Times have been tough lately for dairy farmers, on many fronts. Milk prices this winter have sunk to levels that make it all but impossible for most producers to pencil out a profit. With milk processors at capacity or ramping up milk quality requirements, a handful of producers have nowhere to go with their milk and few good options.
Meanwhile, the milk supply continues to increase as efficiency gains are made on farms and milk per cow rises, and that doesn’t look to let up anytime soon. U.S. milk production is expected to increase 1.5 percent per year through 2027, according to long-term projection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This would boost milk production to more than 250 billion pounds over the next decade — up almost 35 billion pounds from last year’s record output.
And then there are the continued challenges related to farm labor and immigration.
There’s been no shortage of bad news, so it was encouraging to get one bit of good news recently: Pizza Hut — among the top pizza chain restaurants in the world — has announced it has increased the amount of cheese on its popular pan pizzas by a whopping 25 percent. This change will call for an additional 150 million pounds of milk annually, and it simply could not come at a better time.
The project is credited to Dairy Management Inc. scientist Nitin Joshi, who works on-site at Pizza Hut’s headquarters in Plano, Texas. Pan pizza is the chain’s signature product offering, and the new formulations are now available at more than 6,000 restaurants nationwide.
Joshi said Pizza Hut leaders believe that “more cheese in more places is a way to make their pizzas even more delicious,” but it’s also “great news” for the nation’s dairy farmers. According to a DMI news release, this project launched in 2016 but needed to clear several hurdles last year before becoming reality.
DMI, which manages the national dairy checkoff, first shared research and insight to help convince the company that consumers want more cheese on pizza. This led to a discussion on how much cheese to add to the chain’s existing pan pizza recipe so it would be a noticeable difference. Then, there was the challenge of assuring that the pizza would be cooked consistently, as several different kinds of ovens are used by Pizza Hut restaurants nationwide. It was critical to create a pizza with uniform melt, stretch and color qualities. Joshi said the Pizza Hut team prepared some 8,500 pizzas before settling on a finished product, then held training sessions with franchise operators across the country.
“This is another great example of the power of a partner working with our checkoff team to give consumers a product they truly desire,” said Marilyn Hershey, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI chairwoman. “It’s also a win for farmers as we continue to explore new and innovative avenues for our milk production through our partnerships.”
Pizza Hut needs a lot of dairy. They’re one of the largest cheese buyers in the world, using 300 million pounds of cheese each year; a third of that is eaten in the summer months, according to the company’s website. Pizza Hut buys about 3 percent of all the cheese produced. About 170,000 cows are needed to make the estimated 300 billion gallons of milk that go into the cheese used by Pizza Hut.
Pizza, in general, continues to reign supreme among Americans, and it’s a great outlet for our cheese. According to pizza.com, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly and pizza accounts for more than 10 percent of all food-service sales. About 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the U.S.
It’s good to see dairy checkoff efforts come to fruition, and more restaurants could take a cue from Pizza Hut, as well as Domino’s, which has voiced strong support in recent years for dairy producers and spoken out against anti-animal agriculture activists who want to dictate how farmers farm.
But pizza giants aren’t the only ones who can show their support for the dairy industry, which is so vital to Wisconsin’s economy; we all can do our own small part by making it a point to consume at least three servings of dairy each day and encouraging our family and friends to do the same. Despite what some have been saying, milk still does a body good.