Celebrating Danone North America's Industry Leadership

Published on Mon, 09/17/2018 - 1:58pm

 Celebrating Danone North America's Industry Leadership

 By Maura Keller

 Partnering with dairy industry producers in the areas of animal welfare, sustainable agriculture, social progress and innovative regenerative farming practices has been at the core of Danone North America for years. As part of this ongoing commitment, the company recently launched multiple initiatives aimed at exploring regenerative agriculture, and aligned these initiatives with Danone’s new global vision of One Planet, One Health.

In addition, Danone North America’s industry leadership evolution now includes the company’s new soil health initiative, which highlights the company’s commitment to a range of progressive practices focused on sustainable agriculture, transparency and naturality, which allows Danone North America to offer consumers more of what they want in terms of dairy choices. The initiative brings together experts and academics to build best-in-class soil health programs to benefit farms and communities with a goal to improve organic matter in soils leading to carbon sequestration and improved yields, reduce chemical use and restore biodiversity, and enhance soil water holding capacity leading to improved farm economic resilience long-term. Partners include Dr. Rattan Lal and the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University, Dr. Harold van Es and the soil health team at Cornell University and EcoPractices, working with EFC/Ag Solver as a service provider.
Originally formed as a public benefit corporation, Danone North America is legally committed to balance shareholders’ financial interests with the social benefits the company creates for people, their communities and the planet.
And Danone North America has taken this commitment one step further by becoming the world’s largest Certified B Corporation®, which the company achieved in April 2018.
This designation is a major accomplishment for the dairy industry as a whole. Here’s why: As a B Corp™ company, Danone North America is continuing to collaborate with its large network of dairy farmers to ensure the company and its industry partners are all doing business in a way that meets rigorous standards of verified performance, transparency and accountability, which helps propel the whole industry forward.

Partners in Progress
As part of the company’s commitment to the dairy industry, Danone North America supports dairy farmers—both large and small—by implementing change through established programs meant to benefit the entire industry. For example, Danone North America recently joined The Carbon Underground, Green America and other food companies to inform the design and development of a new global certification standard for food grown in a regenerative way—across all agricultural systems.
This group, the Regenerative Organic Alliance, is working together to develop a new standard, known as the Regenerative Organic Certification.
According to Steeve Yammine, Vice President, Milk Procurement, Danone North America, the Regenerative Organic Alliance defines the proposed certification as a “holistic agriculture certification for organic encompassing robust, high-bar standards for ensuring soil health and ecological land management, pasture-based animal welfare, and fairness for farmers and workers.”
Danone North America has committed to explore how the proposed standard can be implemented at farm all the way to product level through the company’s pioneer organic brands, including Horizon Organic (Grass-Fed range). The company’s organic brand, Happy Family, supports the initiative as an ally.

Improving Soil Health
The Danone North America team understands that soil is the foundation of our food system, with an estimated 95 percent of food directly or indirectly reliant on soil. “To achieve productive and sustainable agriculture, agricultural players must strive constantly to conserve natural resources and maintain the delicate balance in the ecosystem’s natural cycles on which all life depends,” Yammine says.
In April 2017, Danone’s U.S. dairy business and WhiteWave Foods were brought together to become DanoneWave, which was renamed Danone North America in April 2018. “As part of Danone North America’s holistic commitment to ongoing improvement within the dairy industry, the newly formed entity launched an innovative soil health initiative with renowned experts and academics to build best-in-class soil health programs to benefit farms and their communities,” Yammine says.
Established in March 2018, Danone North America’s soil initiative is focused on sustainable agriculture and transparency. The company plans to make a significant impact in this area and has committed to invest up to $6M for this research program over the next five years.
While the company is in the early phase of the program, key activities with participating grower and dairy farmer partners and third-party soil health experts will include soil sampling, review of yield, grower engagement, data collection and analysis, first reports and field days with farmers to provide training around soil health best practices — all of which are intended to positively impact operations and reduce waste.  
More than a dozen of Danone North America’s farming partners are involved in the program. Dr. Rattan Lal and the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University will lead soil sampling across a set of grower and dairy farmer partners. The team will analyze the samples and provide data for analysis. The team will then look at the data to identify practices to help increase the carbon intake of soil.
Dr. Harold van Es and the soil health team at Cornell University will partner on soil health analysis for the program. “The team will use results to review data to make recommendations to be implemented over the next five years with an aim to improve soil health with participating grower and dairy farmer partners,” Yammine says.
In addition, EcoPractices, working with EFC/Ag Solver as a service provider, will gather information from program partners to analyze and share reports that help to create an understanding of what the data means for many stakeholders – importantly, the company’s farmer partners.
“Our partnership with farmers is paramount in all of Danone North America’s efforts,” Yammine says. “Our direct relationship with farmer partners spans the organic and conventional segments of the dairy business, and farmer partner relationships are at the core of this commitment.”
Each year Danone North America holds an annual Dairy Forum at which farmers with expertise ranging from organic to non-GMO to conventional practices, join the event from all regions of the country, reflecting Danone North America’s commitment to serving the growing demand among consumers for more choices to meet their individual needs and preferences.

Over the course of the two-day forum, attendees participate in Q&A sessions with Danone North America leadership, attend site visits to farms or plants to learn about the latest industry innovations when possible, attend various learning sessions and present on their own best practices. This is truly a collaborative event, and one that puts the company’s commitments into practice with its valued farmer partners.

Far-reaching Implications
While Danone North America, a subsidiary of Danone, is playing a significant role within the U.S. dairy industry, globally speaking, the team at Danone recognizes that food is health’s most significant partner. Everything we eat depends on the earth that it grows in or feeds on, so the Danone team wishes to protect that home.
“One way to do so is by reducing our carbon footprint,” Yammine says. “Therefore, the goal at Danone is to target zero net emissions—become carbon neutral—by 2050.” The company will accomplish this through a variety of measures such as reducing carbon emissions, fostering “carbon positive” solutions, offering healthier and sustainable diet solutions, transforming agricultural practices to sequester more carbon in the ground, building resilience in food and water cycles, and eliminating deforestation from the company’s supply chain by 2020.
With a wealth of goals identified, Danone North America is excited for the future. “We constantly engage with industry experts, partners and our own network of dairy farmers to develop programs that meet company goals—from increasing sustainable practices across the business to ensuring independent farmers are equipped with the latest innovations.”
Dairy consumers will continue to value where their food comes from, as well as companies that implement socially responsible business practices. One challenge across the food industry is keeping prices affordable while investing in producing the best products possible—from animal welfare to soil health. According to Yammine, for Danone North America, this remains a passion point with regard to the dairy industry, ensuring a wide variety of responsibly-made options are available to consumers—from conventional to organic to Non-GMO Project Verified.
“Danone North America is committed to giving shoppers the ultimate choice at accessible price points,” Yammine says. “This is part of our mission to bring health through food to as many people as possible.”