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Dairy's latest entrant in snack wars: Ice cream with vegetables

[NEW YORK] The dairy industry is working hard to make milk cool again and turn around years of weak sales.

The latest effort to appeal to younger consumers was an "innovation" competition hosted by the California Milk Advisory Board and VentureFuel, a New York-based startup accelerator and strategy firm. The winner: ice cream infused with vegetables.

The industry is counting on consumers eating at home to buy more milk, cheese and ice cream, rather than other kinds of snacks.

"Food service has taken a massive hit, but the retail space and more traditional dairy products have been flying off the shelves," said Josh Zonneveld, who chairs the California group and runs a 7,000-acre dairy farm in Fresno County with 8,500 cows.

Snacking during the Covid-19 shutdowns increased, giving dairy products a boost, research firm Information Resources and trade group Snac International said, citing data in the four months ended April.

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The question is whether the Covid-induced buying will last and turn around years of declines. Milk-beverage sales in the US declined annually from 2009 to 2019, US Department of Agriculture data show. Sales of yogurt, ice cream and other creams have slumped in the past 15 years, while cheese demand increased.

"How do we get people thinking about dairy as something new, something that younger consumers are thinking about," John Talbot, the California board's chief executive officer, said in an interview. "This is a long-term effort to get new ideas out there."

The pandemic triggered new buying habits, and direct-to-consumer business has surged 10-fold this year, said Jill Basch, who runs Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese with two of her sisters.

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