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5 Stonyfield’s Strategy and Execution

5 Stonyfield’s Strategy and Execution

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needs in New England outweighed the ability of the local market to supply it. What is noteworthy is
that Stonyfield never accepted this alternative as the way things are and invested considerable
resources in strengthening supplies of organic milk so that in 2007, almost two decades later, the
company was back to 100 percent of what it believes to be the most healthful option for people and
the planet—organic milk.
Supply chain dynamics will always be an area of challenge and opportunity for Stonyfield. While
Stonyfield has the desire to combine organic with local family farms, it is not always possible for
them to source organic from local sources. Stonyfield currently sources from multiple locations as
part of its business strategy to avoid supplier failures in any one area. Although all organic milk for
its US operations currently comes from family farms in the United States, Stonyfield must source
from elsewhere also. Some ingredients—such as cocoa, banana, and vanilla—simply do not grow in
the United States, so those must be sourced from other countries.
An example of a more recent action the company took that again showed its constant balancing of
business reality and sustainability ideals was in 2010. Stonyfield switched their multipack cups to
PLA (a plant-based plastic). While this may seem like a “no-brainer” win for the environment, as the
cups previously had been made from a petroleum-based plastic, it actually was not that simple.
In the United States, the only current manufacturer of PLA, NatureWorks (a division of Cargill), uses
corn, which has many other sustainability issues to consider. Table 13.2 "Plant-Based Plastics Use
Considerations" illustrates some of the potential issues and Stonyfield’s considerations in choosing
the product.
Table 13.2 Plant-Based Plastics Use Considerations

Issue

Stonyfield’s Consideration of the Issue

Corn is a food, and by using corn to
make containers instead, it can make
food less affordable.

NatureWorks only uses a small fraction of the overall US corn
supply and does not change demand significantly enough to alter
the price of corn.

Corn can be genetically modified and
grown using pesticides and synthetic
fertilizers. In other words, it’s a
nonorganic cup that embodies all the
industrial practices that Stonyfield

Stonyfield considers the corn only as a stepping stone as PLA can
be made from other plant sources. They plan on switching as more
environmentally sustainable products appear in the market place.
In addition, to help address some of the harm from the agricultural
practices used to produce the corn, they purchase offsets called

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Issue

Stonyfield’s Consideration of the Issue

stands against.

Working Landscape Certificates (WLC). The money from these
offsets go to farmers who agree to follow strict sustainable
production standards so that non–genetically modified organism
(GMO) corn is produced equal to the amount of GMO corn used to
make Stonyfield’s packaging.

Is the PLA packaging recyclable or
compostable?

PLA can be composted, but in the form used by Stonyfield, it is not.
PLA can be recycled, but currently, the infrastructure is not in place
to do so.
Stonyfield considered this but through using Life Cycle Analysis,
found that the disposal of the product is a very small contributor to
its impact; the materials going into producing the product have
much bigger impact. Stonyfield has pledged to make their use of
PLA a closed-loop system.

Is PLA safe?

PLA is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Stonyfield has contractually obligated its supplier for the PLA not to
contain any harmful additives (including carcinogens and
reproductive toxins), and it routinely tests for compliance.

Source: “Multipack Cups Made from Plants,” Stonyfield Farm, Inc., http://www.stonyfield.com/healthyplanet/our-practices-farm-table/sustainable-packaging/multipack-cups-made-plants.

While PLA is not a perfect “sustainable” packaging, Stonyfield carefully considered a broad array of
issues and decided that the environmental benefits from switching to PLA outweighed the negatives.
The benefits being that it reduced the carbon footprint of their multipack packaging by almost 50
percent, which will save 1,875 metric tons of CO2 per year and reduced their overall packaging carbon
footprint by 9 percent. To help further mitigate some of the drawbacks of PLA, Stonyfield has
committed to not only offsetting the current impact but also learning from the use of the packaging
to make it a more sustainable in the future.

Sidebar

Considerations in Using Plant-Based Plastics
Watch the video at http://vimeo.com/15674301 to learn more about the process that Stonyfield
undertook in considering PLA as a packaging material.

The business relationship between Danone and Stonyfield provides an example of a strategic alliance
focused on sustainable business objectives and capabilities. It provides one model for how a large
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and small business can strategically interact to achieve singular and collective sustainability and
profitability objectives. It also suggests how business sustainability efforts can involve large
multinational corporations seeking to enhance their sustainability efforts with acquisitions and, in
this instance, a particularly creative and collaborative acquisition. It is interesting to note that this
was not an example of an “unsustainable” company purchasing a sustainable one to transform its
entire business model but an example of a good fit between two companies that had congruence on
social mission.
Danone was not a stranger to the concepts of corporate social responsibility. In 1972, founder and
CEO Antoine Riboud stated, “Corporate responsibility does not stop at the threshold of the
company’s factories or offices. The enterprise creates and provides jobs that shape people’s entire
lives. It consumes energy and raw materials, and in so doing alters the face of our planet. The public
is charged with reminding us of our responsibilities in this industrial society.” This statement formed
the basis of the Danone model: economic performance, attention to people, and respect for the
environment go hand in hand. In fact, Danone had a history of social and environmental initiatives
long before it acquired Stonyfield.
The Danone-Stonyfield relationship is an example of a win-win partnership. As discussed previously,
Gary Hirshberg needed to provide a buyout, a return for his many investors, but did not want to “sell
out” and have the company acquired by an organization that would use Stonyfield as a brand to be
exploited and have its values compromised. The Danone deal allowed Hirshberg and Kaymen to pay
off their original investors and gave Stonyfield access to a strong distribution network, financial
capital, marketing muscle, and the global market.
The partnership was of benefit to Stonyfield in that it not only provided financial resources but also
provided strategic resources and knowledge to allow Stonyfield to expand its operations globally and,
in the process, further spread the mission of healthy food, people, planet, and business.
For Danone, it was a “win” as well; the company was committed to sustainable agriculture but did
not have expertise in the organics market. The Stonyfield partnership allowed Danone to acquire a
valuable business asset with its growing revenue and profits. But more importantly it gave them
access to knowledge about the organics market and Stonyfield’s sustainability-focused
manufacturing expertise. As a result of the Stonyfield acquisition, Danone is now the world leader in
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organic yogurts with a 7.4 percent market share. It is important to note that organics are only one
part of Danone’s sustainable agriculture portfolio as its other business lines promote integrated farm
management (which limits the use of pesticides and fertilizers) and other programs that integrate
nature with agriculture (such as the Bleu-Blanc-Coeur program).
At the time of the acquisition, Gary noted, “Anyone with enough money can buy a company, but it
takes a real commitment to our core principles of organic farming to nurture it and make it work.”
His statement was in response to some who believed that Stonyfield’s mission and way of doing
business was threatened by Danone’s ownership. Gary disagreed with his critics, many of whom were
former friends and business associates.
Bloomberg News reported that it was not coincidental that Kaymen decided to retire in 2001 when

Danone first invested in Stonyfield. According to the report, Samuel was against any large
conglomerate owning Stonyfield. [1] Critics questioned whether “big businesses” could be trusted in
buyouts of “eco-conscious” brands. Can a new corporate parent be trusted to continue the ethical and
environmentally sustainable practices that earned its new subsidiary a loyal following? Especially
while these large corporations generally preserved the brand names and folksy advertising styles,
how do we know that “the stuff inside the box, bag or carton hasn’t changed”? [2]
In contrast to critics, Gary Hirshberg believed that working with big companies was an imperative
for all sustainability-focused companies. To combat global warming, pollution, and other
environmental concerns, large business involvement is essential. He stated, “The happy news is that
we’ve got a $23.5 ($26.7) billion industry. The sad news is that we’re 2.6 percent of total U.S. food. If
we’re going to make the change that we need to make in the time we need to make it…then we need
to work with companies like Groupe Danone because they’re not going to go away.”
Furthermore, Gary noted that being part of a large conglomerate had only advanced his career-long
effort to support family farmers and challenge giant agribusiness. In many ways only big business
could achieve the economies of scale and harness needed resources to address society’s most
pressing environmental and social problems.
Still others felt that the entry of large companies into organic-focused markets brought other
problems, such as trying to feed the masses in an industry where supplies were vulnerable. Even
Walmart and Costco were having difficulty finding adequate suppliers of organic ingredients,
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especially given their low-priced business model. Critics saw it as an “organic ethical paradox.” That
is, the organics movement succeeded beyond the proponents wildest dreams, but success had
imperiled their ideals. To the organic traditionalists it “simply wasn’t clear that organic food
production could be replicated on a mass scale.”
One of the most transformational ways that Danone and Stonyfield are contributing to sustainability
may also be one of the least apparent. It is their investments in sustainable agriculture and local
organic farming. The two companies are providing programs and resources to help farmers through
the difficult and costly transition from conventional to organic and sustainable farming practices.
This can be seen in the Danone Ecosystem Fund, particularly with its Molay-Littry plant in France
(Reine Mathilde project), which is working to transition local farmers to organic in the region. It is
also seen in Gary’s decision to open a 3,800-square-foot Stonyfield Café at Chelsea Piers, New York
City’s major amateur sports and entertainment complex. In addition to the café’s dairy bar, parfaits,
and frozen yogurts, the menu featured macaroni and cheese, salads, and flatbread pizzas with
ingredients purchased from farms in New York State. This was not Gary’s first effort to expand
Stonyfield’s mission into restaurants. In 2001, Gary cofounded O’Naturals restaurant in Falmouth,
Maine, to further support local farms and to promote healthy foods and healthy living. His
restaurant vision was to free people from the world of junk food by providing families with quick,
natural, and organic meals served by staff passionate about the food they served.
While on the face of it this could seem benevolent, it is also strategic. Stonyfield has consistently run
into challenges with regards to the limited supply of organic ingredients. By developing a stable
supply chain that can keep up with their growth, this can be addressed over time. When viewed from
a sustainability perspective, it is beneficial for the environment (a less harmful means of agriculture),
beneficial for society (local farmers can generate higher income from organic), and beneficial for
business (stable supplies reduce costs and enhance profitability).

Sidebar

Gary Hirshberg’s Advice on the Role of Business in Society
Gary shared his journey and the lessons he learned in his 2008 book in what he called his “hard-headed”
conclusions:

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It’s going to take a lot more than moral rectitude and virtuous principles to set us on a truly
sustainable path.



Business is the most powerful force on the planet; it got us into this mess and is the only force
strong enough to get us out.



Most environmental problems exist because business has not made solving them a priority.



Only when the solutions to our environmental problems are accompanied by profitable,
commercial (business) strategies for enhancing them will the business world get on board.

[3]

KEY TAKEAWAYS



Managing a successful business based on a sustainability-focused mission and business model
requires the deep and passionate commitment of founders and leaders.



Sustainability-based business ventures need to be creative enterprises that balance competing
business, social, and environmental demands.

EXERCISES

1.

Discuss the relationship between Stonyfield and Danone. Are the guiding principles of what is
important to Stonyfield’s sustainability mission and strategies at risk under Groupe Danone’s ownership?

2.

List three to five main contributing factors in Stonyfield’s success. Discuss how these factors led to
Stonyfield’s success. What, if any, specific aspects of Stonyfield’s contributing factors, sustainability
mission, strategies, and approaches have the greatest potential for transferability to other businesses?

3.

Throughout the case there are several examples where a sustainability action has positive and
negative implications. Discuss the powdered milk and PLA cup decisions in terms of features and benefits.

4.

Are Gary Hirshberg’s “hard-headed” conclusions little more than moral platitudes or are they really
hard-earned, practical, positive (e.g., what is), and normative (e.g., what should be) lessons on how to
globally scale sustainable products benefit of the plant, people, and profits? Find two or three examples
of how other companies have applied Hirshberg’s conclusions on a global scale to benefit the planet.

5.

Corporations are important elements of the communities in which they operate. As a corporate
citizen, an organization should be moved to interact with and contribute to its local, regional, national,
and global communities, especially as related to environmental, health, and business issues. Describe
Stonyfield’s resulting corporate partnerships. Note operational strategies, tools, or methods used to

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foster corporate citizenship within the local and extended corporate community. Explain how
sustainability principles are demonstrated by management and encouraged throughout the organization.

[1] Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Family Money Can Be a Lifeline: At the Very Same
Time, It Can Be the Most Expensive Money in the World,” Inc. Magazine, November 2009.
[2] Christine MacDonald, “Big/Green: Eco-Conscious Brands Are Increasingly Being Bought Out by Giant
Corporations. Can We Trust Them?,” Sacramento News and Review, July 21, 2011, accessed August 2, 2011,
http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/big-green/content?oid=2838435.
[3] Siel Ju, “Interview with Stonyfield CEO Gary Hirshberg: ‘Everybody Can Win,’” Mother Nature Network (blog),
June 16, 2010, accessed August 2, 2011, http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/blogs/interview-withstonyfield-ceo-gary-hirshberg-everybody-can-win.

13.6 Moving On
On January 12, 2012, Gary Hirshberg announced he was stepping down as CEO but will stay on as
chairman of Stonyfield. Walt Freese, former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, was named to replace him. In
making the announcement, Gary Hirshberg said, “The company is in great shape and the change
leaves him time to focus on U.S. food and agriculture policy, especially food labeling.” Freese was
chief marketing officer for Ben & Jerry’s before he became CEO. Before that, he served as president
of Celestial Seasonings in Boulder, Colorado, and held senior management roles with Kraft General
Foods and Nestle. Freese said, “This is what I want my life to be about…working for businesses that
both can be strong and vibrant financial enterprises and contribute in a meaningful way to the world.
This just seems to me to be the perfect fit.”

13.7 Conclusion
This case study provides insight into the challenges and complexities of producing a sustainable
product in a sustainable way and highlights the benefits from taking a strategic approach to
sustainability. The story of Stonyfield includes tensions between sustainability vision and business
realities. Through innovation and a strategic approach, Stonyfield effectively narrowed the gap

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between vision and reality by making thoughtful decisions while constantly adhering to its
organizational mission.
Stonyfield has always been strongly committed to its mission and has always aspired to improve on
its sustainability practices. If the company could not, for whatever reasons, get things “right” with
regards to its sustainability objectives the first time, it continuously strived to improve and get it
right or better over time, constantly working for people, planet, and profits.

EXERCISES

1.

Write a memorandum to the new CEO of Stonyfield about the importance of focusing on the
sustainability mission of the company. The memo should include detailed discussion with specifics of how
Stonyfield has benefited from a focus on sustainability at the strategic company level and how it can
continue to benefit from a focus on sustainability.

2.

In a separate memorandum to the CEO of Stonyfield’s parent Danone, discuss the risks and
opportunities of having Gary Hirshberg step down as CE-YO of Stonyfield. The memo should include
discussion of how much of the company’s success has been based on the leadership and commitment of
Mr. Hirshberg to sustainability and how an effective leadership transition can be achieved with Mr.
Freese.

3.

Discuss the likelihood of Stonyfield having a strong influence on Danone’s sustainability practices
over the long term. Describe the challenges for Danone in adopting Stonyfield’s mission-driven approach
to sustainability. Describe the main opportunities for Danone in adopting Stonyfield’s sustainability
practices throughout the international company.

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