Dairy Protectionism Why You Can’t Use Yogurt Coupons In North Dakota

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You readers send me a lot of emails, and aside from the ones that just about insulting me, I appreciate all of them. A lot of the best posts I write have their genesis in something a reader sent me.

But sometimes you readers ask me questions too, wondering about a policy or a vote or why a law is the way it is. Recently a reader sent me a message asking about yogurt coupons of all things:

May not be political, but do you know why or where I can find out why ND does not accept coupons for yogurt? They used to because I’ve used them before, but not it’s printed right on the coupon. Thanks for any assistance you can provide.

I’m not much for yogurt, and my wife does most of the grocery shopping, so I’d never noticed this before. But the answer lays in a bit of dairy industry protectionism embedded in state law.

Section 4.18-1 of the North Dakota Century Code establishes the Milk Marketing Board which, among other things, carves the state up into marketing districts and then sets the minimum allowable price for dairy products in those districts.

An excerpt:

2. For each marketing area, the board shall establish minimum prices for each of the following classifications of sales:

a. Sales of milk products by processors or distributors to retailers. Such minimum price for each item is applicable regardless of the location at which the retailer accepts delivery.

b. Sales of milk products by any person to consumers.

3. For any marketing area, the board may establish the minimum prices for each of the following classifications of sales:

a. Sales of milk products by processors to distributors.

b. Sales of frozen dairy products by a processor, distributor, or retailer to any person.

c. Sales of milk products by a processor to another processor or by a distributor to another distributor.

d. Sales of milk products or frozen dairy products not otherwise provided for in subsections 2 and 3.

Because of this law, because of this government protectionism, national companies selling dairy products like yogurt don’t allow some promotions to be valid in North Dakota. But according to state officials, the coupons are still allowed as far as they’re concerned, as John Weisgerber of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board told Teri Finneman back in 2011:

“The only coupons we’ve seen where there is some kind of a note on there (prohibiting use) are yogurt coupons.

“In the past, we heard that some of the yogurt companies will have North Dakota, Nevada and Louisiana (as states where coupons) are not accepted.

“Generally, those firms hire a law firm to research the different states.

“We’ve told them they (coupons) could be used. Somehow, when the message goes from the law firm that did the research to the company that’s printing the coupon, the information doesn’t get there right.”

“We’re working with those law firms that do the research to get the answer to the company or the marketing end of the company to get the correct information to them.”

It’s good to hear that these yogurt coupons are technically allowable, though I’d point out that report was from more than two years ago and yet yogurt coupons still say they can’t be used in the state.

But I think North Dakotans need to ask a much more important question, which is why dairy shoppers need to be protected from low prices?

The answer is probably the same as it is for laws like the one that doesn’t allow pharmacies with out-of-state owners to operate in North Dakota, which is that North Dakotans have a long history of opposing outside competition even at the expense of lower prices and better service for North Dakota shoppers.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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