John Ellenberger: “Quality is the unsung hero of every thriving dairy industry”

Originally published on June 4, 2018.


This June Dairy Month, let’s acknowledge the important role of food quality and safety

Author: John Ellenberger, Senior Vice President of Land O'Lakes International Development:

As you may know, it’s June Dairy Month in the U.S. In my former role with Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s Dairy Foods business, this was a time of celebration and reflection. Since the farmer-owned cooperative’s start 1921, Land O’Lakes has been at the forefront of the emerging U.S. dairy industry…and at the forefront of food quality practices.

From farmer quality incentives to retail packaging, this now nearly century-old cow-to-consumer commitment to quality has become a staple of the Dairy Foods brand. And, it’s a big part of the reason global customers of all types rely on Land O’Lakes for consistent, high quality products.

In my current position as Executive Director of Land O’Lakes International Development, June Dairy Month has got me thinking about our nonprofit’s history in food quality. Our goal is to support farmers and processors in emerging economies – people just like the original Land O’Lakes member-owners – to unlock the potential of their local dairy industries. This means supporting them to increase yields and reach food quality standards that build brand trust and are safe for their families and local customers, as well as up-to-par for international markets.

Today, in honor of our nonprofit’s history in implementing dairy projects since our start in 1981, I’m tipping my hat to two projects that remind me of the early days of Land O’Lakes, Inc’s history of quality:


Back when the USAID-funded Macedonia Agricultural Marketing Activity (MAMA) project started in 2003, Macedonia was importing about 60% of its processed milk. MAMA aimed to grow the dairy (and meat) industry by fostering a competitive market that centered around a Macedonia Seal of Quality (SOQ) program. Fifteen years later, this program is going strong!

MAMA achieved success through the establishment of a system for certifying and monitoring product quality. The project set SOQ manufacturers up for success by assisting them to improve their facilities and market the importance of SOQ product to consumers. MAMA enhanced this effort by running a national campaign that resulted in an 85% increase in SOQ product recognition.
Today, almost 90% of cheese and meat is marketed through the SOQ program. Thanks to the quality bar being raised to meet international standards, Macedonia is now relying almost entirely on domestic dairy products, and even doing some exporting to neighboring countries.


In 2012, we led a USAID-funded project called the Rwanda Dairy Competitiveness Program II’s (RDCP II) to support the Rwandan dairy industry in maintaining product quality. The project succeeded in increasing the industry’s regional competitiveness by improving every link in the value chain.

One critical piece was the project’s collaboration with the Rwandan government and dairy industry to build Rwanda’s first SOQ program. The SOQ certificate was, and still is today, awarded to different actors in the milk supply chain that meet quality standards. Like in Macedonia, RDCP II enhanced this effort with a milk consumption campaign that reached over 1.6 million people. By project close in 2017, 68% of total milk was marketed by coops under the SOQ.

For the first time, Rwandans are now enjoying a variety of trusted, locally-made products, like cheese, butter and strawberry yogurt. Thanks to the internationally recognized SOQ certification, Rwanda’s neighbors are now enjoying these products too.

If Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s history and these two case examples tell us anything, it’s that a focus on quality can expedite a dairy enterprise’s competitive potential to access local and export markets. Though each industry requires customization in building quality across their value chains, the good news is – we’ve already got proven quality programs and practices that can be applied worldwide.
Now that’s something to celebrate!  Happy Dairy Month.

Related Resources
Stories From
This Program
Have you heard? We have a new Farmer-to-Farmer project focused on Food Quality + Safety

Here’s a Q&A to get to know our Country Directors from Lebanon, Egypt and Bangladesh Learn More

Trainings are putting Uprocenya Dairy on the Map

A dairy farmer turned chairman has positioned co-ops for the future in Rwanda Learn More

Cooperative Development and Gender Inclusion

For International Women's Day, we're celebrating the empowering aspects of cooperatives Learn More