Chobani LLC, maker of America's top Greek yogurt brand and the second-largest overall yogurt manufacturer in the U.S., announced this week a comprehensive, groundbreaking program to further its commitment to the positive transformation of its milkshed in support of the economic, environmental and social impacts of its main ingredient: fresh milk. The Milk Matters program will encompass Chobani's commitment to its milkshed as well as efforts to support greater transparency across dairy farms.
Milk Matters was designed to address the unprecedented challenges today's dairy industry faces.
“Many current industry programs and certifications, while well intended, address single issues in isolation and haven't gone far enough to truly provide relief for struggling farms,” the company noted. “Milk Matters takes a comprehensive approach to bringing transparency to dairy, providing meaningful support for the entire dairy community and preserving long-term viability for the industry.”
The program will include co-op partners, dairy farms and third parties such as FairTrade USA, World Wildlife Fund, National Milk Producers Federation, Cornell University, state programs and community foundations in Idaho and New York to validate ongoing progress. Milk Matters is working towards 100% implementation by 2025.
"Proud to share our vision for the future of dairy — from cows to people to planet. It's a small step with a big message: The future of dairy farmers matters to all of us," Chobani founder and chief executive Hamdi Ulukaya said. "Dairy farms are the backbone of the communities we call home, but the current model is broken, and it's leaving consumers questioning everything, including the treatment of animals, farm workers and the land itself. Our solution is simple but powerful. We all have a responsibility to support the farmers who make our business and our vision possible."
Paul Rice, chief executive officer of Fair Trade USA, said, "This is a big move for one of the important sectors of agriculture in the U.S., creating shared trust, partnership and value between consumers, farms and brands with a Fair Trade USA standard for dairy. By funding the exploration and development of a standard that will be available to the entire dairy industry, Chobani is taking a real leadership position. We're thrilled to support an initiative that will drive continued progress, value, and transparency across the dairy industry."
To develop this program, Chobani spent the past several years listening to farmers, farm workers, elected officials and experts across the dairy industry to create a comprehensive path forward. The company said it is proud to take a leadership position in the category at a time when dairy in the U.S. is at a moment of evolution. Chobani wants to empower consumers to feel confident in knowing where their dairy is from and the difference it is making.
While many dairy programs address issues in isolation, Chobani aims to change that with Milk Matters by outlining six critical pillars:
- Worker well-being – From safety and training programs to wage standards to a support hotline for outlier situations, Chobani will work with dairy cooperatives, farmers and farm workers to create a system where the dairy industry has the support it deserves. To achieve this, Chobani is collaborating with Fair Trade USA to explore a first-of-its-kind certification standard for U.S. dairy that protects and empowers dairy workers and provides meaningful premiums to benefit farmers and farm workers alike.
- Environmental stewardship – Chobani is collaborating with World Wildlife Fund and the National Milk Producers Federation's Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) to reduce the company's carbon footprint and help farms do the same. These partners will measure greenhouse gas emissions and energy use on dairy farms within Chobani's supply chain to identify potential efficiency gains and cost savings for farmers.
- Animal care – All of the dairy cooperative farms Chobani sources from today are participating in the FARM Animal Care Program and have completed an on-farm evaluation. By December 2019, all of the farms Chobani sources from through its cooperative partners will comply with FARM Version 3.0., the industry's highest standard for animal care.
- Local sourcing – Since day 1, Chobani has been committed to sourcing fresh milk from local farms surrounding its manufacturing plants in Idaho and New York. As a proud member of the New York State Grown & Certified and Idaho Preferred programs, local sourcing is an important way to support agricultural communities while ensuring that Chobani's products are as fresh and delicious as possible and that its carbon footprint is minimized.
- Investing in dairy communities – Dairy makers have a responsibility to the communities that support them. Chobani has partnered with the Community Foundation for South Central New York and the Idaho Community Foundation with a plan to invest $2 million in grants over the next decade to fuel big ideas from local community organizations, expand economic opportunity and promote entrepreneurship. Through the Chobani Scholars program, Chobani also is funding multiyear scholarships at Cornell University and the University of Idaho for students of dairy farming families looking to pursue a degree in dairy science.
- Freedom and flexibility for dairy farms – When it comes to the grains fed to dairy cows, Chobani is giving farmers the freedom to farm as they know best. The company said it refuses to mandate the use of non-genetically modified feed -- a practice that places an undue financial burden on farms without enough demonstrated value to the planet or people. Additionally, to support farms for the future, Chobani has partnered with the Cornell PRO-DAIRY program and New York's Dairy Acceleration Program to help farms with fewer than 300 cows receive funding for small projects to address specific business needs. These funds will support business planning and improved profitability strategies through on-farm production techniques and aspects related to the day-to-day farm operation.
"This is the first time in my experience at Cornell that a dairy processor has stepped forward during a challenging economic time and wanted to do something extra to help the farms in their milkshed," said Dr. Tom Overton, director of the Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY Program. "I commend Chobani for this commitment and look forward to working with them to benefit the New York dairy farms that provide their milk."
Emily Yeiser Stepp, director of the FARM Animal Care Program, said implementation of the FARM Program demonstrated the commitment Chobani's dairy farmers and suppliers have to social responsibility and continuous improvement.
"The vision for Milk Matters aligns with the FARM Program and amplifies the excellent care of the people, animals and land that our dairy farmers implement daily on their operations," she said.