ed’s note. I’m a fan of White Wave, Silk Soy, Horizon Dairy. I think they’ve done a good job, as good as any, in traversing the rocky road from startup to green giant. Their founder, Steve Demos, is one of my personal idols, though I don’t know him well. As long as they walk their talk—and as evidenced by the many little mindful steps they take at their HQ (see bottom of this article by Tara, one of our interns)—they really do care about our environment, about animals, and about sustainability/profitability as a business. That’s a tough balance. They aren’t perfect. But it’s easy for we conscious consumers to sit back and ask tough questions. What is a fact is that, as a dairy/dairy alternative company, they’re doing better than 95% of other such companies for Mother Earth and animal welfare. ~ ed.
White Wave Incorporated was founded in 1977 by Steve Demos, the “richest Buddhist- inspired businessman in America,” who famously started out making tofu out of his Boulder bathtub. What did he end up with? Dozens of products…and then, finally, soymilk, which hit it big as a healthy dairy alternative. Selling to Dean Foods a few years back, Steve left the company under less than happy circumstances. Read all about his journey, and his new company, here.
Monday was field trip day for the elephant interns (and Waylon).
None of us really knew (at least I didn’t) what we were really getting into, but we were armed with Becca’s voice recorder, Meredith and Brianna’s cameras, Laura and Anna’s questions, and my trusty yellow legal pad and purple pen.
After we all managed to pack ourselves into two gasoline-burning cars, we made the short drive from the Boulder Hotelephant to Broomfield, Colorado. Our final destination–White Wave. Our reason for being there–to find out how White Wave was “Walking-the-Talk.”
As a reader of elephant journal, it is likely you have purchased Horizon Organic Milk, or Silk Soy milk recently. Who knew they were owned by the same company, White Wave, which is now owned by Dean Foods? I sure didn’t.
Upon entering we were greeted by Adam Bratter, the Assistant Manager of Corporate Services. This man would be our tour guide. We all gathered around a big metal cow sculpture that occupied the front right of the brightly lit entryway and snapped a “cheesy” photo. All the while I’m thinking, “What are these representatives of White Wave going to tell us?” And, “What are they not going to be telling us?”
We were told straight from the start that there was a reason to celebrate: it was Horizon’s 20th Anniversary. Jarod Ballentine, Digital Communications Manager said,
“As far as the 20th anniversary, and what it means to Horizon; well it means a lot. We helped build the organic dairy category, and looking back over the past 20 years we’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. We work with more than 600 family farms in 23 states, and that’s the real heart of the Horizon brand. The more we can evolve and grow the organic category, the more opportunity for the new organic farmers to join the cause.”
The History of White Wave, Horizon and Dean Foods.
My first experience with Horizon Organic milk was when I picked up a carton off a Wal-Mart refrigerator shelf and noticed it didn’t expire for three months. This was the first time I had ever questioned if something was really organic. I must admit I was super-excited that organic milk was finally available in my hometown after living there with no organic milk options for nearly 23 years. But how can “organic” milk have a shelf life of more than two months? This question perpetually irked me for years.
Luckily, I discovered the answer at White Wave straight from the teat of the cow. Their milk is ultra-pasteurized, which means all of the milk is heated to a minimum of 280 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two seconds, creating a near-sterile milk, hence the long shelf-life. Ultra-pasteurization, unfortunately, also destroys many nourishing components, including the phosphatase in milk, the nutrient essential for the absorption of calcium. The positive side of ultra-pasteurization is that consumers will dispose of less spoiled milk.
White Wave Incorporated was founded in 1977 by Steve Demos, the “richest Buddhist-inspired businessman in America.”
“Sustainability was not an add-on but at the deepest root of the company,” said Demos in a 2009 interview. “We began as a ‘Right-Livelihood’ business in 1977 with a commitment to demonstrate that we had what we considered to be a superior profit and ethics model. At our deepest root, we wanted our business model to be the longest lasting and most sustainable aspect of our business. We were also deeply committed to the organic and environmental movement from day one. We were committed to social responsibility and personal fulfillment in the context of right livelihood.”
Silk became the largest selling organic brand in the world and held 16 percent of the market share for soy milk in the world and penetrated over 15 million homes and 98 percent of supermarkets in the United States.
Soon, Demos needed to capitalize.
After interviewing the largest corporations in the food industry world, Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Nestle and Dean Foods (which was the world’s largest Dairy), White Wave took an initial investment from Dean Foods in 2000 and completed the transaction by selling controlling interest to Dean Foods in 2003.
Dean Foods, also known as the Microsoft of the food industry, is growing and continues to grow through its aggressive acquisitions. It is the leading producer of fluid milk and dairy products in the world.
Steve Demos had little hesitation in merging with Dean because he knew the values and ethics were so deeply ingrained into his products that virtually any company in the United States could run it without compromising product integrity. “The world for soy was opening up very quickly and someone was going to be the household brand in the United States for soy. We at White Wave did not have the capital resources, nor did anybody on the planet have the capabilities of building the factories fast enough to keep up with the demand as it was coming to market,” said Demos in an interview.
White Wave grew from $14 million in 2000 to $129 million in 2003. Controlling interest went to Dean Foods in 2003 at a total sale amount of roughly $289 million with an additional $35 million incentive for the management to stay.
From Dean’s initial investment until 2005, White Wave was an autonomous division with complete control. In the 2009 interview, Demos said “the arrangement was that I would bring Green to Dean Foods (green meaning: sustainability, social responsibility and a connection to the organic and natural products industry) and he would bring green to White Wave meaning he would bring our business to Wall Street.”
But was there a written contract to ensure that social and environmental operations were sustained?
According to Demos, “Contracts have life-spans,” and the product was “so deeply infused with the values that aligned with what the consumer was buying that it would be a fool who teased apart the values the product–the association of the brand and its actual deep value–if they teased those apart and they degraded the product, they degraded their own investment.”
When Dean merged with White Wave the American organic soybean farmers were excited because they assumed the purchase would widen the demand for organic soybeans. But in fall of 2009, White Wave stopped using organic soybeans in many of its products (not all). This is all covered extensively here by our editor, Waylon Lewis.
Apparently, the UPC code did not change and minimal change in packaging essentially tricked many consumers into thinking they were still buying organic. Though press releases explained that the shift to conventional soy was to help consumers beat down by a tough economy, the cost of the new, non-organic soy milk remained the same as the original organic soy milk. The new organic soy milk’s price fattened like the udders of rBGH-injected cows.
Horizon began in Boulder, Colorado in 1991 when Mark Retzloff and Paul Repetto started buying organic milk from the Wisconsin based Organic Valley and made six flavors of yogurt. Two years later, the company had established its own milk supply and became the first national organic dairy brand. In 1998 Horizon went public, “reinforcing the idea that good organic companies can accelerate their growth and support local farmers at the same time, while meeting consumer demand for quality organic dairy products.” Horizon was bought by Dean Foods in 2004 for $216 million and became a part of the White Wave division.
This dairyman also bent my ear about Horizon’s “factory farms” out West, where thousands of cows that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day…I wasn’t sure if the farmer had his facts straight (it would turn out he did), but he made me wonder whether I really knew what organic meant anymore.
It must be noted that the above is an old story–it was written in 2001.
Last year, at the Anaheim Natural Products Expo West (click for video), Waylon Lewis interviewed Molly Keveney, the Communications Director at White Wave about Horizon’s Farms. This is what she said: “We are excited that the new pasture rule has been put into place. The new pasture rule calls for animals to receive 30 percent of their feed through grazing and that they graze for 120 days per year.”
When questioned about the accusations about Horizon from organizations like Cornucopia, Jarod Ballentine, Director of Digital Communications for White Wave responded,
“We’re proud of both our Maryland and Idaho farms. Our Idaho Farm is a state-of-the-art facility, designed around animal welfare and sustainability. We compost 100 percent of the manure generated by the cows and use it to help supplement our farming practices; we actually grow more than 70 percent of the food our cows eat. We’ve also worked with Holistic Management International, Inc. since 2004 to create a top-notch program of managed intensive grazing and grass farming.
Just like every other organic dairy farm in the country, we follow the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) organic certification and inspection processes. Despite claims and allegations, Horizon Organic has never been found to be in violation of the organic standards. To the contrary, our systems and processes are considered to be best-in-class. Each and every claim made by groups critical of our farms to relevant government agencies have been dismissed, or fully resolved in our favor, in every respect.”
So that seems great, and worth supporting.
Are Conditions Getting Better?
According to Adam Bratter, Assistant Manager of Corporate Services for White Wave, currently 94 percent of Horizon’s milk comes from 624 family-owned farms, and the remaining 6 percent comes from the brand’s two company-owned farms. The Horizon Organic Producer Education (HOPE) program also supports 81 new farms as they make the transition to organic. Here is some data obtained from White Wave regarding Horizon’s Family Farms:
~Total number of family farms: 624
~Number of family farms currently supplying milk to Horizon: 543
~Number of family farms in the process of converting to organic: 81
~Number of states where family farms are located: 23
~Horizon currently has family farmers throughout the country, with the highest concentration in the Midwest and Northeast
~Average number of milking cows on family farms: 90
~Number of milking cows on smallest family farm (New York): 7
~Farms with fewer than 100 milking cows: 531
~Farms with 100 – 199 milking cows: 51
~Farms with 200 – 499 milking cows: 22
~Farms with 500 – 999 milking cows: 8
~Farms with 1,000 – 2,000 milking cows: 12
~Farms with more than 2,000 milking cows: 0
What is White Wave Doing Now to “Green” the Image of Dean Foods?
(* indicates: from White Wave’s Corporate Fact Sheet)
- “*Responsible Livelihood: Responsible Livelihood is our approach to corporate responsibility by using the power of our brands, the energy and passion of our people, and the scale of our business to create meaningful change. We are proud to be a leader of establishing a model for responsible, sustainable business and focus on minimizing our environmental footprint.”
- “*Food Security: As a food company, we are committed to nourishing our local and global neighbors. Each year, Colorado employees compete in the Compete to Beat Hunger Corporate Challenge, an event hosted by Community Food Share—a local non-profit which is part of Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger relief charity. In 2011, 99.5 percent of our Colorado-based employees donated to the corporate challenge, and with the company matching their contributions dollar for dollar, raised enough money to provide more than 463,000 meals to local people in need.”
- “*We further demonstrate our commitment to sustainable agriculture by supporting and partnering with: Conservation International, Organic Trade Association, Soybean Association of North America, Farm Aid, Holistic Management International, The Organic Center, The Organic Farming Research Foundation, and The Non-GMO Project.
- “*Renewable Energy and Resource Conservation:We believe that good food should nourish the body and mind and preservethe planet, and we set specific goals to help track our overall progress and measure improvement. Since 2007 we have reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills by approximately 30 percent.”
- “*Silk was a pioneer as America’s largest non-utility purchaser of renewable energy certificates in 2003, and since then our wind energy commitment has expanded to include Horizon, International Delight and our Boulder County headquarters, all of which purchase renewable energy certificates to offset electricity usage and emissions associated with with the production of their products
“*In partnership with Eco Cycle, we instituted a state-of-the-art Zero Waste Recycling and Composting Program in 2006 at our Boulder County headquarters. This means that the cafe and the break rooms contain recycling stations for paper, cardboard, commingled containers, compost and trash. In 2010, from recycling and composting alone, we diverted over 115,000 pounds of waste from landfills.
- “*We also provide headquarters employees with reusable mugs, water bottles and shopping bags reducing the need to buy paper cups and plastic bags. “
- “*Our headquarters offices feature environmentally-friendly furniture, including: chairs that are 41 percent recycled content and 99 percent recyclable, carpeting that is 40 percent recycled content, and work stations that are 81 percent recycled content and 91 percent recyclable. “
- “*We encourage and support employees reducing the environmental impact of transportation, providing Colorado employees with free Eco-Passes, allowing them to ride all local public transportation for free, which helps reduce the number of single car drivers on the road and keeps employee commuting costs down. We also provide several preferred parking spaces near the front of our building for employees who drive eco-friendly or hybrid vehicles, as well as a bike storage and locker rooms with showers for employees who bike to work.”
- “*In the Wave Cafe—an employee cafeteria run by Bon Apetit—fresh, local, organic foods are used whenever possible and food prices are subsidized by the company to help make it as affordable as possible for all employees.”
- White Wave has a “Values in Action” Program that offers employee points as a reward for taking the stairs, composting, biking etc. At the end of the year the employee with the most points can get a gift certificate to the employee White Wave cafe.
They have a big room on the bottom floor where, “All the hoarding happens.” It is a room filled with: bubble wrap that is donated to the UPS store, packing peanuts and Styrofoam that is compressed into large Styrofoam bricks, boxes of old batteries that are brought to Batteries Plus (they recycle batteries).
- Need new furniture? White Wave donates their old furniture to Freecycle.com
- At one time, they had an electronic recycling program where nearly 15 sq feet of “the hoarding room” was covered with electronics.
- They have been EnergyStar rated for three consecutive years.
- There is a shelf or “Lending Library” where employees can donate books to be lent out to other employees.
- Revolution Cleaners, a non-toxic dry cleaning service, picks up their dry-cleaning.
- When White Wave tests their products, it requires the creation of waste. To counteract this, they house a 500 gallon tank used for waste liquids, soiled milk, tested products, etc. A-1 Organics picks up and sprays the waste liquids out over fields of compost, which breeds more beneficial bacteria into the soil.
- White Wave figured out a way to eliminate the crucial layer from their Portion Control packaging (you know, those little dairy creamers) which saved more than one million pounds of material from ending up in the landfills each year. Because the new material is lighter, it means they can ship more rolls of material per pallet, which means more rolls per truck, which means less truckloads per shipment, which means fewer food miles for White Wave. Later this year they will start reclaiming and reusing the left over scrap produced during the cookie cutting process, lightening the Portion Control’s footprint even more.
- We interns at elephant journal (and Waylon) really like the metal cow in the entryway.
Integrity is lost when small organic farms are bought out by mega food corporations, but should we give them a break? After all, they need capitalization to go big with their great values—and they are the driving force behind sustainability and organic education.
In the words of Steve Demos,
“If we can really effectively change capitalism it will be by demonstrating that I can make more money than you can make by a conventional form of business. And if I can attract you to demonstrating values and virtues in creating enormous wealth out of doing that then I can change Wall Street, I can change capitalism and so can everybody else that demonstrates that good values based moral ethical business is more valuable to society and your personal wealth creation than anything else that you can possibly do.”
After the tour was over, we all ate lunch at Wave cafe (and I must say the salad was delicious). Becca Thill, fellow elephant said, “I was quite impressed with the salad bar.” Just about all the food was organic! Waylon talked at some length with Ellen Feeney, VP at White Wave, and Jarod and Adam, and then we packed back into our two cars and began our trip back to Boulder.
Even though food companies like Dean Foods are acquiring companies demonstrating Right- Livelihood, like White Wave, it is still disturbing that the industry is moving closer and closer to being monopolized. “Going green” in any major industry, especially the food industry could mean salvation for Earth’s people, or it could mean destruction. The loss of integrity in the organic food industry, along with Monsanto’s rapid growth, is an eminent crisis that will effect our generation very soon.
In the words of Waylon Lewis, “it is a scary time for food—GMOs are a bigger threat than climate change. We are setting the entire world up for an Irish Potato Famine.”
It is up to us to be mindful in our purchases.
There is good news for those of us who care. According to Adam Bratter, “Dean Foods is not doing too good [business-wise, lately, in the tough economy]—but White Wave is thriving.”
Tara DeAngelis used to teach yoga. She has learned, and continues to learn from wonderful teachers but doesn’t feel like name-dropping. For now, she is focusing on other things like trying not to make plans and throwing paint on canvas. While she is not editing your submissions for elephant journal, you might find her writing in a Boulder cafe or working or exercising or satiating herself in silly shenanigans. You might even see her leading a skipping parade.