Organic Valley rides 'biggest surge ever' to billion -- and beyond
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Organic Valley business is "never better than now," coming off of its first billion-dollar revenue year and riding the "biggest surge in the market we've ever seen," CEO George Siemon says.
"At 27 years, you'd think the surges would be over," Siemon said during a press breakfast Thursday before addressing more than 500 farmer members at the La Crosse Center during the annual meeting of the La Farge-based Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools that is Organic Valley's umbrella company.
Instead, organic products are finding their way onto shelves in increasing numbers of general merchandise grocery stores, as well as the big-box outlets such as Costco, Siemon said.
"Everybody in the food business is falling over each other to see who can be the most organic," he said.
Costco has become the leading retailer for Organic Valley's family of products, he said, adding, "The good news is that consumers are reacting. Consumers used to buy just milk and yogurt."
Now, customers want other organic dairy products, such as butter, cream and cottage cheese, as well as organic meats and produce, Siemon said.
"It's a lifestyle change all the way through," he said.
That is a boon for organic farmers, especially with the price of milk for farmers in conventional production at $15 a hundredweight, compared with the $35 premium price Organic Valley pays its members, Siemon said.
"It's awesome to see farmers prospering — not just breaking even, but prospering," said Siemon, who founded what they then called the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool with a handful of other farmers in 1988 with the belief that organic farming would provide a sustainable method of agriculture to help family farms that were facing hard times.
CROPP now has 1,850 farmer members throughout the country and hopes to add another 300 within the next year, he said.
"Organic Valley has become a great change agent in the nation," he said, as a major player in shifting sentiment toward organic products as a healthier option.
Of breaking the billion-dollar ceiling in mid-December — the year-end tally was $1.04 in gross sales, compared with $974 million the previous year — Siemon said, "We never dreamed we'd be at $100 million, let alone a billion."
Now, Organic Valley officials are preparing internally to be able to accommodate continuing growth.
The co-op may build a new processing facility in Cashton geared to meet increasing demands for butter, he said.
About 250 employees moved into the co-op's new office building in Cashton when it opened this month, although it was built with a capacity of 400, said Jerry McGeorge, cooperative affairs vice president.