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Walking the Talk
Brands People Love on Purpose, feat. Tillamook

We spoke with Executive Vice President of Stewardship Paul Snyder about the holistic system of business that has made Tillamook the darling of the dairy aisle.

When it comes to eating ice cream and cheese on purpose, Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) tries to make it a guiltless pleasure: Oregon’s iconic dairy co-op consistently proves it’s possible to be profitable while serving as a force for good in the world.

Committed to “do right by every bite,” Tillamook’s purpose has been driving business from the ground up since 1909 — from product innovation and land stewardship to its company culture and inspired consumers. This work has also earned the brand national acclaim: Tillamook was named Target’s Food and Beverage Vendor of the Year in 2022 and landed a spot on Forbes’ “Best Brands for Social Impact” list in 2023.

And it serves as a best-in-class example of how responsible brands can tap their purpose-driven efforts to connect with all stakeholders — especially consumers — through storytelling. Not only does the brand “walk the walk,” it takes its sustainability and stewardship commitments and infuses these messages and progress points into content it shares across a variety of channels — from policy papers and impact reports to its extremely popular YouTube channel and Spotify playlists such as Block Jams’ Greatest Hits.

Here’s an inside look at the holistic system of business that has made Tillamook the darling of the dairy aisle, with Executive Vice President of Stewardship Paul Snyder.

Tillamook has established six stewardship commitments that not only ground your organization but guide it as it grows. Tell us what that looks like.

Paul Snyder: As a farmer-owned co-op, we work with multi-generational, family farmers in Tillamook County who own this brand. These family-owned farmers cherish this business and find in it a purpose that gets them up in the morning. One of the things that makes Tillamook so special is that our stakeholder mindset and commitment to stewardship goes back generations. Part of what excites me is truly the enduring nature of a lot of our programs — which are focused on our management and decision-making around those six stakeholders: our cows, our farms, our ecosystems, our employees, inspired consumers, and our communities. This is not a preference — it’s a matter of stewardship policy, adopted by the board.

Our commitment to stewardship influences all aspects of the business. Stories of our impact help deepen relationships with our consumers. They inform and inspire our consumers, who care about this. Our operations teams are also finding that implementing stewardship programs not only helps with things like energy efficiency and waste reduction, it also leads to cost savings.

You recently recertified as a B Corporation — congratulations on increasing your score, by the way! How does that certification impact the perception of your business?

PS: Our B Corp certification communicates many things for us: It endorses our commitments to sustainability, our employees, our cows and our consumers. It’s a recognition of our uncompromising dedication of our stewardship commitments and a way to stay accountable to our legacy as a force for good. It says to all of our stakeholders: We walk the walk. And while B Corp isn't yet as well-known as other certifications like USDA Organic, awareness is growing every year. And for those that are familiar, B Corp certification has one of the highest affinity rates of anything that consumers are aware of. So it's a powerful endorser when they get to know it.

Sustainable Development Goal 17 — which hits on the power of partnerships to advance sustainability initiatives — has been a key influence for Tillamook. What does this look like for you in action?

PS: We certainly honor SDG 17 in a variety of ways. We were recently awarded a $4 million grant through the USDA RCPP program to implement manure-management strategies. That’s a game-changer for reducing our Scope 3 emissions and carbon emissions at the farm level, and we had a lot of partners on that.

We created a supply chain partnership with fellow B Corp and grocery chain New Seasons Market to help drive climate action in collaboration with Zero Foodprint. The regenerative-agriculture project involves planting native, woody vegetation on regional dairy farms within the TCCA cooperative in order to sequester carbon, protect and improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

We also work with local officials, private industry and nonprofits alike on issues that impact our local communities: access to broadband, childcare and affordable housing in rural communities.

What advice do you have for those who question how to balance sustainability initiatives with profitability?

PS: You can make a profit and do this work. In fact, if you want to maximize your profit, you do this work. Last year, we saved our plant operations nearly $1M in costs by implementing operational efficiencies that were also sustainable improvements. We’re proving every day it can be done.

How do you ask questions of your business and of your stakeholders that lead to better, more sustainable choices for all?

PS: Create a context where people aren't afraid to ask the questions, and make space for the type of answers that can inform a long-term plan. Whether it’s packaging innovation or ingredient sourcing, the charge I give my team is this: Let's find the right, multi-year roadmap to get there — one that allows us to keep the right focus on quality and cost while driving higher levels of sustainability.

It’s not practical to turn to marketers or product managers with sustainability mandates they need to implement tomorrow. They need time to understand the context and consumer dynamics, and time to plan. Marketers tend to plan 12-36 months into the future; sustainability practitioners shouldn't be any different.

When sharing your sustainability story to consumers, how do you balance product descriptors with Tillamook’s efforts to deliver those products responsibly?

PS: Our approach here is to realize that consumers aren't a monolith. If you ask consumers, “Do you care about sustainability?” A large majority will say yes, of course. But that “yes” means different things to different people. Some people feel good just enjoying our products. Others want to learn more about specific ways Tillamook is doing good. And then there are others who hold us to an even higher standard and hold us accountable. So, we try to inspire each of those groups along the spectrum.

For consumers who want stories about what we’re doing, we publish those details on our website and within our stewardship report, and share examples of what we’re doing to fulfill these commitments as a company that they're proud to buy products from.

Others want to hold us to a high level of account. They look at our CDP score, study our B Corp score, and review our policy papers and reports.

We make and refresh all of this information regularly and use it to inspire and engage our consumers at various levels and touchpoints — as directed by our stewardship commitments.

What advice do you have for sustainability practitioners that has served you well on your path at Tillamook?

PS: I learned early on that sustainability is trench warfare. It’s a day-in-day-out grind to really start taking a bite out of your footprint. And fundamentally, you get what you need to get done through partnership with people — that starts with empathy. I want to understand the pressures, stressors and motivators of our plant employees, cheeseline operators and ice cream makers. The magic happens when you find something in their answer that can solve a problem for them that also amplifies your sustainability commitments. You’re also generating trust, partnership, and transparent ways of working — it's lift-off. That's really the magic: finding something within your area of corporate responsibility to solve somebody else's opportunity or problem that starts a partnership, that will then start to gain momentum and pay off in bigger and bigger ways.

To read more on how Tillamook, Tracksmith, Tony’s Chocolonely and other brands are proving their purpose — and how yours can, too — check out the following resources: