Dairy farmers leverage social media to reach ‘lost generation’ of milk drinkers

May 4, 2023 2:58 pm

By Meta Hemenway-Forbes, Hansen’s Dairy Marketing Manager

A still image from a video shows the millisecond before Blake Hansen is doused in five gallons of milk.

Early this month, the team at Hansen’s Dairy knew they needed to make a big splash in announcing the addition of 2% milk to their lineup. It was the first time they’d offered a new milk variety since the 150-year-old dairy opened its on-farm creamery in 2004.

They turned to the guy who has, himself, made a big splash in the last year.

Blake Hansen has become the de facto face of the farm on social media, his videos delighting audiences on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In December, the sixth-generation dairy farmer landed his first viral TikTok video as Cousin Eddie in an iconic scene from the holiday movie “Christmas Vacation.” It made headlines in 24 Midwest newspapers.

“It’s been good,” Hansen said, laughing. “Who knew that was going to happen?”

Dairy farmer social media stars

Hansen, AKA #FarmerBlake, joins a short list of Iowa dairy farmers who have added a new role to their job descriptions — social media star. There’s Dan Venteicher, known to his followers as IowaDairyFarmer, who manages a 180-cow dairy farm near Strawberry Point and boasts a TikTok following of 858,000. Sixth-generation dairy farmer Megan Kregel, of New Vienna, is the face of megan_dairygirl on TikTok, where her posts have garnered 317,000 followers. Waverly dairy farmer John Ebaugh has racked up 115,000 TikTok followers.

These ag social media giants share the same goal: educate Generation Z on milk’s nutritional superpowers and how it gets from the cow to the cup.

Joelle and the herd were curious during the shooting of Hansen’s 2% milk promotional video.

As for that big splash announcement of 2% milk? Hansen put on his dancing shoes for a 20-second video that included smooth moves and dousing himself with a 5-gallon bucket of milk hung from a skid loader. The spoof on a scene from the ’80s hit film “Flashdance” played well on social media. Its cheeky tagline — “2% Fat, 98% Sexy, 100% Good For You” — also caught the attention of the Des Moines Register, which headlined an April 19 story, “How one Iowa dairy is making milk sexy again.” 

While “Flashdance” is two generations removed from Gen Z, the farm’s video “was just crazy enough to cross generations,” Hansen said.

“We need to meet Gen Z where they are. We need to speak their language,” he added. “It feels like we’ve lost a generation of milk drinkers. We have to figure out how to get their attention and show them milk is good for you. Milk is sexy.”

It’s a steep hill to climb. Early this month, a New York Times story laid bare the challenges of getting Gen Z to embrace dairy milk.

Lost generation of milk drinkers

Last year, Gen Z bought 20 percent less milk than the national average, the Times reported. It’s not a new trend.

Annual milk consumption in the U.S. peaked at 45 gallons per person in 1945, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By 2001 it fell to about 23 gallons. By 2021 it plummeted to 16 gallons. 

Jesup enjoyed a sip of milk from a bucket during the shooting of Hansen’s “Flashdance” video spoof.

As a trend toward health and wellness became amplified by millennials, traditional dairy milk found itself jockeying for position in a crowded market of relatively new plant-based beverage alternatives. Consciously or not, the marketing of alternatives shrank shelf space for actual dairy milk. 

“We love the move toward health and wellness and away from processed foods,” said Jordan Hansen, Hansen’s Dairy marketing director. “Milk is naturally good for you. It’s affordable and readily available. It has the perfect mix of nutrients, fat and proteins that are easy for the body to absorb. So it’s hard for us to understand when people who want more natural and unprocessed foods hold up a stop sign to one of the least processed foods there is.”

Milk a nutritional superhero

Last year Hansen’s Dairy hired a dedicated social media manager to help push that message to Gen Z. Meta Hemenway-Forbes, a former newspaper editor, fosters a Hansen’s Dairy think tank to generate zany content that crosses generational divides.

“Gen X and older millennials know milk is a nutritional superhero,” Hemenway-Forbes said. “But the dairy industry is recognizing that it takes an innovative approach to reach Gen Z about nature’s most perfect food. 

Joelle sneaks a taste of a prop during a video shoot to promote Hansen’s new 2% milk.

“They want transparency. They want to see sustainable practices. They want to know we’re good environmental stewards. So we’re opening the barn door with social media and hands-on farm tours to give them a behind-the-scenes look.”

It’s working. The number of followers on Hansen’s Dairy social media accounts has skyrocketed as #FarmerBlake entertains and educates. The business also is working on a summer social media campaign aimed squarely at Gen Z.

Blake Hansen is pleased with the company’s growth on social media platforms and hopes that translates into a new generation of milk drinkers.

“Clicks and views are great, but a glass of milk is better,” he said.