Gary Hirshberg, hippie-like co-founder of Stonyfield Farm and evangelist for organic foods and saving the Earth, said he is stepping down this month as president/CEO of the Londonderry, N.H., organic yogurt company. The company is now 85 percent owned by France’s Groupe Danone.
Here’s his statement:
“After nearly three decades, I have decided to bring my tenure as Stonyfield’s President and CE-Yo to a close and I have hand-picked a wonderful guy to replace me in that role. I am pleased to share that Walt Freese, the former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, will be taking my place beginning on Jan. 23. I will continue to serve as Stonyfield’s chairman.
“From the moment that we began this company in 1983, Stonyfield has been an extraordinary adventure. From those early days as an organic farming school to becoming the world’s leading organic yogurt company, I’ve learned a great deal from talking and listening to you — our yogurt-eating fans — and working alongside our passionate farmers and amazing Stonyfield staff. Together as farmers, yogurt makers and eaters, we’ve all shown what a dedicated, mission-driven community can do to improve health and positively impact our planet and I’m proud that work will continue. Now I am excited to bring the important lessons about the health and environmental successes we have achieved at Stonyfield to a wider national and international audience. There couldn’t be a more important moment to advocate for change in our food system.
“Stonyfield is like a child to me, in fact Meg and I joked the other night that it is our first-born offspring. And as we have learned from raising our three little yogurt eaters from infants to young adults, it is truly possible to remain a nurturing parent even as the babies grow up. As Stonyfield’s chairman, I will continue contributing to Stonyfield’s growth and mission for years to come. I will be highly involved with the company, speaking on Stonyfield’s behalf, maintaining oversight of our European organic sister companies, our new Stonyfield Cafés and our Profits-for-the-Planet program among other roles.
“I will also focus a significant amount of attention on advancing Stonyfield’s broader mission and specifically advocating for change in national food and agricultural policies, especially seeking the labeling of GE [genetically engineered] foods.
“I am thrilled to welcome Walt Freese as my successor. With a stellar track record at another values-driven company, Walt brings a perfect mix of experience, talents and passion for our mission. As Ben & Jerry’s CEO (Chief Euphoria Officer), Walt had first-hand experience leading B&J’s success while championing their social mission and interfacing with Unilever. Before Ben & Jerry’s, he was president of Celestial Seasonings, so he has a strong foundation in the natural products world.
“But beyond all of his accomplishments, I’ve found Walt to be a deeply good person with a big heart and a serious commitment to our organic mission. I could not be happier that Walt will be the next steward of this remarkable organic company we all love.
“Over the years, I’ve been humbled by the passion, loyalty, and support Stonyfield has experienced from people everywhere. We have all built this company together – fans, farmers, employees – and as we enter this next chapter together, I believe that Stonyfield’s best adventures lie ahead.”