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Chobani provides ‘Milk Matters’ details

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 02 August 2019
Chobani plant

In early July, Greek yogurtmaker Chobani LLC announced a program designed to increase supply chain transparency and boost consumer confidence when making dairy product purchases – and provide a premium to participating dairy farmers and their workers.

After purchasing a vacant yogurt plant in South Edmeston, New York, in 2005, Hamdi Ulukaya and his team produced their first cup of Chobani Greek yogurt in 2007. In 2012, the company built a second manufacturing plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. Today, Chobani processes approximately 1.6 billion pounds of milk annually at facilities in New York and Idaho.

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The comprehensive “Milk Matters” program incorporates what Chobani identifies as six critical pillars to the future of dairy:

  • Worker well-being – Chobani is collaborating with Fair Trade USA to explore a certification standard covering worker safety and training programs, as well as wages.

  • Environmental stewardship – Chobani is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund and National Milk Producers Federation's FARM Program to reduce the company's carbon footprint and help farms do the same.

  • Animal care – By December 2019, all dairy cooperative farms supplying milk to Chobani must comply with the FARM Animal Care Version 3.0.

  • Local sourcing – Chobani has been committed to sourcing fresh milk from local farms surrounding its manufacturing plants in Idaho and New York.

  • Investing in dairy communities – 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 ideas from local community organizations, expand economic opportunity and promote entrepreneurship. Through the Chobani Scholars program, Chobani 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 – Chobani does not mandate the use of non-GMO feed, leaving those financial and management decisions up to dairy farms. Additionally, Chobani has partnered with the Cornell PRO-DAIRY program and New York State's Dairy Acceleration Program to help farms with less than 300 cows receive funding for small projects to address specific business needs. 

The program will include dairy farms and their cooperatives, as well as third parties such as Fair Trade USA, the World Wildlife Fund, National Milk Producers Federation, Cornell University, and state programs and community foundations in Idaho and New York to validate the continued progress.

Progressive Dairy asked Chobani to provide additional details of the program. The company’s responses follow.

There have been several programs designed to enhance dairy farm transparency and consumer confidence. What sets this program apart from the others?

To define our vision for the future, we’ve worked with farmers, farm workers, elected officials and experts across the industry to develop a program that looks at the dairy system as a whole – not an issue in isolation. 

Milk Matters is about supporting everyone in dairy to make real change. And it starts with us – from providing support, making meaningful community commitments and giving farmers the freedom to farm.

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We already have many special labels and certifications on food products, and consumer surveys often reveal they’re confused or unclear on definitions. How will Milk Matters improve the customer's buying experience and avoid adding more confusion?

We’re collaborating with Fair Trade USA to explore developing a first-of-its-kind certification standard for U.S. dairy that supports dairy workers and provides meaningful premiums to benefit farmers and farm workers alike to celebrate and underscore the importance. We’ll start in our supply chain, working with farmers and farm workers to develop this first-of-its-kind program. We believe that this is a productive path forward for the industry, and our hope and intent is that this program can be adopted by other dairy companies as well.

How will this program improve the public's current perception of the dairy industry?

For this, Hamdi’s CNN Op-Ed really dives into this topic.

It seems to us, dairy producers seldom are able to extract any financial premiums by participating in audit programs. In most cases, farmers have to follow what the audit asks just to keep their market and stay in business. How and why will Milk Matters benefit dairy farmers?

Farms that participate in the environmental stewardship, animal care and worker well-being components of Milk Matters will receive a premium price for their milk. The premium is designed to share the cost burden and reward the efforts that farmers are making to protect its animals, its staff and the environment. The premium will be shared by both farmers and farm workers and will require validation by our implementing partners.

Will Chobani be paying a premium for milk sourced from farms that successfully complete the full Milk Matters audits?

Yes. While the range of the premiums for milk supplied by farms that agree to the Fair Trade USA vetting process haven’t been determined, it could range from 2%-4% above the market price.

Chobani primarily sources milk in Idaho and New York. With an emphasis on “local” sources, is that this program’s initial target area?

Yes. We’ve bought our dairy locally from day one, and that’s not going to change. Local sourcing is an important way to ensure our products are fresh and delicious as possible and that carbon footprint is minimized.

Finding and keeping domestic and legal immigrant dairy labor has been and continues to be a struggle for U.S. dairy farmers. Could you describe potential certification standards that “protect and empower dairy workers?” 

Dairy farming is difficult work that requires exceptional talent, care and effort. The incredible farmers and farm workers who do this challenging work deserve to feel safe, secure and happy in their work environment. From safety and training programs to wage standards to a support hotline for outlier situations – we’ll work with dairy cooperatives, farmers and farm workers to create a system where everyone in the dairy industry has the support they deserve.

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To achieve this, we’re collaborating with Fair Trade USA to explore developing a first-of-its-kind Fair Trade USA certification standard for U.S. dairy that supports dairy workers and provides meaningful premiums to benefit farmers and farm workers alike to celebrate and underscore the importance. Participation will be mandatory to receive any premiums through Milk Matters, and those premiums will be shared between farmers and farm workers.

When will the program be fully implemented?

We are targeting full implementation by 2025.  end mark

For more information, visit Chobani’s Milk Matters website.

PHOTO: Chobani, which processes approximately 1.6 billion pounds of milk annually at facilities in South Edmeston, New York, (shown here) and Idaho, is launching a program designed to increase supply chain transparency and boost consumer confidence when making dairy product purchases – and provide a premium to participating dairy farmers and their workers. Photo courtesy of Chobani.

Dave Natzke
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