It long has been said that history has a way of repeating itself. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however.
In fact, in the case of White Plains, N.Y.- and Broomfield, Colo.-based Danone North America, it is definitely a good thing. The company is a three-time honoree as Dairy Foods’ Processor of the Year, earning the title in 2014 and 2006 — when it still operated under the moniker of The Dannon Co. — and again this year.
Its name might have changed — first in 2017 to DanoneWave following the acquisition of WhiteWave Foods by French parent company Danone, and then again in 2018 to Danone North America. However, the company’s status as an overachiever — in sustainability, social responsibility, product innovation, and more — certainly has not.
A Certified B Corporation
When DanoneWave launched, combining the businesses of WhiteWave Foods and The Dannon Co., it did so as the largest public-benefit corporation in the United States. Essentially, a public-benefit corporation pledges to operate responsibly and sustainably, putting an emphasis on public and social good.
The company put an even greater emphasis on its public-benefit incorporation a year later, when it debuted the Danone North America name and announced that it attained Certified B Corporation (B Corp) status. At the time, it was the largest Certified B Corp in the world. B Lab, the certifying body, notes on its website that “the B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”
The certification complements Danone North America’s commitment to being a public-benefit corporation, Shane Grant, CEO of Danone North America, explains.
“Both represent our commitment to meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose across our businesses,” he says. “Through our B Corp certification, we actively benchmark our performance and provide insights around our strengths and areas of opportunity to further underpin our commitment.”
Grant notes that Danone North America’s Certified B Corp status also fuels both its “purpose-led brands” and overall performance. It “adds a layer of accountability and pride” onto a commitment that parent company Danone has had for approximately 50 years.
“We are guided every day by our leadership behaviors and core ‘H.O.P.E.’ values, which include humanism, openness, proximity, and enthusiasm.” — Shane Grant, CEO, Danone North America
“In 1972, then-CEO Antoine Riboud introduced the idea of a ‘Dual Project,’ which calls for a different approach to management and outlines a new vision of corporate social responsibility, enabling the company to create both shareholder and societal value,” he says. “This unique approach has been a part of the company’s DNA and culture since and was a key driver in Danone North America’s path to becoming one of the world’s largest Certified B Corporations. It reinforces our global mission of ‘bringing health through food to as many people as possible’ and [our] frame of action of ‘One Planet. One Health.’”
B Lab requires companies to recertify every three years. The certification, therefore, helps Danone North America “continually examine” its business and pinpoint both areas of advancement and areas in which the company would like to see improvement, Grant says.
“We were proud that we improved our score in 2021 to 96,” he notes, “from our score of 85 when we were first certified in 2018.”
Finally, B Corp certification is “a source of pride and engagement” for the Danone North America team, Grant says, and helps the company attract like-minded new talent and continue its strong performance.
As Deanna Bratter, head of sustainable development for Danone North America, points out, Certified B Corp status is “more than a certification” to the company.
“It’s a movement,” she stresses. “We have long been committed to using business as a force for good, and our recertification is a testament to our collective mission to ignite a food revolution.”
What’s more, Danone North America aims to support other companies that desire to be a force for good, Bratter says.
“As part of B Lab’s Multinationals and Public Markets Advisory Council, we are helping pave the way for more large, complex companies to join the B Corp movement,” she explains. “As members of the B Corp Climate Collective, we are working alongside other B Corp certified companies working at the intersection of climate action and social justice to learn and create pathways for climate solutions. The reality is, the issues we face as a society are larger than those that any one large company can solve alone, and the more we can work together towards a common goal, the greater the impact we can have.”
Fostering diversity, inclusion
As a public-benefit organization and Certified B Corp., Danone North America takes social responsibility very seriously.
“We believe deeply in diversity and equality,” Grant says. “We are guided every day by our leadership behaviors and core ‘H.O.P.E.’ values, which include humanism, openness, proximity, and enthusiasm. These leadership behaviors and values empower us to be inclusive and collaborative and build a culture where everyone is comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work and to act as one team.”
By advancing “inclusive diversity,” Danone North America also benefits by being able to attract, retain and develop the talent needed to advance the right growth strategies and the right products — those that resonate among a diverse consumer base, he notes.
One program that demonstrates the company’s commitment to inclusive diversity is an 18-week “paid parental bonding leave policy” that is gender-neutral and available to each Danone North America employee — whether he or she works in an office or a manufacturing plant. As Grant points out, the policy aims to build “a more equitable workplace” while challenging “traditional assumptions” tied to caregiving.
“It also enables business continuity and results in positive outcomes for recruitment, retention, innovation, and productivity,” he adds.
Danone North America’s commitment to diversity and inclusion goes beyond its offices and plants, too. For example, during Pride Month this past June, the company’s Silk and So Delicious Dairy Free brands continued a multi-year effort to assist LGBTQ+ youth who are currently experiencing homelessness. (LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ youth.)
“As part of B Lab’s Multinationals and Public Markets Advisory Council, we are helping pave the way for more large, complex companies to join the B Corp movement.” — Deanna Bratter, head of sustainable development, Danone North America
The Silk brand donated $100,000 to True Colors United to support the organization’s mission of helping LGBTQ+ homeless youth through education, advocacy, and leadership development programs. So Delicious Dairy Free, meanwhile, donated $10,000 to Urban Peak, a Denver-based nonprofit organization aimed at ending youth homelessness, Danone North America says.
“We believe that everyone — including those of any sexual orientation or gender identity — should be able to express themselves freely and be provided with equal access to wealth, opportunity and privilege,” stresses Terrance Irizarry, chief inclusive diversity officer for Danone North America. “Our plant-based Silk and So Delicious Dairy Free brand teams are proud to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community to help create a more inclusive world for all by continuing their support for charities aimed at helping LGBTQ+ youth.”
In addition to its donation, the Silk brand hosted a virtual Pride Parade during June, Irizarry notes. The parade conveyed information about True Colors United and communicated stories from members of the LGBTQ+ community related to overcoming adversity.
Danone North America is a standout, too, when it comes to efforts tied to sustainability and sustainable food systems. The company’s purpose-driven approach here resonates with consumers, Grant says.
“For example, we’ve seen continued growth and success with our Horizon Organic brand — the largest organic milk brand in the country and pioneer in the organic industry — following the announcement of its commitment to be the first carbon-positive national organic dairy brand from farm to fridge, across the whole supply chain, by 2025,” he says. “To meet this goal, Horizon is partnering with farmers around the country to invest in training, tools, and technology — prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources and evolving farming methods with a focus on soil health, carbon capture, cow care, and manure management, among other strategies.”
What’s more, the water, pollinator, and recycling efforts of Danone North America’s Silk brand have helped make the brand No. 1 in both the plant-based beverage and plant-based creamer spaces, Grant says. On the water side, Silk treats all of what’s used in its manufacturing facilities and returns that water back to nature — almost 9 billion gallons to date.
Danone North America continues to expand its regenerative farming program, too, which Bratter says is currently the most comprehensive regenerative agriculture dairy program in the United States. Launched in 2017, “the soil-health initiative brings together experts and academics to build best-in-class soil health programs to benefit farms and communities across the Danone North America portfolio,” she notes.
In its first three years, the multimillion-dollar program tripled to more than 82,000 acres, including 28,000 organic acres, across the United States and Canada. And it recently expanded into the company’s plant-based business with almond orchards in California’s central valley.
The purpose-driven mantra plays out within the company’s Two Good yogurt brand, too. The brand was founded in 2019 with the purpose “to do more with less,” Grant says. A unique straining process slashes the sugar.
The Two Good brand has been evolving, too, with one of its key consumers — what Danone North America calls the “health-conscious do-gooder,” Bratter says. That consumer wants to not only improve his or her health, but also make a positive impact socially and environmentally. The Two Good brand’s team, therefore, brainstormed about how the brand’s purpose of “doing more with less” could connect with that consumer in a more meaningful way. The result is the Two Good Good Save brand offshoot.
“The brand’s ‘Good Save’ line, in partnership with Full Harvest — a produce-rescue startup — uses rescued fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste,” Grant explains.
As Bratter points out, approximately one-third of the edible produce produced in the United States is wasted on-farm, and that waste creates greenhouse gas emissions. The Two Good Good Save products are the first dairy offerings to use Verified Rescued Produce, “setting the standard for the emerging rescued foods market,” she adds.
Consumers are paying attention and appreciate the efforts, if product sales are any indication. Grant notes that the Two Good brand is now a multimillion-dollar brand and one of the fastest-growing yogurt brands in the United States right now.
“This is a great example of how being purpose-driven helps fuel our business performance,” he says.
Danone North America is also advocating for the use of Verified Rescue Produce outside of its own operations. During Earth Week in 2020, its Two Good Good Save brand partnered with Fall Harvest and award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson to encourage restaurants across the nation to use Verified Rescued Produce, Bratter says. Samuelsson did just that during Earth Week at his New York City restaurant while donating some of the meals to feed local people in need through City Harvest.
The company’s sustainable-food-systems efforts go beyond environmental initiatives and rescued produce, however.
“Danone Institute North America, a nonprofit innovation center managed by Danone North America, launched the ‘One Planet. One Health Initiative’ grant program in 2019 to support local projects that strengthen food systems, reflecting Danone’s belief that the health of people and the health of the planet are interconnected,” Bratter notes. “Previous grants have funded projects on household food waste reduction, energy-efficient food production, supporting local food growers and farmers, and integrating locally sourced food into school lunches. The initiative is especially relevant now as the social and economic ripple effects of COVID-19 have revealed widespread weaknesses and inequities in the ways that healthy, sustainably produced food reaches people, and highlighted a role for community-based solutions.”
“We believe that everyone — including those of any sexual orientation or gender identity — should be able to express themselves freely and be provided with equal access to wealth, opportunity and privilege.” — Terrance Irizarry, chief inclusive diversity officer, Danone North America
As a B Corp, Danone North America also has “a deep commitment to nurturing the communities” in which it operates — and beyond, Grant says.
“And in line with our purpose to bring health through food to as many people as possible, we focus on increasing access to healthy, sustainably produced food for our communities,” he explains. “We prioritize community-based partnerships with organizations focused on three interconnected opportunity areas as they relate to food access: nourishing our neighbors with fresh, healthy foods to promote nutritious diets; removing barriers to promote fresh food choices — as practical as a lack of cold storage or transportation; and working to ensure healthier options are available and accessible in all communities.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a rise in hunger and food insecurity, Grant notes, and Danone North America has taken a number of steps to help reverse that trend. One recent initiative, the Two Good brand’s “One Cup Less Hunger program,” aims to address food insecurity. For every cup of yogurt purchased, Two Good — in partnership with City Harvest and We Don’t Waste — rescues and provides an equal amount of food to a person in need.
“As consumers look to purpose-driven brands more and more, this has not only helped address important issues, it has also fueled ongoing business performance,” he states.
Danone North America is working with partners, too, to help address the need for healthful food. For example, it donates “thousands of gallons of fresh organic milk” to Colorado families every week, Grant says, and works with Feeding America and other like partners to realize a specific goal: $10 million in donated products each year.
“In Canada, through our partnership with the Breakfast Club of Canada, we have donated 20 million servings of yogurt and provided dedicated volunteers year-round to serve healthy breakfasts to children,” he adds.
A product innovator
Perhaps the most significant among Danone North America’s many laudable qualities, however, is its proficiency on the product innovation side. The company continues to bring products to life that resonate with consumers.
“Consumer insights and research are at the heart of our innovation efforts, helping us to identify the whitespace in the marketplace and excite consumers,” explains Takoua Debeche, chief research, and innovation officer. “With our broad portfolio across multiple categories, we draw inspiration from a variety of trends. These trends and insights inform our product innovations with several recent launches that helped fuel our leadership across key categories.”
In addition to the Two Good and Two Good Good Save lineups, she says, a sampling of some recent new product introductions include:
- Oikos Blended yogurt, a restaging of the Oikos Greek yogurt line. Danone North America first partnered with Kantar to learn why household penetration was declining in the Greek yogurt category and discovered the category was underperforming in providing “new and interesting taste experience, especially for millennials.” The new offerings have 50% more fruit than the previous Oikos flavors and boast a thick, creamy texture.
- Silk Greek Style yogurt alternative, which has a thick texture and is a good source of plant-based protein. Danone North America learned that 70% of plant-based beverage buyers were not buying plant-based yogurt alternatives and tapped into an opportunity to appeal to consumers of both plant-based products and Greek-style yogurt.
- Silk Ultra multi-serve beverages, which provide consumers with “a great-tasting plant-based beverage in the protein space.” With 20 grams of complete plant-based protein per serving, the products address athletes’ muscle-maintenance and repair needs.
- An expansion of the Horizon Organic Growing Years line to include low-fat yogurt pouches, reduced-fat milk half-gallons and single-serve whole milk boxes. Danone North America worked with pediatricians to help parents provide their children with the nutrients they need as they broaden their diets beyond milk.
“Consumer insights and research are at the heart of our innovation efforts, helping us to identify the whitespace in the marketplace and excite consumers.” — Takoua Debeche, chief research, and innovation officer, Danone North America
Those are just the tip of the iceberg — and there are more innovations to come. In January, for example, Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Dairy Free Wondermilk will make their debut. For these dairy-like products, Danone North America said its experts deconstructed beloved dairy attributes and sensory experiences and then recreated them by blending a mix of familiar, high-quality plant-based ingredients. The rich and creamy products aim to help close the gap between traditional dairy drinkers and plant-based beverage consumers.
“Nearly half of consumers surveyed have said hesitation over taste has kept them from making the switch to plant-based products,” Debeche explains.
Going forward, the consumer will continue to be at the center of Danone North America’s product innovation process, which considers not only the product and its packaging, but also retailer considerations and product-related communications, she adds.
“Consumer needs, lifestyles, diets and shopping habits are always evolving, which means our products must always be evolving as well,” Debeche says. “These consumer insights and changing demand inform all steps of the process, led by extensive research, focus groups and trend tracking to both inform and inspire our team.”
Danone North America must also think beyond consumer needs, considering barriers to entry that might prevent a consumer from purchasing a product, she says. These insights come together as a starting point for the company’s research and innovation and marketing teams, which “work together to brainstorm and inspire each other” on new ideas or concepts before the prototyping begins.
“Once we have these insights, we look at the product holistically,” Debeche notes. “To move forward with it, it should meet an unmet consumer need, address any barriers to entry, be backed by consumer insights, and also ladder back up to our values.”
Once it gets the green light, the product moves into development, “where iterating and testing are crucial,” she says. The company relies on its extensive research and innovation expertise on both the dairy and nondairy sides to develop the winning formula and packaging.
“Through this testing, we also allow ourselves to poke holes in products so that we can make changes along the way and ultimately create products that truly innovate and meet the consumer sweet spot,” Debeche notes. “Once the product is developed, we continue to work in collaboration with customers and consumers to gather shopper insights so we can evaluate how best to reach our consumers and customers where they already are.”
A master of marketing
No matter how innovative or consumer-centric the product, marketing is critical to attracting a sale. And Danone North America is a master at consumer-centric marketing.
“We recognize how impactful creative and authentic marketing campaigns can be for our consumers and our brands,” says Carlos Veraza, president of U.S. categories. “In 2021, a few of our most notable campaigns were Silk’s Milk of the Land, International Delight’s Room to Party, and Oikos Blended Forkable.”
With the Silk Milk of the Land integrated campaign, Danone North America aimed to “demystify” Silk’s plant-based portfolio by showing how the main ingredients of the brand’s products are grown, Veraza explains. The campaign used familiar natural elements such as sun, rain, and soil — set against the upbeat tunes of Daft Punk — to help educate consumers about, and feel more comfortable with, the origin of plant-based products.
“We believe it’s our responsibility to enlighten viewers on how the main ingredients for plant-based products like almond, oat, and soy are simply grown from the land,” he says, “and show that they’re options that both taste good and are good for the planet.”
The International Delight Room to Party campaign, meanwhile, comprised a series of video spots that invited creamer lovers to “leave room to party” in their mugs for their favorite International Delight creamer flavor.
“For many, the past year and a half has been lived through screens at home, and people have been grasping for ways to celebrate and live out loud,” Veraza says. “International Delight wanted to help fans have some fun and turn routine moments into opportunities to express and celebrate themselves. Since the launch of the campaign, awareness, and consideration of International Delight have increased, and we have seen International Delight’s growth continues to outpace other brands in the traditional creamer category.”
As for the fully integrated Oikos Blended Forkable campaign, it played out across channels that include TV, online video, social media, influencer, PR, and search this past summer. The campaign stressed that it is OK to dispense with convention — and the spoon — when it comes to eating Oikos yogurt.
“[It] was then supported by the debut of ‘Karaoke’ this fall, a 30-second spot in which one women’s desire for a yogurt with real fruit chunks and a creamy texture comes to life in a karaoke club, [with] her very own version of the iconic Chris Isaak song ‘Wicked Game’ about love and desire,” Veraza says. “The spot showcases the desire for a yogurt so thick, creamy, and full of fruit that you just want to sing about it.”
“We recognize how impactful creative and authentic marketing campaigns can be for our consumers and our brands,” — says Carlos Veraza, president of U.S. categories.
Many reasons to be proud
Grant notes that Danone North America has many reasons to be proud as history repeats itself — and the company takes home its third win as Dairy Foods’ Processor of the Year.
“We’re proud of the strong performance we’ve seen for our business in 2020 and again in 2021 — proud of the accelerated, market-leading growth, competitiveness and building the capabilities to sustain and repeat for the future,” he stresses. “This has been made possible by ‘Danoners’ across North America who have done and are doing incredible work amidst an unprecedented environment.”
The successes, of course, also can be attributed to the company’s purpose-driven approach; its commitment to listening to stakeholders, consumers, customers, and suppliers; and its reinvestments in its business and its people, Grant suggests.
“Looking ahead, our growth plan is rooted in growing consumer-centric brands, serving the food revolution with our customers [and] developing winning growth capabilities — all while unlocking the power of our incredible people and all those who touch our business,” he says. “We are pleased with our growth and the clear acceleration of our businesses and incredibly optimistic about the market opportunities ahead in 2022 and beyond.”
Surbhi Martin, vice president, Greek yogurt and functional nutrition for Danone North America, talks about the company's consumer-focused approach to product development.