In the milestones of milk history in the U.S., the introduction of the REAL Seal in 1977 ranks right up there with the first cows hitting the shores of the Jamestown Colony in 1611, the invention of the milk bottle in New York in 1884, and the first farms that installed bulk milk tanks in 1938.

The REAL Seal was the first product “seal of approval” I came to recognize, and still ranks among the most important things I can find on a product packaging. That little red swirl of a milk drop guarantees that a product is made from U.S.-produced cow’s milk.

Real milk. Real dairy product.

My poor quality, fuzzy photo above hails from 1997 when my daughter and some of her 4-H club friends were in the local county fair dress-a-cow contest. We had Darth Vader, a little Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker (OK, so the karate outfit is black instead of his trademark white) and the theme: May the REAL Force Be With You! I can’t remember if they even placed, but I remembered this photo when some news of the REAL Seal crossed my desk yesterday.

Under new management

The National Milk Producers Federation is assuming responsibility for the licensing and use of the REAL Seal from the United Dairy Industry Association. The goal: renew interest in the logo and emphasis the importance of American-made dairy foods.

Did you catch that? “American-made dairy foods.” You want to support U.S. farmers, you’d better look for the REAL Seal. No imports or imitations need apply.

“The REAL Seal was created more than 30 years ago to help consumers distinguish between real and artificial cheeses, as the pizza category was really taking off,” the news release quoted NMPF CEO Jerry Kozak. “Today, a generation later, we still see a need to differentiate American-made dairy products from imports, and real dairy foods from those made with soy or rice or even hemp.”

There’s lots of specifics about what products qualify for the REAL Seal, but when it comes right down to it, here’s what the Rules of the REAL Seal say: “The above requirements effectively preclude the use of the REAL Seal on any products that contain imported dairy products or ingredients, including casein, caseinates, MPC, as well as products containing vegetable proteins.”

“The Force is strong with this one.”

My cursory Internet search yielded conflicting dates for the logo’s beginning, so if anyone can point me to the definitive year, I’d love to hear it. Dairy Management Inc. material says the REAL Seal was first used in 1977 “to give authentic dairy and dairy-based products a competitive advantage over products containing imitation dairy ingredients.” Another source said the American Dairy Association launched the national introduction of the dairy symbol in 1980.

Either way, I think it was a pretty important marketing decision for the dairy industry. I hope NMPF can maintain the seal’s visibility and even create more awareness of that little red logo. Long may it reign!

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.
Susan Crowell
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