Danone's social, environmental journey continues

by Keith Nunes
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Danone North America portfolio
Since the acquisition of WhiteWave Foods in 2017, Danone has integrated the business, changed its name from DanoneWave to Danone North America.
 

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — It has been a busy year for the management team of Paris-based Danone. Since the acquisition of WhiteWave Foods in 2017, they have integrated the business, changing its name from DanoneWave to Danone North America, and the newly integrated business has achieved B Corp certification two years ahead of schedule.

Simultaneously integrating WhiteWave and earning B Corp certification underscores the enthusiasm Danone and Danone North America personnel have toward creating a business that focuses on balancing financial success with social and environmental responsibility, said Emmanuel Faber, chairman and chief executive officer of Danone.

The business unit’s name change is intended to create a single identity under which such brands as Dannon, Danimals, Silk, So Delicious, Horizon Organic, Vega and Wallaby will be marketed. Becoming B Corp certified gives Danone North America the ability to demonstrate the company is doing business in a way that is verified, transparent and accountable.

“This role of catalyst we see for ourselves is embracing the food revolution.” — Emmanuel Faber, Danone

“We are incredibly proud to officially join the B Corp movement today as Danone North America,” said Mariano Lozano, c.e.o. of Danone North America. “Our new name better positions us as part of Danone, a forward-looking and unified global food and beverage company that demonstrates business success can be synonymous with building a healthier world through food. This designation demonstrates to employees, consumers, partners, retailers, society and governments that we are committed to continuous improvement as we work to bring the company’s One Planet. One Health vision to life through our business and brands.”

B Corp certification is a third-party verified program that assesses a company’s social and environmental performance. When Danone’s U.S. dairy and the WhiteWave businesses were combined, it created the largest Public Benefit Corporation in the world and legally committed the new subsidiary to balance shareholders financial interests with social and environmental considerations.

Danone North America is the 8th Danone subsidiary to achieve B Corp certification. Other business units include Canada, Argentina, France, Indonesia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In an interview with Food Business News, Mr. Faber said the company achieving B Corp certification is part of its effort to respond to consumers and the “food revolution” taking place in the global food and beverage industry.

“If you look at the long-term process, I think full B Corp certification will bring us much closer to being true to our One Planet, One Health vision,” Mr. Faber said. “This role of catalyst we see for ourselves is embracing the food revolution.”

Mr. Faber defined the food revolution as the transition between the emergence of millennials and a generation of consumers that entrusted a limited number of large brands to bring them affordable, pleasurable, safe and sustainable food.

“The millennial generation has been raised in a time where they have mounting doubts about the limits of that system,” he said.

Millennials have lived through a recession and seen the impact obesity, diabetes, malnutrition and climate change have had on consumer health and the environment.

“Add to that this is a generation that is digitally native,” Mr. Faber said. “Because of connectivity they change behaviors around them.

“This is where the revolution is. They are going for alternatives; they go for local, small (and) simpler. It’s a complete change. If we, the large companies, don’t see it, we will not be part of the future of that generation.”

A challenge for any publicly traded company is meeting the long-term needs of consumers and employees, but also addressing the short-term demands of the investment community.

“It’s a core question to my role,” Mr. Faber said. “I’m convinced shareholders are people we need to serve. I’ve been in the company for 20 years, and I’ve literally been around the world, and I can tell you the food revolution is real. If you are looking at the short term, you will not make it.

“Large brands are losing ground to the little guys, the disruptors. We see consumers turning the bottles on the shelves to see who makes the product. They do not trust brands owned by large public companies.

“So, that is the reason we see so little growth for the legacy brands. I think there is more value in pursuing the revolution than that.”

The company’s journey to achieving B Corp certification also has delivered internal and external benefits. Mr. Faber referenced how the effort has enhanced the company’s position in establishing licensing agreements with major consumer brands.

Danone also has restructured its $2 billion syndicated credit loan to include environmental and social governance. Mr. Faber said the cost of the debt will be lower if the company achieves certain environmental, social and B Corp criteria.

“This is practically reducing financing costs of the company due to B Corp certification,” he said.

While Mr. Faber sees the company’s B Corp certification as a positive attribute to differentiate the company, he expressed a willingness to help other companies interested in the process.

“To get certified you have to sign a document, which is a certificate of interdependence,” he said. “You become a part of a movement that is interdependent, and it talks to the fact you cannot succeed alone. I really hope many more brands and companies, big and small, will join the party.”
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