Dannon put the pieces in place and gathered up its ammunition for a major escalation of its efforts to boost transparency, pivot to fewer and more natural ingredients, and improve the sustainability of its milk supply. It should help the Big Food brand compete with yogurt upstarts that leverage simple ingredients, information about origins and other attributes that have become important to more US consumers.
Dannon’s pledge includes a commitment for Dannon to use nationwide GMO labeling on its products by the end of next year, in line with just a few other CPG giants at this point, including Campbell Soup. Dannon also committed to bring products from its three flagship yogurt brands—Dannon, Oikos and Danimals—”towards the use of fewer and more natural ingredients that are not synthetic and non-GMO” and to transition toward non-GMO feed for all its farmers’ cows within three years.
Dannon laid out its plan for working directly with some farmers that provide its milk to encourage and reward improved sustainability and animal-welfare practices as well as feeding the brand’s growing appetite for stories of familiar sourcing, ingredient transparency and environmental stewardship.
“This is a bold move for a big yogurt manufacturer in the US,” concluded Mariano Lozano, president and CEO of Dannon, which is the US arm of Paris-based Danone, on a conference call with brandchannel and other outlets.
The company said, “The changes will enable consumers to make everyday choices for themselves, their family and children consistent with their wish for natural and sustainable eating options, choosing which agricultural and environmental model they favor.”
In a press release, Lozano added, “It’s our mission to bring health through food to as many people as possible. And it’s our passion to help people enjoy the benefits of yogurt every day in a sustainable way. While this commitment is ambitious, we believe it’s necessary to continue to serve Americans using a sustainable and transparent business model.”
These plans were kicked off with an agreement to get 40 percent of Dannon’s milk directly from seven family farms and two co-ops whose members have agreed to follow standards such as providing cattle shades to reduce heat stress. The farms get a relationship with Dannon and more or less a guarantee of a fixed, profitable price for their milk amid an era of wild swings in marketplace prices for the commodity they provide.
“We’re guaranteed a certain minimum level of profit, which allows us to focus on the things we’re truly passionate about rather than worrying about a milk market we can’t control,” Ken McCarty, co-owner of one of the farms, told the New York Times. He also shared the conference call with Lozano.
The Dannon president told the newspaper, “Sometimes I wake up sweating and thinking, what are we getting into? We don’t know how we’re going to do all this, but I’m glad we’re aiming high. It shows we have the right level of ambition.”