Stonyfield co-founder Gary Hirshberg said today he is stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Londonderry, N.H.-based yogurt brand, but will continue as chairman. Walt Freese, the former CEO of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., will join the company as CEO (or CE-Yo as Stonyfield whimsically calls the post.) Freese had also served as president of Celestial Seasonings, a natural foods business in Boulder, Colo.

Stonyfield logoIn a mass email sent to Dairy Foods and others, Hirshberg wrote: "I arrived at the farm 28-1/2 years ago and I am now 57 years old, so I have spent almost exactly half my life on this odyssey. And I am proud to say we have grown the company every single year, sometimes overcoming almost impossible odds. But despite a difficult economic climate, our delicious offerings and our mission of promoting healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet have continued to resonate with millions. That combination of mission and "can do" attitude remains every bit as powerful today. I believe that Stonyfield has an extraordinary future ahead, and I look forward to helping the company meet its potential from this new role."

In a statement released by Stonyfield, Hirshberg said of Freese: "Stonyfield gains a leader with a stellar track record at another values-led company," said Hirshberg. "Walt is well versed in fostering a sustainability mission in partnership with a global food company, and is deeply committed to Stonyfield's organic and environmental missions," Hirschberg said in a statement.

As Stonyfield chairman, Hirshberg will remain involved with the company he co-founded nearly 30 years ago and he will maintain oversight of Stonyfield's European sister companies, its new Stonyfield Cafes and the company's Profits-for-the-Planet program, while serving on several boards at French parent company Danone. The move will allow Hirshberg to devote more attention to a variety of local and national political efforts including seeking labeling of genetically engineered foods with the Just Label It campaign and his work on US food and agriculture policy as a co-chair of AGree, a Washington, DC-based public policy initiative.
During Freese's 10 years with Ben & Jerry's, the company, sales more than doubled and operating profit margins more than tripled. At the same time the company tackled critical issues in areas as diverse as global climate change, environmental sustainability, supporting family farms and challenging federal budget priorities to increase support for basic human needs.

In 2006, Hirschberg sat down with former Dairy Foods editor Jim Dudlicek. Read "A Chat with Gary Hirshberg" in the Dairy Foods archives.