As writer Clint Rainey points out in a new Bloomberg feature, this is no coincidence.
Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), a little-known government-sponsored marketing group, has been pushing more dairy into food sold in the US and abroad for several years. The organisation — as Rainey puts it, an “Illuminati of cheese” — has helped orchestrate the creation of some of fast food’s most popular cheesy products.
Founded in 1994, the group works with chains, including Taco Bell, Burger King, Domino’s, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, to develop and market cheesier offerings. The group, which receives funding from dairy farmers, was behind the “Got Milk?” campaign in the 1990s and the “Udder Truth” campaign that launched as an advertorial on The Onion in 2015. Its annual budget is around $US140 million, according to The New York Times.
DMI’s most recent hit is the Quesalupa, a taco with about five times the cheese as Taco Bell’s already cheesy Crunchy Taco. In 2016, Taco Bell debuted the taco with a Super Bowl ad that cost between $US15 million and $US20 million, making it the company’s most expensive ad campaign ever.
The ad campaign worked. Taco Bell sold 75 million Quesalupas during the product’s four-month limited release in 2016.
Today, the average American eats nearly three times as much cheese as they did in 1970 — 21.9 pounds a year, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study. The USDA puts that figure even higher at around 34 pounds of cheese a year.
Americans’ high level of cheese consumption still doesn’t match up to its supply in the US, which has stockpiled over 1.2 billion pounds of cheese sitting in cold storage. In recent years, the US government has bailed out dairy farmers to deal with the surplus.
In 2016, for example, the USDA purchased 11 million pounds of surplus cheese — $US20 million worth — from dairy producers that reported at least a 35% drop in revenue since 2014. (The cheese went to food pantries.)
The cheese surplus is a large reason why the USDA helps sponsor DMI. If Americans continue to eat more dairy, the thinking goes, the country might whittle down its cheese excess.
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