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Since its inception in 2019, the 97 Milk campaign has expanded from its Pennsylvania roots to numerous states. Yard signs and banners are being purchased from the website and are popping up across the country, such as this sign in Dayton, Va.

97 Milk’s slogans supporting whole milk are appearing ever farther afield from the group’s home base in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Since its inception in February 2019, the group’s signage has been reported in Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and even Australia.

From the beginning, organizers knew the success of the grassroots campaign would depend on the number of eyes that saw the message.

Two and a half years later, the painted wrapped bales, banners, bumper stickers and magnets carrying the 97 Milk name and message have garnered a lot of attention.

Jackie Behr, who manages the digital platform for 97 Milk and is the marketing manager for R&J Dairy Consulting in Lancaster, said the group has gained more than 15,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram combined, and posts are reaching over 300,000 people during a 30-day period. 97 Milk’s website is averaging 1,100 users per month, including 75% who are new.

“That’s what we want to see,” Behr said. “We’re growing across the nation. People like the positive vibe we’re putting out and the educational component on whole milk.”

While it isn’t exactly a surprise that the campaign has caught on in states with a strong dairy industry, Behr said 97 Milk is working to get its message into places far removed from farming. A digital banner was recently displayed recently in Washington, D.C., she said.

Another way to reach urban consumers could be the free advertising space along the highways connecting cities.

“There are a lot of dairy farmers with land next to highways, and those are opportunities to self-promote,” Behr said. “We can tell it makes a difference based on traffic and new users on social media.”

Seeing the message is one thing, but getting consumers to act on it is another. The latter isn’t hard to do, Behr said, because the product sells itself.

“All they need to do is taste it. If we can use our message to convince people to give it a try, it will work. People are coming back to milk,” she said.

Though overall fluid milk sales have been declining for decades, whole milk sales grew every year from 2014 to 2020. Through July, the most recent month available, 2021’s whole milk sales are down 7.5% from last year, USDA data show.

Behr said 97 Milk fills a need.

“There haven’t been many marketing campaigns for milk, but now consumers are becoming educated about it and they are learning it’s a healthy choice,” Behr said. “Any increase in whole milk sales will increase fluid milk, and that helps our dairy farmers.”

The dairy checkoff has been promoting milk for years, though some farmers — including 97 Milk founder Nelson Troutman — have been critical of the checkoff’s strategies.

While Behr hopes whole milk sales continue to increase, she said 97 Milk is poised to keep growing as well.

The organization is run completely by volunteers, and it relies on dairy farmers and agribusinesses to supply content — pictures of banners on barns, silos and the well-known painted round bales — to post on the website. Behr said farmers are sending in so many photos that new ones are posted six days a week.

Orders for banners and yard signs keep coming in, and there is talk of opening 97 Milk chapters outside Pennsylvania. Behr thinks the popularity of the banners is proof that the non-farming public is on board with promoting the message.

“Not everyone has a round bale they can use to promote 97 Milk, so the banners are proving to be very important to our campaign,” she said. “We’ve been seeing steady growth since this started, and I anticipate this will keep growing next year, and our message will continue to reach new places.”

Staff Reporter

Tom Venesky is a staff reporter for Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at tvenesky@lancasterfarming.com

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