After a year of virtual events, more than 1,000 leaders from the dairy industry will come together in January for the International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) annual Dairy Forum. The event, which will take place from January 23-26 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, Calif., will cover what is “New, Now, Next” in dairy. 

“Dairy forum is our annual conference, and it’s really where we bring together the top leadership across the dairy industry,” said Heather Soubra, senior vice president, strategic initiatives, IDFA. “From dairy processing companies to suppliers, to retailers, co-ops, all the leadership of those organizations coming together … to set the stage of what do we want to do with our industry, how can we take our industry and evolve to the next step forward.”

Dairy Forum 2022 will provide new tools for the industry to continue to grow, better anticipate the future and drive positive change for employees, customers and consumers. Participants will be challenged with the latest thinking on leadership, policy, technology, people and workforce, economics and innovation. The schedule will include thought leaders, dairy executives, top government officials, market experts and strategists in business and leadership.

“We intentionally designed (the program) to highlight what’s happening in the dairy industry and how we can prepare for the future,” Soubra said. “The theme of every dairy forum has been ‘shape the future,’ ‘what’s next,’ ‘dairy evolved,’ all of these very forward-thinking things … we always need to have our eye on the ball to be prepared for what’s happening next, and we talked about, at those previous Dairy Forums, disruption and how we needed to be prepared for disruption.”

Health and wellness will be a hot topic, as the industry continues to work to establish dairy as a healthy food. 

“We really want to make sure that we’re positioning dairy in the healthy food category, because that’s what we believe our product is,” said Soubra. “It nourishes bodies and souls. In the whole wellness category, we wanna make sure that dairy stays in there.”


Attendees can expect to learn and network sessions, panel discussions, special presentations, networking and topic deep dives on issues including health and wellness, technology throughout the supply chain, trade, people, social impact and sustainability.

Keynote speaker Jim Donald, chairman of Albertson’s and former CEO of Starbucks, Pathmark Supermarkets and Extended Stay Hotels will give his insights and perspectives during his keynote, “Leading Beyond the Walls of the Workplace – What They Don’t Teach You in Business School.” Mel Robbins, best-selling author and award-winning CNN commentator will speak during the Chairman’s lecture.

“There’s such an emphasis there on people,” Soubra said. “As we’ve all learned over the course of the past 18 months, our organizations are made up of the people that work in them, and so as our industry goes through some challenges with the workforce and how to retain talent, attract talent, the Chairman’s Lecture (with) Mel Robbins is really focused on how to inspire your people, how to make them feel connected to your organization and aligned with that purpose-driven mission.”

Programming will also cover diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce with a panel of chief diversity officers and chief human resource officers from Schreiber Foods, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America, Lank O’Lakes, High Road Craft Ice Cream, Inc., and Tillamook County Creamery Association, who will come together to talk about what the challenges are for the workforce and creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive places within the industry. 

“We’re going to talk about labor shortage challenges and how we’re working as an industry to be more attractive to a wider, more diverse talent pool,” Soubra said. 

A study commissioned by and McKinsey, examining women in the workplace, will also be highlighted during Dairy Forum.

“Some statistics that just came out of their native study are sobering,” said Soubra. “They’re going to share those with us, what’s happening on the positive side, what do we need to be aware of, and what do we need to do as organizations to really mitigate against that and make sure that we’re creating diverse, inclusive and equitable workplaces across the board.”


In January 2021, Dairy Forum went virtual in accordance with CDC guidelines related to COVID-19. While the 2022 event will be in-person, organizers are still cognizant of the continued risks associated with COVID-19 and are encouraging attendees to act responsibly. 

“We will be following CDC guidelines to ensure a safe environment,” Soubra said. “We would like for people to be vaccinated, we encourage people to do so at this moment. There is a mask mandate that may or may not be lifted by the time we get to a Dairy Forum. We will be following CDC guidelines, and we encourage others to do the same to really make sure that they’re taking personal responsibility for their health and being safe and getting vaccinated and wearing a mask if they’re not vaccinated.”

If there is anything to be taken away from the past year, it’s that the industry can evolve to meet the needs of any disruption, Soubra said. Coming together to support each other and having that sense of community is why she believed the industry has faired well, overall, throughout the pandemic. Now, the industry is ready to come together again and work through what’s next. 

“We all are looking for opportunities to connect in-person, and nothing beats Dairy Forum in the beautiful Coachella Valley for inspiring that spirit of unity and engagement,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA president and chief executive officer. “It is the premier annual event for the dairy industry. If you’re a leader in the dairy industry, food and beverage space, this is an event you won’t want to miss.”

For more information on Dairy Forum and to register, click here.

This article is featured in the December issue of Dairy Processing.