Dannon's yogurt pledge addresses sustainability

Ray Mueller
Philippe Caradec

EGG HARBOR – By promoting itself as a “public benefit corporation,” the international Danone company is advocating “sustainability” in agriculture as the basis for the ingredients in its lineup of yogurt products.

Under “The Dannon Pledge” which was announced on April 27, 2016, the Paris-based company promised, by the end of 2018, to source all of the milk used to make some of its yogurt brands in North America from dairy cows not eating any feed with genetically modified organism (GMO) traits. Its products made with GMO-sourced ingredients are labeled as such.

Those goals and practices were outlined Philippe Caradec to members of the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association at their 2017 dairy symposium.

He is the vice-president of corporate, government, and public affairs for Dannon's newly formed DanoneWave unit – an entity so new that he hadn't yet obtained a new supply of business cards. The Wave in the title comes from the acquisition of the former WhiteWave company this year.

With 39 locations and 6,500 employees in the United States and Canada, the North American subsidiary of the France-based Danone firm has annual sales of about $6 billion, Caradec noted. Its brand names of Oikos, Dannon, and Danimals are those being covered by the Dannon Pledge while the top selling Activia and Light & Fit are not, he pointed out.

Caradec said about 20 percent of consumers are actively seeking non-GMO foods.

“Consumers are our main ingredient,” he remarked.

What stood out in consumer surveys was that women are by the far most concerned about the source of food ingredients, Caradec observed. He said this was based on the correlation between what they eat and what is in their breast milk and how the same point applies to dairy cows.

Regarding DanoneWave's official designation as a “public benefit corporation,” this means that shareholder interests are not paramount but are matched instead with a concern for the naturalness, healthiness, and transparency of the food supply for consumers and for the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable agricultural practices, Caradec explained.

Caradec emphasized that DannonWave does not question the safety of GMO-linked foods. He pointed out that the company based its pledge and labeling decision in large part on the state of Vermont's legislation which called for labeling of all foods with GMO components by July 1 of 2016 – a practice that was superseded by national legislation set to take effect after 2018.