Desire and Reality
Our search for meaning and how that is a ecting food and nutrition.

Do you live in Germany? Then you may be getting a letter from parliament. The Bundestag is writing to members of the public as part of a study on “The changing face of nutrition: between private concerns and government responsibilities.” Whether or not you are among the 20,000 people randomly chosen to take part, it’s a question that is relevant to us all.

Those involved in the study can apply to join the first ever citizens’ council, set up to address questions such about food and the environment. How far should the state steer the food cycle? How can we reduce food waste? Would higher taxes on unhealthy foods make sense? The 160-member council is due to present its recommendations to parliament early next year. Lawmakers are looking for feedback from our dinner tables as food and nutrition increasingly represent our changing views and values. Was everything better in the past? Probably not, but they were different, for sure. In the past, society was shaped more by material concerns, in my view. Nowadays we are searching for deeper meaning. We used to pick cars by checking a technical catalogue. These days, we focus more on lifestyle factors, their appearance and how they feel to drive. While the older generation is still shaped by the “work first, pleasure later” maxim, younger people almost always take the opposite approach. To say it more simply, we have travelled from a “world of things” to a “world of meaning.” As we search for a place in this new world, we also take a stance on the questions of the day. We are more aware about the way we live and eat, we pay more attention to whether products are made sustainably. But let’s be realistic and a bit more self-critical. We buy apples grown locally, but we also buy avocados from Chile. We ride our bikes instead of driving our cars, but we also buy our toothbrushes online. We care about water consumption, reducing plastic waste and our carbon footprint. But we also fly to wherever we go on holiday. All these contradictions are part of our reality.

“For us at DMK, we need to make the right decisions as we navigate these times that are marked by firmly held beliefs and convictions. We may be up against need to do is understand these dynamics and respond by developing solutions.”

Oliver Bartelt
Oliver Bartelt

Our desire for socio-economic change translates into new demands on society and the economy. In 2022, people bought around 900 grams less milk per capita on average, compared to the year before which was marked by the pandemic. Those who criticize the dairy industry call this a “record low,” though they are forgetting the impact of higher inflation on household budgets. Plant-based alternatives are continuing to evolve in terms of taste and sales volumes – but as a supplement, not replacing milk. Are consumers turning away from milk and dairy products? No. On average, we buy about 46 liters per capita per year. Nine out of ten consumers have dairy products in their fridge. And more than half say they will still be drinking cow’s milk ten years from now, according to a survey at the start of the year. Does that mean there is no need to worry? Sadly, problems remain. As an industry, we are faced with the demands of a society that is both aware and ambivalent.

Consumers are more flexible when buying animal and plant proteins and are less dogmatic about this question. For DMK employees and farmers, to this search for meaning, amid the transformation of the food industry – and of all other areas of our lives. For us at DMK, we need to make the right decisions as we navigate these times that are marked by firmly held beliefs and convictions. We may be up against need to do is understand these dynamics and respond by developing solutions. “Change can also be fun” – that may sound like a joke, but it is the best answer to these challenges, across the board. Take recruitment. We don’t win employees because we are perfect in all we do – we need to explain what we stand for as DMK, within the company and to the world outside. After all, young employees are quick to ask, why does DMK exist?

We supply millions of people with high-quality food, is our answer. They follow up by asking many more questions, addressing issues such as climate change, animal welfare or livestock housing. We respond by talking about our sustainability initiatives at our sites and with our farmers. What we are learning from all this is that candidates are not bothered by the fact that we are not perfect – they just want us to have a vision. We can work on our future together and it’s up to us whether we choose to be aggressive and dogmatic in these debates or if we keep an open mind and embrace a complex and exciting search for meaning and seek solutions together. This is the only way that the next generation can take the helm at farms, dairies and companies.

Working as equals, in the spirit of the times. Keeping the dialogue going.