I had the privilege to attend the coronation of the 2013-14 Somerset County dairy princess last week. For those unfamiliar with the dairy princess, I'll briefly explain. Every year a new county dairy princess is selected to promote the value of consuming dairy products. She is a young lady commissioned to visit public events and schools in order to educate and answer questions about dairy foods and the farms that produce them. It is, by and large, a volunteer effort on the part of the princess; however, a small stipend is provided.
Many counties in Pennsylvania have a dairy princess and she works diligently to promote dairy foods. The coronation of the incoming dairy princess is done with much fanfare and with many dairy farmers in attendance. You see, she will be their representative to the community for the next year.
I got to thinking about the dairy princess program after the festivities were over and its implications on the lives of dairy farmers. It is part of a larger marketing program — advertising, if you will — that is undertaken by the farmers themselves — like they don't already have enough to do.
The dairy princess program is operated with funding, in part, by the sometimes controversial dairy checkoff program. While an exact dollar figure to market dairy cannot really be quantified, I'm going to take a stab at it.
The dairy checkoff program is funded by withholding a portion of what is paid to dairy farmers for their milk. These proceeds then go to promote dairy products. (The popular "Got Milk?" campaign was a result of this program.) This program is loosely analogous to the leviathan that is Coca-Cola's marketing budget of $2.9 billion in 2010.
Economists marvel at the success of Coca-Cola and the magnitude of its advertising budget. About 40 percent of all soda sold in the United States is produced by Coca-Cola, which isn't too shabby. Anyone who has read my column with any regularity knows that I like to dig deep into the numbers, so let's take a look.
The dairy checkoff program was good for about $196 million in 2011, according to its own website. Also in 2011, according to USDA statistics, Americans consumed around 21 billion (based on 604 pounds per capita consumption) gallons of milk in one form or another (fluid, cheese, ice cream). So how much money is spent to market one gallon of milk? Not quite one cent per gallon.
Americans consume, on the other hand, around 50 gallons of soda per person per year, depending on whom you read. Coca-Cola has about 40 percent market share of that, which is about 20 gallons per person per year (that's 6 billion gallons of Coca-Cola total). So how much money is spent to market one gallon? About 48 cents is spent per gallon of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola out spends the dairy industry by about 50-to-1.
So, as the new county dairy princesses assume their reign, we probably shouldn't let them know that the odds are stacked against them. We have complete confidence, however, that they are up to the task because, first, dairy products are superior to soda. Second, they have hard-working farm families to back them up. And finally, Coca-Cola might have a huge budget, but we have a princess.