Milk board's ad campaign the 'real' deal

When it comes to dairy products, California industry leaders are just trying to keep it real.

For 23 years, the "real California cheese" seal has helped boost cheese sales. The industry announced plans Wednesday in Modesto to tweak the slogan in hopes of duplicating that marketing success for the state's other dairy products.

The words "real California milk"will appear on packaging and advertising for milk, butter, ice cream and yogurt later this month, California Milk Advisory Board officials said as they unveiled the campaign.

"Consumers care where their milk comes from, especially California consumers," said Stan Andre, chief executive officer of the Modesto-based industry group. Dairy is the region's No. 1 agricultural product.

The board plans to spend $40 million over the next year on newspaper, magazine, TV, radio and billboard ads with the revised slogan.

It will tie in with the board's "happy cows" commercials, featuring cattle in humorous story lines. The voice-over at the end, which until now referred only to cheese, is being changed to "Great milk comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California. Make sure it's made with real California milk."

The "real California cheese" seal will continue to be used.

The board unveiled the new campaign outside O'Brien's Market on Dale Road. The first use of the revised seal will be on Foster Farms Dairy products sold by the three-store O'Brien's chain, but other processors and grocers soon will follow.

"I do like the fact that it's from California -- supporting the local economy," said Kim Amirsheybani of Modesto, one of dozens of people who happened to be at the store during the unveiling.

The event featured ice cream samples, a live cow in a trailer and a remote broadcast by a Modesto radio station.

California produces about a fifth of the nation's milk. It is the top-grossing farm product in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, bringing an estimated $1.3 billion to farmers last year. Several thousand people work at dairy processing plants in the region.

The "real California cheese" campaign was launched in 1984 to help dairy farmers deal with a surplus of milk. The state's cheese production has grown from 281 million pounds in 1983 to 2.21 billion pounds last year, according to the advisory board.

That success was the subject of a 2005 case study by the graduate business school at Columbia University in New York.

"The spots put a smile on the viewer's face and increase awareness of the product," the study said.

The "real California" effort is separate from the acclaimed "got milk?" commercials created by the California Milk Processor Board in 1993.

The campaign announced Wednesday aims in part to increase Californians' consumption of milk from their state. About 20 percent of the milk sold in the state comes from elsewhere, but Andre said the state's residents want the freshest product possible.

Little of the fluid milk produced here goes to out-of-state consumers, he said, but they are a big market for other dairy products.

Turlock-area dairy farmer Ray Souza, president of Western United Dairymen, also spoke at the unveiling.

"We take a great deal of pride in the milk we produce, and the consumers seem to appreciate our hard work," he said.

That includes Branden Bunce, a 20-month-old Modesto resident who attended the event.

"He drinks two gallons of milk a week," mother Mary Bunce said. "I always look for homegrown."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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