2 California North Coast dairy processors reveal how they’ve floated above industry woes

Clover Sonoma underwent a rebranding nearly three years ago, changing its historical name from Clover Stornetta Farms to Clover Sonoma, a move Benedetti said at the time “evokes a sense of a positive place.” The rebranding also included refreshing its punster mascot, Clo the beaming bovine, which the company celebrated with a host of events last year when she turned 50.

Mascots can be effective marketing tools, Benedetti said, depending on how they’re used.

“You can have a fun-loving, widely recognizable mascot, but unless there’s substance behind her, it may not work in the long run,” Benedetti said. “Clo, in some cases, is a gateway for us to have that deeper conversation” for consumers to learn more about, for example, animal welfare, organics and non-genetically modified organisms, or GMO.

Straus Family Creamery

Land stewardship and sustainable farming are at the heart of Straus Family Creamery’s operations, according to Albert Straus, founder and CEO of the family-owned business he started in 1994.

“We became the first certified organic dairy and creamery west of the Mississippi River in 1994, and also the first 100% organic creamery in the U.S.,” said Straus. The Petaluma-based business is a separate entity from the family’s dairy operations in Marshall that date back to 1941.

In November, the company received Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) zero-waste certification for its companywide focus on sustainability, as previously reported in the Business Journal.

Straus Family Creamery has grown by “double digits” since its founding, Straus said. To that point, the company is in the process of creating a 79,000-square-foot creamery in Rohnert Park, originally said to cost $20 million, with plans to move in this year.

Straus, like Benedetti, is invested in working closely in support of his dairy farmers, of which there are 12 — six in Marin County and six in Sonoma County.

“Eighty-five percent of the dairies in the two counties are certified organic. It’s been the only way to survive as a dairy farm” because the pricing structure is fixed, Straus said. “It doesn’t vary month to month like conventional milk, (whose) prices have been stagnant for decades and never covered the cost of producing milk. So we’re losing farmers because you can only go on for so long without making a profit.”

Now even organic dairies are struggling, he said, because there has been a surplus of organic milk, which has resulted in farmers losing income and some going out of business.

Straus is committed to promoting family-farming practices and the health benefits of quality organic products.

“I think how I try to approach our farms, as well as our consumers and customers, is to collaborate and to see how we can work better together,” he said. “It’s not just by being a milk supplier or dairy product supplier, but it’s talking about our innovations and the bigger picture rather than the smaller vision.”

And about that trend toward alternative dairy products:

“I’ve tasted all these other alternative plant-based, or as people call them, juices,” Straus said. “It’s not milk or something that even has a resemblance of milk. I think milk alternatives and conventional milk are doing the consumer a disservice. I don’t think they’re necessarily healthy for you.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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