressing their confusion and concern about this possibility; as I'm sure the same questions were asked of you as well as your dairy and store managers. And as the H.R. 8 fiscal cliff (which included a "dairy cliff" extension) resolve came, the milk issue and price question was soon forgotten. We must remember that the Farm Bill was not approved, all that is in place is a 9 month extension — not a typical 5 year program. Congress must still gerrymander, debate and vote — and in Washington DC time, September is closer than we can imagine, and as that date approaches the question will once again be asked.

How will you as a Retail Dietitian answer?

Many dietitians debate the virtues and downsides of the Farm Bill which was enacted back in 1949 as a way to both help our farmers and encourage the consumption of certain nutrients. Our farming practices have changed as has our nutritional needs. In 1949 a main goal was to combat hunger. Today we are faced with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Very different issues that are impacted by a now 64 year old bill. Perhaps this is the $64,000 question that must be answered to win the prize of better nutrition.

Our supermarkets have instituted wellness programs, hired Retail Dietitians and offer nutritional guidelines and programs to help shoppers make healthier choices. We urge shoppers to consume more fruits and vegetables to help our bodies fight off chronic diseases; but these crops receive less than 1% of Farm Bill subsidies. Our supermarkets are doing the heavy lifting, and need to be recognized for this effort - and perhaps it is time to also have a say in the new and improved Farm Bill; after all it is the supermarket industry who hold a just-in-time view of what shoppers are, and are not, buying.

I do not expect that by September of this year Congress would be able to update and revamp the Farm Bill - or be able to take a 30,000 foot holistic arial view of our populations' health, nutrition and food needs - but without a plan to do so, we will be repeatedly faced with the same problems; and with our shoppers asking the same questions about what will happen to the price of milk. It's is time to coordinate internally and be able to answer the question.