Federal Government Helps Dominos Sell Pizzas, Uses Tax Dollars to Push Dairy Products

Hey, you know that new great tasting pizza from Dominos? And the clever, widespread marketing campaign used to promote the new pizza? You paid for it. The New York Times reports:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Dairy Management, really the Department of Agriculture, has signed confidential agreements with big restaurants to infuse more cheese into their menus. And how is all of this funded? A mixture of fees imposed on the industry and our tax dollars.

Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.

So the Department of Agriculture, using your tax dollars, is policing food, promoting food, funded marketing campaigns for major restaurant chains, developing new products, and recommending nutritional intake. All at the same time.

In one such case, the federal government spent four years promoting the idea that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products. The only problem? Studies from both independent groups and the federal government itself showed no such weight loss associated with dairy products.

The Department of Agriculture refused to make available officials to talk with the New York Times. But they did issue a statement — a statement that apparently conflicts with documents previously submitted to Congress.

Anyway, Dominos isn’t the first company the Department of Agriculture has helped promote using American tax dollars.

In 2007, the department highlighted Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza, Wendy’s “dual Double Melt sandwich concept,” and Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. “Both featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and a cheesy sauce,” the department said.

These efforts, the department reported, helped generate a “cheese sales growth of nearly 30 million pounds.”

You know that “Got Milk?” campaign? Dairy Management. And marketing by the Department of Agriculture isn’t limited to milk or cheese products.

Dairy Management runs the largest of 18 Agriculture Department programs that market beef, pork, potatoes and other commodities. Their budgets are largely paid by levies imposed on farmers, but Dairy Management, which reported expenditures of $136 million last year, also received $5.3 million that year from the Agriculture Department to promote dairy sales overseas.

Diary Management now employs 162 full-time employees trained in marketing and product development. And we pay top dollar for its chief and his immediate colleagues:

Dairy Management’s longtime chief executive, Thomas P. Gallagher, received $633,475 in compensation in 2008, with first-class travel privileges, according to federal tax filings. Annual compensation for two other officials top $300,000 each.

Getting back to Dominos, Dairy Management directly develops new products for the company.

According to contract records released through the Freedom of Information Act, Dairy Management’s role in helping to develop Domino’s pizzas included generating and testing new pizza concepts.

When Dairy Management began working with companies like Domino’s, it first had to convince them that cheese would make their products more desirable, records and interviews show. It provided banners and special lighting for the drive-up window menus at fast food restaurants, recalled Debra Olson Linday, who led Dairy Management’s early efforts in promoting cheese to restaurant chains before leaving in 1997.

By 1999, food retailers and manufacturers were coming to Dairy Management for help.

“Let’s sell more pizza and more cheese!” said two officials with Pizza Hut, which began putting cheese inside its crust after holding development meetings with Dairy Management, according to a memorandum released by the Agriculture Department.

Again, all funded by your tax dollars. Your government at work.