Chobani, Fair Trade USA to Launch Dairy Certification Label

Yogurt maker Chobani is collaborating with Fair Trade USA on a new label that certifies the milk used in its products is sourced from farms that meet “comprehensive” standards for animal welfare and employee rights.

The Norwich, N.Y.-based company, which is the second largest manufacturer of yogurt in the U.S., yesterday unveiled the Milk Matters Program, which is “designed to address the unprecedented challenges being faced by today’s dairy industry,” the company stated in a press release. The company is aiming to have the program completely implemented by 2025.

According to a press release, Chobani spent the last several years creating Milk Matters by soliciting input from “farmers, farm workers, elected officials and experts across the dairy industry.” The result is a program built on six pillars, which include employee well-being, environmental stewardship, animal care, local sourcing (from farms near Chobani’s New York and Idaho processing facilities), and investing in dairy communities.

Fair Trade USA — an independent nonprofit group that certifies a variety of consumer products as being made with ethical business, labor and environmental practices — first announced it was exploring a fair-trade certification program for the dairy industry in May. The Oakland, California-based group is partnering with Chobani to create the new label for its dairy products and ensure farms are in compliance.

The certification label is designed to help consumers make informed choices at retail, but also to directly support farmers with “meaningful premiums.” A Chobani spokesperson told BevNET that the company would be willing to pay within the range of 2% to 4% above market price for milk from farms that meet the program’s requirements. Founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya told The New York Times that the company does not plan to pass the additional costs on to consumers.

“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,” said Fair Trade USA CEO Paul Rice in a press release. “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.”

Chobani is working with the World Wildlife Fund and National Milk Producers Federation on its carbon-reduction efforts, which include tracking greenhouse gas emissions from farms and developing a “sustainable sourcing roadmap” with specific recommendations to improve environmental practices.

The guidelines also call for giving farmers “freedom to farm as they know best” by not requiring the use of non-GMO feed, which the company said places “an undue financial burden on farms without enough demonstrated value to the planet or people.”

The announcement comes several weeks after Fairlife, an Illinois-based milk brand in which The Coca-Cola Company is both an investor and its national distributor, was rocked by the release of video footage showing widespread animal abuse and cruelty at Fair Oaks Farm, the brand’s flagship supplier. The subsequent scandal caused Coke to release a statement immediately discontinuing its use of milk from the farm, as well as an outline of its own plan of action, which includes employee animal welfare certification and increased auditing of farms, among other things.

However, the seemingly interminable decline in the popularity of traditional dairy milk is of most immediate and widespread concern for farmers. In March, the Dairy Farmers of America announced that milk sales has dropped $1.1 billion in 2018, while the Plant-Based Food Association reported a 9% increase in plant-based milk alternatives for the year.

“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,” Ulukaya said in a press release. “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.”