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Make your meals `sing' with cheese, beef and -- Mr. Potatohead?

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Milk. In a dozen ways, the message is projected in the conference room of this Chicago hotel:

``Have more milk 'cause milk's got more,'' goes one TV jingle.

``Make your meals sing with cheddar cheese,'' says a full-color magazine ad, one of three being passed out.

The audience of men and women listen attentively. Then, without dissent, they approve the ads -- part of a $64 million promotion campaign.

Welcome to the latest meeting of the National Dairy Board -- an appointed group of 36 dairy farmers plus staff, whose sole job it is to boost sales of dairy and dairy products.

``If we could get everyone to drink one more glass of milk a week, we could destroy the [dairy] surplus,'' says Joe Westwater, the board's plucky chief executive officer.

In some ways, the board is a sign of the times in United States agriculture. Stuck with burdensome surpluses or the prospect of flat sales, producers of a number of different commodities are reaching the same conclusion: To boost sales, they'll have to advertise.

``We all realize that we've got to start acting like the food industry rather than producers,'' says Jeanne Sowa, promotion manager for the Beef Industry Council. ``The challenge for us is to show that beef can be fun -- that it doesn't have to be roast beef with mashed potatoes or meatloaf.''

The trend toward more generic advertising -- called generic because it advertises a food rather than a brand name -- is not particularly new. But just now there is a flurry of activity.

Cattlemen, for example, are preparing to vote on whether to set up a national beef board. The American Beekeeping Federation wants Congress to authorize a honey board. If both succeed, that would bring to eight the number of commodity boards specifically authorized by Congress, including the American Egg Board, the Cotton Board, the Potato Board, the Wheat Industry Council.


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