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Partnering with school associations to reach Gen Z

April 1, 2024


5 minute read

Engaging the next generation of influential buyers is crucial for the industry’s success. Checkoff is committed to ensuring the longevity of dairy demand in the marketplace. Generation Z (Gen Z) is made up of current 11 to 26-year-olds. Research shows dairy consumption declines at this age, prompting Midwest Dairy to target them through partnerships with dairy outside the classroom.


When thinking of partners to work with, Midwest Dairy identified school associations as an effective channel to meet Gen Z students where they are. This approach allows checkoff to work with influential leaders the kids already respect and are comfortable with. Midwest Dairy’s continued relationship with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is a great example of this type of partnership. In 2023, Midwest Dairy partnered with IHSA and participated in the first Student Leadership Conference since 2020. Over 600 student leaders and 100 adult chaperones from across Illinois attended the half-day conference in East Peoria, which was planned and executed by the students. 

Midwest Dairy provided a nostalgic milk and cereal bar for participants where they were able to enjoy their favorite cereal paired with regular or lactose-free milk. Messaging reminded students that milk is vital to a healthy diet and even rehydrates better than water. Over 500 servings of milk and cereal were served at this event. Dairy Farmer Jenna Kilgus spoke in the open session, discussing dairy farming and sustainability with attendees. Katie Knappenberger, Sports Nutritionist for Northwestern University, also spoke to the adult chaperones about leading the students and themselves to make healthy food choices by discussing dairy’s role and sharing lactose-free and low-in-lactose options for consumption. Lastly, students played dairy trivia and won dairy-related charms to wear on their Crocs.


In 2023, Midwest Dairy also formed a new partnership with the Minnesota State High Schools League (MSHSL) to build trust with Gen Z High school youth, parents, and coaches. The partnership began with a farm tour in Rogers, Minnesota, for students from the newly formed Student Advisory and Leadership Group (SALT) and two Associate Directors of the Scherber Morning Star Dairy. During the tour, the students experienced animal care and sustainability practices used on a farm. They got a first-hand look at the fascinating technology used on the farm, including robotic milkers, manure collectors, and a robotic feeder named “Alice.” Students also enjoyed brainstorming a name for a new calf while interacting with farmer Quinci Scherber. In the post-survey, many students commented on how technology plays an important role on the farm and were impressed with how well the cows were being treated.  Students took pictures and shared their experiences on their new Instagram channel @MSHSL_SALT

Students listening to dairy farmer in barn.

Along with this partnership, Midwest Dairy hosted 60 coaches from around the state at TCO Stadium for summer coach certification training, fulfilling the final obligation of the Vikings’ FUTP60 contract. We know coaches are an important source of information for students. By providing coaches tools that showcase the nutritional benefits of dairy, we know it will reach students from an already trusted source. Remi Famodu, RD, Vikings Dietitian, provided a Nutrition 101 training at the event that was recorded and made available to over 1,500 coaches statewide to access, along with other nutrition resources for them to use afterward. This partnership will last through June 2024 and will continue to offer opportunities to engage with students, parents, and coaches to build trust in dairy in Minnesota. 


Another partner association includes the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU). In 2023, Midwest Dairy brought dairy sustainability and animal care to life through a farm tour with their Student Advisory Committee (SAC). The committee experienced a day in the life of a dairy cow – from milking to resting, and explored the different technologies used to ensure cows are happy and healthy while on the farm. After the tour, the SAC created a reel they posted on the IGHSAU Instagram page to share what they learned with their peer followers. Click here to check it out.  


Midwest Dairy also partnered with the Nebraska Coaches Association in 2023, reaching 4,300 athletic coaches across the state. Checkoff shared nutrition information about dairy’s role in refueling before and after exercise with this group of middle and high school coaches. Midwest Dairy teamed up with Registered Dietitian Angie Asch with Eleat Sports Nutrition in Nebraska to develop infographics and articles inspiring coaches and young athletes to fuel with dairy pre-workout, post-workout, on the road, and on and off the field. The content was well received, with an average newsletter open rate of 67.8 percent.

North and South Dakota

During the 2023-24 school year, checkoff also provided nutrition information to North Dakota coaches to help their middle and high-school-age students perform their best. The resources from the above Nebraska partnership were shared with the North Dakota High School Coaches Association (NDHSCA) and published in the Dakota Coach electronic newsletter. The Fall issue featured information on pre-workout nutrition and provided practical information on what to eat before practice. The Winter issue featured tips for eating healthy while traveling to and from a sporting event. Over 1,500 coaches and athletic trainers are members of the NDHSCA and receive the Dakota Coach newsletter. The nutrition information was also published in the South Dakota and Nebraska High School Coaches publications. 

Lastly, Midwest Dairy successfully partnered with the South Dakota Coaches Association and Athletic Directors. This partnership reached about 2,000 coaches and athletic directors across the state via email, newsletters, and social media. Midwest Dairy again used Nebraska’s Registered Dietitian Angie Asch’s infographics and articles to build and promote dairy messaging. 

Connecting with outstanding young people through these school associations has effectively delivered dairy messaging to Gen Z. Checkoff works hard to find the right partner who can help us better connect with future dairy purchasers.