We think the best way to learn about our sourcing process is by getting to know our Stonyfield sourcing specialists—two talented employees who embody our eight sourcing values and help guide every decision we make.
Meet Liz Short and Saida Benhayoune, our Sourcing and Supplier Development Managers. Liz focuses on our milk sourcing and Saida concentrates on our ingredients. Liz and Saida are not only dedicated to establishing and fostering positive, long-term relationships with our farmers and growers, but also to living out our eight sourcing values and ensuring that every purchasing choice we make yields positive impacts for people, animals, and the planet. “Our sourcing values were created as a way to keep the big picture with us in our day to day decisions,” explains Saida. “This way we can be sure that we’re advancing a little bit on each of the values–and the aspirations behind them–everyday.”
To help us understand the thought and care that goes into every ingredient inside our cup, we asked Saida and Liz to share their experiences.
Liz manages the milk supply through CROPP/Organic Valley. CROPP is the farmer-owned cooperative of over 1,300 U.S. organic dairy farmers that provides all of our organic milk and Organic Valley is one of CROPP’s own brands. In addition to securing the dairy supply chain, Liz works with the farmers to advance our shared goals of growing the supply of organic milk, achieving the highest quality standards, and leading in sustainability efforts. By developing relationships directly with the Organic Valley farmers, Liz came to truly understand the benefits organic farming: “Organic farmers have repeatedly told me that when they transitioned from conventional farming they were initially skeptical they could do it. How could they get off the chemicals, off the antibiotics and still make everything work? But ultimately it does work, the land recovers, the animals thrive, and the farmers are living happier and healthier lives for it. It’s very powerful to hear that directly from the farmers themselves. ” Hear farmer Guy Choiniere talk about his experience.
Saida, who is responsible for sourcing all the non-dairy ingredients, reports a similar trend from the organic growers she works with: “While many growers chose to convert to organic to benefit from the higher economic return, all of them end up committed to organic production after seeing the health and environmental benefits to their families and their land. It does cost more to grow food organically but the benefits largely outweigh the costs especially if we consider the social and environmental costs of chemical agriculture.”
Developing and maintaining the non-dairy supply chain means that Saida selects and then works directly with the producers. She keeps a constant eye on costs, and works to limit risk at every turn – be it from the market or weather. She identifies new growers and suppliers and makes sure they are a good fit. Saida’s job includes working with secondary suppliers too; getting to know not only the suppliers themselves but also the individual farmers the suppliers source from.
Take bananas. Saida recently went to visit the farms of Candida, Wilfred, and Juanita, who are all part of the APPTA co-op in Costa Rica. Unlike large plantations, who rely on chemically intensive agriculture to grow their bananas in full sun, these family farmers grow their bananas without chemicals, relying instead on the natural defenses of the banana plant when it is grown in the shade. “It’s a lot of work for the farmers but it is totally worth it because growing these organic bananas provides income that helps these families stay together,” says Saida. Stonyfield’s purchasing also helped in part to build a new school for these families. “Just like our Organic Valley farmer-partners, these banana farmers are on a mission to strengthen their communities and do what they can for the planet.” Watch our Go (organic) Bananas! YoTube to hear more.
Identifying dedicated farmers and high quality organic ingredients are the foundation of everything that we make at Stonyfield. But, our mission drives us to go much deeper. Our CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg sums it up: “Our sourcing process is built to foster fairness. We believe that the only way to win is to make sure that the entire ecosystem involved in making our food is winning.”
In the conventional dairy world, prices are tied to the global commodity market and farmers are subject to its ups and downs, with little to no control. They don’t know what their paycheck will be one month to the next or whether they will be able to pay their bills. Gary explains how we at Organic Valley and Stonyfield have tried to create a different model in organic dairying: “One of the most important things to understand about organic dairy is that the price farmers receive for their milk has nothing to do with the conventional milk market. Our organic prices are built on the concept of providing farmers with stable and sustainable pay – meaning that Organic Valley dairy farmers can count on stable income and aren’t subject to the roller-coaster ride of conventional pricing.” Ultimately we believe that this kind of secure market offers farmers a lifeline to a sustainable future.
We also strive to foster long-term relationships based on respect and trust. Working with our suppliers isn’t just a job, it’s what brings our mission to life. Liz explains it this way: “I can’t say I’ve always contemplated how the food on my plate got there. But over the last six years at Stonyfield, I’ve definitely become a true believer.” Our farmers are passionate about growing organic and we’ve found that it’s contagious! See for yourself…meet organic dairy farmer Lyle Edwards.
“I love meeting the farmers and their families and getting them excited about sharing our mission of promoting organic agriculture and providing people with healthy, nutritious food grown with lots of love,” explains Saida. Liz agrees: “Visiting farms and attending farmer meetings is definitely one of the highlights for me because it makes it so clear how committed Stonyfield and Organic Valley are to what we do.” When everything is framed in terms of valued relationships, the complexity of supply chain lingo gets a little easier. Like Saida says: “Very few food companies can call most of their farmers by name and we are very proud of that!”
Read the first blog in our What’s in Our Cup? series here and stay tuned for Part III!