LONDONDERRY, NH -- Back in 1983, co-founders Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg were running a nonprofit organic farming school on a small New Hampshire farm. They were on a mission to help family farms survive, keep food and food production healthy, and help protect the environment. But the school needed funding.
So, they put the farm’s seven cows to work (and all the helping hands they could wrangle), and began selling quality yogurt made without using toxic persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
“Samuel and Gary did most of the work back then. They milked the cows, made the yogurt, and made sales calls and even deliveries,” said Elizabeth Conover, marketing director for Londonderry, N.H.-based Stonyfield Organic. “The yogurt was a hit -- a big one. And Samuel and Gary realized that a successful organic company could make a bigger difference for family farms, people, and the planet than their school could. So they decided to run with yogurt.”
Today, Stonyfield’s organic yogurts, smoothies, frozen yogurts, milk and cream are sold in supermarkets, natural food stores, and colleges across the country — all made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics or GMOs. And the company proudly supports hundreds of organic family farms that care for thousands of organic cows grazing their pastures.
“We’ve even extended our organic mission to parks where families play — and over 35 cities have joined us to manage their parks organically, too,” Conover said. “Our commitment to healthy food, healthy people, and a healthy planet, is rooted in our fundamental commitment to doing Good on Purpose. Millions of people have supported this mission, and helped grow the US organic marketplace to over $60 billion in annual sales.”
Stonyfield Organic touts itself as being “obsessively organic.” Conover said it means that consumers should have a choice about what’s in the food they purchase and consume.
“You should have a choice about what’s in your food. That requires understanding what’s in it. Food production has changed a lot over the years. One result is hundreds of chemicals that could take the average consumer months to research,” she said. “We think it makes more sense to start with what we trust and work from there. Organic takes a more stringent approach to what chemicals or ingredients are allowed for use in agricultural practices and in product formulation.”
“Instead, organic producers ‘rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods’ (USDA). Organic certification assures consumers that products were made without artificial sweeteners, flavors, and preservatives, and without the use of persistent chemicals like toxic pesticides and artificial hormones.”
Trends and Customer Satisfaction
Total food sales, including dairy, saw a boost in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers shifted consumption from out of the home, to into the home. In 2020, total store sales grew 10.4%, up five times that of the previous year. Dairy grew 13.6% in 2020, after flat growth in the previous year. In 2021, dairy is still the largest food aisle in the grocery store, and is up 3.5% over last year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Conover said many consumers turned to comfort food and taste, especially with natural cheese and butter.
“During COVID, we’ve seen the strong growth of health claims within dairy (low-carb, low-sugar, and no-sugar-added), and the growth in animal welfare claims, non-GMO and organic,” she said. “The yogurt category — organic yogurt specifically — is booming. Yogurt sales have increased overall by 2.2% in the last year, led by strong organic yogurt growth at +2.7%. Stonyfield is reporting a 4.5% sales increase, outpacing conventional yogurt brands by over two times.”
Stonyfield carries a strong and proven track record for prioritizing consumer satisfaction, efficiency, and product development to produce superior quality dairy products.
Conover said the company’s successful track record originates with the organic family farms that supply their milk.
“The quality of our product starts with the organic family farms that supply our milk. Organic standards ensure that the cows producing the milk are healthy and happy, therefore creating a high-quality product,” she said. “Our parent company, Lactalis, has also made significant investments in our Londonderry processing facility. We have been able to increase our lines and pack-type production.”
Conover said the company also uses its social media and CRM efforts to continually connect with consumers on how to improve current products, or look for ideas for future innovation.
“We continually communicate our mission and sustainability efforts with the help of our digital technology,” she said. “On the farm, we are always finding ways to utilize technology to help farmers everyday — like our OpenTEAM initiative — an open-source software platform that supports farmers in measuring and monitoring soil health and identifying their specific opportunities to increase soil carbon sequestration.”
Production and Progress
In 2020, Stonyfield collaborated with Nature’s Path to create two new product lines to satisfy the entire family, Conover said.
“The first is an organic low-fat yogurt paired with Natures Path EnviroKidz cereal mix-in, and the other is a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit-on-the-bottom and Nature’s Path granola mix-in,” she said.
As far as non-dairy trends, Stonyfield has offered a soy-based, non-dairy yogurt for many years. With the variety of plant-based milks now available, however, Conover said the company has seen a decline in the popularity of the soy-based category, and therefore made the decision to discontinue its line of soy-based products this summer to focus on the dairy side of the business for single-serve yogurt.
“We do, however, offer a dairy-free alternative like our delicious fruit and veggie smoothie pouches ... they are made with only six simple ingredients and have no added sugar.”
During the pandemic, when the world was staying at home and making fewer trips to the grocery store, Conover said Stonyfield saw an increase in its multi-serve offerings, like quarts and multipack pouches.
“Since then, we have been working on expanding our larger format offerings with 16-count pouches for club stores and expanding our existing larger format items like our Stonyfield Kids 12-count, 3.1-oz Smoothie and Traditional Quarts distribution,” she said. “As an organic company, we saw benefits shine even brighter for the organic farms that supply our milk. When other dairy farms were having to dump their milk because of surplus, the demand for organic milk increased as more consumers were choosing the higher-quality dairy products at the store for themselves when they weren’t at restaurants or cafeterias.”
Conover said that Stonyfield believes that organic truly matters, and the company is on a quest to prove that organic is better.
“A lot of companies make tasty yogurt, but we feel that many may have come to rely too heavily on shortcuts to create their products cheaply. Our approach starts by seeking out high-quality ingredients — food that has the flavor and characteristics we want from the start. Organic food standards prohibit the use of over 700 chemicals,” she said. “Sure, there are cheaper paths, like using artificial sweeteners, flavors, and preservatives. But we trust in the power of Mother Nature to create the ingredients our bodies crave most. Truly special yogurt starts by seeking high-quality ingredients.”
Organic, Conover said, also benefits famers and the communities in which they serve.
“Research shows that organic farms are 35% more profitable than the average farm — and a lot more likely to stay in agriculture as a result. Organic farmers create jobs, promote economic growth, boost household incomes, and reduce poverty levels at greater rates than general agriculture,” she said. “There is now conclusive research that demonstrates that organic agricultural activity actually improves the economic health of a county. Median household incomes increase by more than $2,000, and the poverty rate in a county may decrease by as much as 1.35 percentage points.”
Once upon a time, agriculture held communities together. Today, organic farming is breathing new life into rural communities at a time when the agricultural economy is otherwise struggling, Conover said.
“One of the main goals of organic farming practices is to avoid contamination of our precious soil, rivers, drinking water and air with toxic, persistent chemicals. Which also means organic farmers themselves and their neighbors aren’t exposed to potentially carcinogenic herbicides,” she said. “Organic agriculture not only means less dependence on fossil fuels, but it can also actually help reduce climate change. It’s estimated that converting all of America’s cropland to organic would have the same carbon-reducing effect as taking 217 million cars off the road.”
Agriculture is responsible for roughly 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, Conover said.
“But it’s now been shown that organic soil sequesters 26% more carbon than non-organic soil. In other words, organic agriculture has the potential to be part of the solution to climate change, and that’s huge for the future of farming,” she said.
The company’s organizational values are healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet, and healthy business.
“This basically means that our goal is creating a healthy product, to help people live healthier lives, while running a business that cares about the planet,” Conover said. “Other companies have used these words to describe their purpose, but few were founded on those values — and even fewer have stayed true to them for decades the way we have here at Stonyfield.”
Conover said one of the keys to the company’s success includes always offering consumers products made from high-quality ingredients in formats that work for the entire family.
“As one of the country’s leading organic yogurt makers, we take care with everything we put into our products and everything we keep out. By saying no to toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs, Stonyfield Organic has been saying yes to healthy food, healthy people, and a healthy planet since 1983,” she said. “The company, a Certified B Corporation, is also helping to nurture farmers through initiatives like its Direct Milk Supply Program and the Wolfe’s Neck Organic Training Program, as well as protect families through programs like StonyFIELDS, a nationwide, multi-year initiative to promote organic maintenance in local parks and playing fields. This helps keep families free from the use of harmful pesticides.”
The company thinks about the impact of everything they do — from what’s in the cup, how it’s made and how it gets to the consumer.
“We’ve been on a 38-year mission to create food that’s good for us, our kids and the environment,” Conover said.
The future looks bright for Stonyfield, with ambitions to continue to expand its StonyFIELDS Initiative through the rest of 2021 and into 2022.
“By helping communities convert more parks and playing fields to organic maintenance, we are able to help educate the public about toxins and persistent pesticides, and the harmful effects they can have on people, pets, and the environment,” Conover said. “We also know that true environmental progress takes innovation, which is why we teamed up with Wolfe’s Neck Center on Agriculture and the Environment to help launch OpenTEAM — an open-source software platform that supports farmers in measuring and monitoring soil health and identifying their specific opportunities to increase soil carbon sequestration.”
This story is featured in the September issue of Dairy Processing.