Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

Will social media beat science?

Dairy blog image 2“Error,” says a Chinese proverb, “will travel over half the globe, while truth is pulling on her boots.” The dairy industry is witnessing that now.

At precisely the moment when a critical mass of science is revealing that dairy is a natural whole-food with a wealth of health benefits – reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, healthy body weight – it faces a growing tide of new negatives, spawned by the digital revolution.

Osmosis is a scientific term used to describe the gradual process by which ideas are distributed and assimilated in society. The digital revolution and social media have enabled the osmosis of negatives about dairy on an unprecedented scale.

Type the words “do we need dairy” into Google and you will find links to social media posts, magazine articles, and blogs which – at best – are not clear whether consuming dairy is a healthier choice than cutting it out of the diet.

Many more sources recommend that people drop dairy. Among the reasons are:

  • Personal appearance (have better skin)
  • Lose weight: incredibly, the myth that “dairy makes you fat” is easier to find than the science (which shows the opposite)
  • Cancer: there’s no shortage of people ready to repeat the falsehood that dairy is linked to increased risk of cancer
  • Cow’s milk “is not made for humans” it is supposed to be for calves. I guess bees don’t make their honey for humans either so by this reasoning we should be cutting that out of our diets too
  • Dairy is bad for the environment: criticism of dairy’s perceived lack of sustainability and its contribution to climate change is everywhere

There are also documentaries that link both meat and dairy production and enumerate their negatives. Of these Cowspiracy, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and released via Netflix, may be both the most influential and the most negative about dairy and the environment.

If you aren’t sure whether you agree about the impact of these negatives, just remember that in the US non-dairy milks – such as almond milk – have already seized more than 12% of the entire liquid milk market, with most of the growth happening since 2012.

And while the world is used to Americans passionately embracing every dietary trend that comes along, even in European food cultures such as France, Spain and Portugal – where people have faith in their naturally healthy diet and pitied Americans and their crazy fads and bad foods – the idea is quietly growing that “dairy-free” might be a healthier and more sustainable choice. The increasing sales of non-dairy products prove it.

Meanwhile dairy executives, presented with the once-in-a-lifetime gift of an ever-growing, scientifically strong case for dairy’s multiple health benefits, are failing to seize the moment and communicate those benefits.

History shows that massive changes usually develop slowly, with clear warning signs, but that people ignore the growing number of small signs until it’s too late. The dairy industry must get its act together on better communication and turns the tide on the negatives – before its “too late” moment is reached.

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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