Strengthening consumer confidence

Written by Christine Bush
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To proactively answer the needs of consumers, retailers and processors, Dairy Farmers of America developed the Gold Standard Dairy Program in 2007 and is continuously evolving it to ensure best practices and emerging areas of interest on dairy farms are understood. The on-farm evaluation assesses areas, such as animal care and wellness, environmental stewardship, employee training, and milk safety and quality.

“Animal care has always been a topic important to people,” says David Darr, vice president of sustainability and general manager of Farm Services. “Things like environmental stewardship, water use, manure management and employee training are becoming more prevalent from customers who ask questions.”

Interest from DFA’s customers and consumers is also increasing in traceability of products, and retailers are getting more specific about what quality assurances they want. The increased concern is due, in part, to the rise in food safety discussions on social media and mainstream media.

“Our customers want to be able to answer the questions consumers are asking,” Darr says. “Customers are asking for wider ranges of information from the farm. Leaders at Walmart want to know if we have animal care and environmental stewardship programs at our member farms. They are also showing a growing interest in fertilizer use and cropping practices. Management at Unilever, the world’s third largest consumer goods company, wants to have 100 percent sustainably sourced food by the year 2020.”

Years ago, it was practically unheard of for representatives from a retail outlet to request a farm visit to learn more about how their food sources are made. Now, customers periodically request a visit to a farm or ask more detailed questions about quality and safety standards.

“We’ve seen companies create their own definitions for sustainability in their supply chain,” Darr says. “Another business may want to see pasture-based programs that can be documented and almost certified.”

The information gathered from the Gold Standard Dairy Program evaluations is designed to give manufacturers the results they need so they can use facts to answer questions. 
 
“The conversation has changed with food manufacturers and retailers,” says Doug Glade, executive vice president of DFA’s Global Dairy Products Group. “It used to be that we talked about price and specification. Now, it’s expanding to provide more context on how we manage our value chain and customer safety requirements.” 

The Gold Standard Dairy Program is in its third iteration, with the first round of assessments conducted in 2007 and a second in 2010. The third round is currently under way. Darr says that introducing a new program every three years gives DFA time to develop an evaluation that takes into consideration the changing needs of consumers and the dairy environment.

Three key areas of the Gold Standard Dairy Program have changed from the program’s inception. Although the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program, or FARM, has always been part of the foundation of Gold Standard, FARM went through a significant revision after its 2010 launch.