WHEN a certifying rabbi first paid a visit to Stonyfield Farm, he tramped through the mud of rural New Hampshire to do it. He also got somewhat lost. That was back in 1984 when the yogurt company consisted of “seven cows and a good yogurt recipe.” Stonyfield Farm was located in rural Wilton, New Hampshire then, up a road so steep that milk trucks often had trouble scaling it in the winter.
Today, Stonyfield Farm is the largest producer of organic yogurt in the world and the Number Three yogurt company in the country, with net sales of $174 million in 2004. Some 272 people are employed at its Londonderry, NH production facility. All of its products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. Not only does Stonyfield sell organic yogurt, but its relatively new Smoothies are soaring off the shelves; its YoBaby line for infants and toddlers is among the best-selling product for the company; its cultured soy offers an option for those who don’t want to eat dairy; its frozen yogurts and ice creams are award-winners; and it recently entered the market for milk — the kind you just pour into a glass and drink.
From the beginning, back when CEO Gary Hirshberg, his business partner Samuel Kaymen, and their families were milking the seven cows, Mr. Hirshberg knew it was important to make a product that was healthy, delicious, organic, and of the highest quality. “OU certified kosher products are identified with quality, which makes it a good fit for us,” Mr. Hirshberg said. “We always wanted to be able to offer the kosher market the best-tasting yogurt possible. We sell very well in New York and the Northeast, and we see the OU label as another tool to help us continue to expand our business. Just as the organic niche has grown, we expect the kosher niche to grow.”
In one sense, Stonyfield Farm products are “value-added” for the kosher consumer by supporting a healthy environment.The company was the nation’s first dairy processor to pay farmers not to treat cows with the synthetic bovine growth hormone rBGH. Stonyfield also donates ten percent of its profits to environmental causes and it offsets 100 percent of its CO2 emissions from its facility, in an effort to reduce global warming.
Carol McLaughlin, Stonyfield’s go-to person on kosher compliance, says that working with the OU for so many years means that certifications go smoothly. She is in constant communication with Rabbi Michael Morris in New York and Rabbi Gershon Segal in the Boston OU office. Both have been helpful when any supply issues have arisen. For example, Ms. McLaughlin said that the Boston office became involved when Stonyfield had an issue with a grape product provided by one supplier. It wasn’t going to work and Stonyfield was in a rush. “The OU was able to help us find a new, OU-certified supplier on short notice. They were great,” Ms. McLaughlin said.
Recently Rabbi Avrohom Stone, field representative in New Jersey, did an educational presentation on kosher certification for Stonyfield’s employees in Londonderry.
Greg Fonte, of Stonyfield’s New York sales team, sees the OU certification as extremely important. “It opens opportunities for our customers, who recognize that products with the OU certification are made with premium ingredients. And in a practical sense, it means we can sell to everybody,” he said.