Stonyfield Successfully Brands Ethics

Jul 03, 2002

Experienced as educators running non-profit organizations, Gary Hirshberg and Samuel Kaymen set out with a great recipe for yogurt in 1983, well before the era of organic awareness, to launch Stonyfield Farms, which has become fourth in the nation. They used educational techniques typical of non-profit organizations to get there, and didn’t draw any distinction between advocating for environmental causes and advocating for their organic yogurt.

As detailed in a “Profile,” Mr. Hirshberg and Mr. Kaymen tapped right into the post-’60s, post-’70s, maturing baby boomer generation. “People were looking to take greater responsibility for their own health and also wanted to have their purchases count for something more than just a purchase,” says Gary, the company’s CEO and Prime Moover. “They liked the idea that their grocery dollars could go to causes that they cared about.” Ten percent of Stonyfield’s profits are donated, primarily to environmental causes.

The co-founders believed that only business really had the power, through the marketplace, to reach large numbers of consumers with their message about protecting the environment and consuming organic foods. “Deep down, philosophically, we believe that most problems in society, most environmental problems, exist because business hasn’t made their solutions a priority,” says Gary. “Our idea is that these problems will go away only if business makes finding solutions a priority.”

Those solutions may not have materialized as yet, but Stonyfield Farms has otherwise met with success. By the time Groupe Danone SA purchased a 40-percent stake in the company in October of 2001, Stonyfield was posting some $80 million in annual sales. The company now tops $100 million and expects to rank third nationwide soon.

Moderator Comment: Is it easier or more difficult for a small brand to get shelf space in a supermarket today than it was when Stonyfield Farms was starting up in the mid-1980s?

We think we know how the Independent Bakers Association, the Tortilla Industry Association and the National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers would answer. [George Anderson – Moderator]

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