Monday, October 26, 2015

Milking the Benefits of Nicaragua's Dairy Production

Adapted from Annette Jackson

One of Farmer-to-Farmer's major goals in Nicaragua is increasing the intake of dairy products among the rural populations.  Nicaragua is the largest producer of dairy in Central America but consumption is very low compared to other Central American countries. Increased milk consumption can combat problems with childhood malnutrition, as well as bolster the domestic sales of the local dairy industry. F2F volunteers have worked to surmount numerous challenges that are impeding increased consumption, such as affordability, availability, and personal preferences.  Large export profits keep domestic prices high, making it difficult for schools to stock milk instead of the cheaper and more popular soda options.  Educational and promotional campaigns have mainly focused on nutritional benefits of dairy consumption.  While dairy consumption has increased since 2012, it has still remained relatively low considering the levels of domestic production, consumption in other Central American countries, and population figures.

The current study initiated by Annette Jackson in early October came on the heels of a previous study which indicated that further qualitative and qualitative analysis should be completed regarding factors affecting dairy consumption. In behavioral and cultural change literature, meaningful change generally starts with the younger generation. Further, young children respond more positively to persuasive attempts and have a higher lifetime customer value.  Additionally, the drinking of soda in school has become a catalyst for the nation’s adults not to drink milk at all. Getting adults to drink milk who did not drink milk as children is an insurmountable obstacle. Even when the adults have children and give their children milk, some adults indicate they can’t develop taste for it. Therefore, due to the high percentage of Nicaraguans who live in the urban center, qualitative and quantitative data in the form of focus groups and surveys was collected at three urban combined primary-secondary schools in the city of Managua, Nicaragua.

Analysis of collected data indicated several themes: First, sufficient education regarding the benefits of milk consumption has been successful. Second, milk is consumed at home because is it not available at schools. Third, parents would buy more milk if price levels were lower, but fourth, children express a strong preference for carbonated beverages. Coke has a pervasive presence in the schools including promotional signs and coolers. Dairy manufacturers are missing out on a huge market. Children bring enough money to school to purchase milk products, but they aren’t available on location. Children self-report that they would prefer flavored milk to some other beverage choices currently available at school. Of course, they would also like more cheese choices and ice cream. Teachers prefer that children drink milk as opposed to coffee and sodas because milk has less sugar than soda and has no caffeine, which make the children more active. Teachers stated they would encourage children toward milk choices as opposed to carbonated beverages. Jackson suggested a few low cost examples for encouraging milk consuption, including field trips to dairy farms and manufacturing plants. Milk organizations and firms could also implement promotional contests, and events geared toward elementary children at very little cost. 

Cause related marketing (e.g. children’s health and welfare organizations), and partnering with those organizations for public relations events and lobbying would also be a useful tool for targeting younger children and their parents.  With the amount of data already available through the hard work of previous F2F volunteers and hosts, Jackson was confident that her recommendations could be enacted by future volunteers.

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