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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  • headward

    Milk board, pharmacy owner law, blue laws, and SBHE are all things that need to go.

  • kevindf

    The state has always been hostile towards economies of scale.

  • Conservative_Egghead

    Leroy Bernstein, a long-time Republican House member from north Fargo, tried for years to get the Milk Marketing board abolished, but he always ran into opposition from the rural legislators. The small-town grocery stores were afraid of the competition if Hugos, Hornbachers, and the like were able to offer lower prices. At the time Bernstein was pushing this issue, there were at least two Republican legislators from small towns who owned grocery stores, and they fought like #&^* to keep the Board in place.

  • Terri Huffman

    Thank you Rob, I appreciate your help. Now, here’s another question…if ND is so concerned about the prices then why are they not producing a product that will support the ND Dairy in this state? I’d be happy to purchase a ‘home grown yogurt’ to support dairy farmers in ND.

    • Sue

      Now that is an excellent point. Why protect a product that is not produced in our state and can not assure the consumer that all contents were actual ND grown/supplied?
      This could extend beyond the yogurt coupon. There is a gamut of dairy product on our shelves.

      • Terri Huffman

        Stated w/100% accuracy Sue….furthermore, this statement has me a little stumped ((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))………..JMO, but these gentlemen need to inform the grocery establishments that it is okay to accept the coupons that clearly state they are void in ND. If they are interested, I will be happy to provide them with the event that led me to asking Mr. Port about the yogurt coupons.

        • ec99

          Doesn’t matter. A check-out person will read the prohibition and that will be it. No use arguing the topic. Especially with people in line behind you grumbling.

  • Rick Olson

    It’s for the same reason that you cannot use a coupon for any dairy products in North Dakota. It’s because the price of milk is state controlled. We’re sort of a like a state which has a monopoly over liquor sales. In those states, you cannot use a coupon to buy a bottle of booze. In North Dakota, you cannot use a coupon to buy a gallon of milk, for yogurt, ice cream or whatever. I know its ridiculous, but North Dakota is famous for the ridiculous as we all know.

  • ec99

    Reminds me decades ago when in Minnesota there was a tax on margarine and it was illegal to color it yellow.

  • Thresherman

    You ask why dairy shoppers need to be protected from low prices, but how do you now that to be the case? Aside from the yogurt coupon issue, which I will get to next, I see no vast drop in the price of a gallon of milk outside of the state. In fact, it is higher in some cases.

    As to the yogurt, it is widely accepted that when a company asks it’s attorneys to advise it on whether it can do something, the answer is always “NO” because that is the easy and safe answer for the attorney. Easy, because it takes time and energy to actually research for the correct answer and safe because it presents zero chance of liability. So the most likely answer is that yogurt coupons are not allowed in ND is because of laziness and over cautiousness on behalf of the corporate attorneys.

    • Eric

      Try holiday station store in Eagan, mn last weekend. 2/$5 on gallons of milk. Checked local store on Monday and was $3.75 per gallon or 2/$7.50 a 50% higher price. The milk board needs to go. It is only there to protect the producers and grocers for higher profits. ND will some day get with the rest of the country, I hope. This includes pharmacy, and blue laws. All wrong.

      • ec99

        Too late. Too many generations of farmers and pharmacists have never had to engage in capitalism. They are addicted to the plethora of subsidies they receive.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      If there is no difference in the prices, why do we need the milk marketing board?

  • Yuna Braska

    AAAAAAHHHHHH

    CONSPIRACY!!!

    Everyone drink!

    Yogurt-gate?

    LOL

    Stupid fat sack of lying sh!t

    • two_amber_lamps

      Ah, the Yuan-bot is quite froggy today!

      Now take your meds, that’s a good little sockpuppet critter!

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