On the show today, we have Tripp Hughes, Director of Brand Management for a company whose CPG marketing I absolutely love, Organic Valley.
Organic Valley seems to have figured out the recipe behind viral marketing content, and before the interview, I wondered how they consistently put out content that was on brand, and always felt so genuine.
You’ll get to hear more about it in just a second, but Organic Valley’s business model is extremely unique. With some context, you’ll start to understand why their marketing is so strong.
In the episode with Tripp, you’ll learn:
- Why transparency is crucial in building a successful company
- How to empower your team to create great marketing that’s on-brand
- Why listening to your customers is essential to launching strong campaigns
And plenty more…
Let My People Go Surfing – Yvon Chouinard
Alex: Tripp, thanks so much for joining us on “Food Marketing Nerds.”
Tripp: Yeah, you bet, Alex. Thanks for having me this afternoon.
Alex: So can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your background and how you came into your current role?
Tripp: Sure. You know, honestly, I’ve grown up in organic food brand management. I started out almost 20 years ago back with a small startup company then that was called Horizon Organic. I think I was employee number 12 back then.
And that was even before we had a marketing department. And we used to do our sales and operations work during the day. And in the evening time, we’d punch out, and we’d take on our marketing projects. It was kind of an after-hours challenge.
And it was fun, you know, being part of a young startup in a new industry that only, you know, we had stars in our eyes about where it could go. So I’m excited to say that I’ve been kind of surfing this wave of organic and organic dairy for that whole time, you know, that started back in ‘97 for me. And here I am in 2017 working with a fantastic group of folks at Organic Valley, at CROPP Cooperative.
And really I’ve been involved in brand and product management all the way through. And I think part of that is that I started out with a tiny brand and a tiny product line and had the excitement of being part of something that’s grown.
CROPP, we’re about to hit our 30th year next year. We’re on track to do a little bit over a billion dollars in sales. And it’s one of those things where you feel like you’ve come a long way.
Alex: Yeah, that’s a huge number. I had no idea that Organic Valley was that size.
Tripp: Yeah, that’s a good point. So, you know, maybe to get into a little bit about who I work with and what we do, so CROPP Cooperative is our parent company. And it is a farmer-owned cooperative.
And we market our products under the brand name of Organic Valley. But we also license Stonyfield, where we do milk, cream, and butter under that license. And then the parent cooperative also sells raw materials and value-added ingredients for both private label customers but also for manufacturing ingredient partners.
And so, for example, a big ingredient partner of ours would be Stonyfield Yogurt which is owned by Danone, the French company. And, you know, today, CROPP supplies the majority of Stonyfield’s organic dairy for their U.S. yogurt that they make.
And so the cooperative itself is kind of an interesting business model. It’s pretty unique. Again, it’s owned by 2,000 family farmers here in the U.S., spread out across roughly 34 states.
And it’s a company that really has this very mission-driven background from the start, commitment to farming organic and creating an organic marketplace for our farmer-owners, commitment to rural economies and rural development, and a commitment to really finding a way to create a path forward that is sustainable, that we believe is balanced.
And one of the neat things about working for a co-op is that it gives us an opportunity to have a much better kind of long-term lens or vision for a lot of the broader tactics that we’re looking to carry out or broader strategies we’re looking to carry out, versus, you know, I had the experience of working with publicly-traded companies, where quarter to quarter, the marketing department is waiting to find out whether or not we’re gonna get our budgets left intact or slashed to some extent.
So anyone listening out there who’s in that world, I can empathize with it.
But, again, CROPP is set up in such a way, again, that we’re looking for this long-term, viable sustainability both in what we do on farm and in the food products we create, but also as a business model. Our CEO, George Siemon, is a great visionary and has been lucky to be a part of an industry with a lot of pioneers.
And George’s quote that we love is that “Organic Valley is really a social mission disguised as a business,” you know, that, underneath, really what we’re seeking to do as this collective of farmers and with our consumer partners is to change the way America thinks about food and the way America eats.
Alex: And I think that’s clearly apparent in the way that you guys approach communicating with your customers and just as a company in general. I think this farm-to-table movement has really been building in momentum. And it’s not just kind of a niche market anymore.
And there’ve been plenty of brands that are working to own that message of saying, “We’re the brand that does farm-to–table.” And yet Organic Valley seems to be the one who have done that the best and your co-op.
So I think a lot of it has to do with the back story and just how your company is set up. But from a communication standpoint, can you speak to how you guys have been so successful with communicating that message?
Tripp: Sure, it’s a great question. You know, there’s a lot of research out there that we’ve done and that we’ve seen fielded by other folks to that tries to understand what are consumers looking for and associating with food.
And if I could pick out some of the major trends that we saw developing 15-20 years ago, it was around a sense of a desired transparency of knowing where their food comes from. It was around a sense of desire knowing that the folks who were making their food production decisions were making good choices, were making choices that they‘d wanna be making.
I’ve got an MBA, but I can joke that, you know, somebody once said to me, “What would you rather have, a group of farmers helping you make your food decisions or a group of MBAs?” And that holds true.
The authenticity and transparency of being able to buy food from the farmers is something that’s been going on for quite a long time and happens in many other countries around the world.
But in the U.S., purchasing from the farmers 20 years ago was really kind of a disconnected theory. Big Ag and Big Food had kind of come in and separated the consumer from the farmer. And there were a few companies out there that were making some efforts to connect it.
But as a whole, that’s not what happened. And so we realized that we had this early opportunity to tell the story in a very authentic way and a very transparent way about where food comes from. And because we believe in what we’re doing and we believe that the way we’re doing it is the right way, we’re able to be super transparent about that.
So as we look at some of our beliefs, we have what we call our own food pyramid, the Organic Valley or CROPP Food Pyramid, that we share with our employees here.
And, you know, at the top of the food pyramid, we talk about, look, if you can grow your own food, and be a part of that experience of nurturing the land, of growing crops, vegetables, fruits, of working with livestock, more power to you. But the majority of Americans don’t have access to that today.
So the next level is if you can buy your food from a trusted source, a local farmer, a local CSA, somebody that you know, that’s the great next level. Again, 20 years ago, that was a tough challenge to fulfill.
Thankfully, today, we look at the food movement. We look at what’s going on. The availabilities of CSAs, the availabilities of farmer’s markets across the U.S. continue to spring up.
The farmer entrepreneurs out there, who are really realizing that consumers are seeking this out, are doing a great job at bringing local foods to markets.
That next level then is where we think that, you know, CROPP and Organic Valley come in really well. And that’s if you can’t buy it local, from that farmer down the road, then buy it from a local trusted network of farmers.
And so, again, CROPP Cooperative, our business model is that we’ve got farmers in 34 states across the U.S., and they’re producing milk and eggs in these regional markets. We also do some soy, and we do some produce. And then we’re looking to process as close to market as possible and then, where possible, return it right back to the marketplace.
So the primary example is with our fluid milk. In our core markets, we do have kind of regional, local fluid milk that we do. So if you’re In New York City, for example, you can get our New York Fresh Local. If you’re in California, you can get our California Pastures.
And so, again, it’s this intent of keeping food, one, transparent, two, knowing where it’s coming from and documenting it whole way through, and, three, keeping it as regional as possible. That’s been kind of a great opportunity for us.
Alex: And kind of along that same point, on your website, I see you guys have a “Find a farmer near you,” which is a really cool concept. And it’s fun that you guys show that there are actually farmers that you work with within the general vicinity of where I live. I mean, it’s obviously a big trust factor.
So how many of the processing centers do you have across the country with just having all these farmers that are spread out?
Tripp: You know, it is kind of a fun business model. You know, we’ve got over 2,000 raw material suppliers who are basically bringing us fresh, raw materials every day or every other day.
And we’ve got this setup then where we’ve got essentially, you know, 24 to 48 hours to figure out what’s the consumer tie-in and what’s the consumer need to those raw materials and figure out what type of products we’re gonna move it into. Now, I’ll say that, over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at that, predicting what’s gonna happen.
What we’ll do is we’ll work with our local processing partners.
And so CROPP itself, as a cooperative, only owns a couple of processing facilities. We own a butter and ghee facility here in Wisconsin, and we also own one out in Oregon. And other than that, we partner with other dairy and egg processors around the U.S.
A lot of them are family-owned businesses. Some of them may be parts of bigger dairy groups. But the key thing is that the dairy industry in the U.S. as a whole has been in somewhat of a decline for the last couple of decades.
And so there’s been a lot of excess capacity at these plants. And so, in your case, out in Colorado, we’ve got local egg production.
And so we’re working with our local farms in Colorado, and we’re moving those local eggs to a local processor, somebody that we’ve worked with for a while and have a great relationship.
They’ll help us basically package our eggs, our famers’ eggs, and then we’ll pick those eggs up again, and then we move them to market, bringing them directly to our customers.
And when I’m saying customers here, I’m talking that were selling both to distributors, like United Natural Foods, that would then be bringing products into stores like Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Vitamin Cottage, or we’ll be selling directly to the retailers’ warehouses themselves.
So, again, this kind of regional model gives us a lot of flexibility to try to keep it as local and regional as we can and, where we can, continue to kind of develop the regional callouts to product lines. So in Colorado, you can get our Colorado fresh eggs.
Alex: And one of my questions is gonna be the reasoning behind including farmers into your marketing, incorporating them as often as you do, which I think is a really smart tactic. But it seems like it’s more of just a communication of what you’re doing rather than just a branding ploy.
Tripp: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. We’ve been incorporating our farmers as heroes really since before I started.
And we’ve always worked with some great photographers, some who have been on staff and some who have just partnered with us long-term, to help us go out and capture both farm photos and farm video and really understand that that’s a great way for us to bring the brand and what we do to life, whether it’s on our packaging, whether it’s on our website.
And so when you’re looking at our packaging, when you’re looking at our website, when you’re looking at a lot of the other marketing materials that we’ll do, the imagery that we use I would say 99.9% of the time is gonna be of our own farmers, of our own owners.
And we can’t think of a better way, you know, to keep that transparency going.
So it’s an interesting place in the sense that I think we were among the early pioneers in creating the farmer hero concept. And what I love to see now is that there is a lot of mimicry, that there is a lot of copying that’s being done by even the large organizations.
And it puts up a pretty good challenge for us. You know, when you have large marketing groups like McDonald’s or Subway, you know, showing you where their food is coming from in a way that they absolutely weren’t 5 or 10 years ago, we do like to think that we had some influence on that, on the transparency, the connection that consumers find when the farmers are featured, when the farmers can talk directly.
And we take it beyond that. We don’t just use them for the imagery. But our farmers are very involved in a number of different ways.
We have farmers who are actually on our marketing team, who act as kind of our regional liaisons and ambassadors to help us as we’re preparing, developing different regional marketing programs.
We have regional farm tours. In fact, you can go on to our website, and we’ve got communication on there as well as on Facebook about the ability to sign up for some of the farm tours that will go on across the country.
And they also work with our farmers to encourage them to get out and be active community members. So we have regional giving programs where our farmers and our marketing team and other folks in the cooperative are working together to talk about how do we give back to the community. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that coming up.
And then another way is that the farmers themselves are our PR experts. And so, quite often, if we have a connection with media, we will put the farmers in contact with them.
And so I’ll give an example. Right after you and I got to talk at Expo West, there was another podcast, a local media person, who was interested in telling the OV story. And in that case, they were really interested in talking to consumers with their podcast more than a target audience like we are here.
And In that case, we connected them directly with one of our farmers, a farmer who had gone through professional media training, so that they were comfortable in talking about Organic Valley and the brand, that they were educated in the key talking points, but that they speak from the heart, and they speak from who they are, which is a lot of fun.
And I guess the final way is, wherever way we can, we connect our farmers to our retailers. And so there are times when we’re gonna bring our farmers in on our calls with our retail partners.
There are also times when we’re encouraging our farmers to make sure that they go down to their local grocery stores and thank the retailers for carrying the product, but also, if they’re not carrying the product, to introduce themselves and let them know, “Hey, we’re just down the road, and, you know, we’d love to see our products in here.”
So farmers can be tremendously powerful advocates, again, as farmers but also as the owners of the company.
So I’ll talk just a little bit about giving. And so CROPP has a really interesting ownership structure. I talked about the fact that we’ve got these 2,000 family farms that own us.
And really they are the shareholders. They’re the ones who elect our board of directors for the cooperative. The board of directors are all elected farmers.
And some of the tenets that we have behind it, we’ve got the guiding principles that we’ve written up. These are the things that we do as CROPP Cooperative. And one of those talks about our profit share.
And so at the times when we hit our profitability targets, we share that out with the farmers, with the employees. And then we also have a fairly significant section that we give back to what we call the community. And that community, like I mentioned, could be through kind of our regional giving programs where farmers and employees are sitting together to kind of designate where it should go to.
We also have a very farmer-specific giving program, where it’s called FAFO or Farmers Advocating for Organic. And so the funds that we give there are often going toward organic education, organic research. We helped fund the first organic agriculture chair last year in the U.S. at the University of Wisconsin in partnership with Clif Bar.
And so, again, the farmers have always been kind of very philanthropic about balance, about, you know, taking “just the right amount.” And so folks often ask us about “Well, organic, you know, it’s a lot more expensive. Why is that so?” And really what it comes down to is it’s an unsubsidized, true cost of production.
And so our farmers have moved off of what is typically kind of a federally mandated milk pricing program. And what we’ve done is we’ve created our own value-added pay price that’s ahead of what the national farmers are getting paid.
And so if you’re a national farmer, you’re typically getting set up on contracts that are defined by all these different regional kind of milk marketing orders set by the federal government. And that’s one of the things that’s caused a lot of chaos within the dairy farming industry is that this pay price can fluctuate rapidly for these other farmers.
And our farmers said we need to get off it. We need to move to a sustainable pay price, one that, you know, we’re in control of and that we’re going to adjust kind of year over year, that really reflects the cost of production, the cost of living on a farm.
And I will say that we’ve got farmers, you know, of all capacity and all resource levels. But what I can say is this is the hardest working group of shareholders you’re ever gonna meet. And to have them thinking about what is a justifiable pay price without being too aggressive or too greedy I think is wonderful, you know? And it’s a great organization, as a result, to be a part of.
Alex: Right, of all the shareholders who truly know the value of a dollar and have put in a hard day’s work probably every day.
Tripp: Yeah, so I’ll give you a quick funny one on that is we have had conversations more so in the early days when I was here around employee time-off and what’s proper paid time-off. And I will say that, early on, we were definitely very tight compared to what other consumer-packaged goods companies might be doing.
And I can remember being in this one wonderful discussion with some of the farmers. And the farmer legitimately said, “But you guys get weekends off.” And, you know, it really makes you stop and think for a minute.
Alex: No kidding, completely different perspective.
Tripp: But I can say that today we’ve got very fair policies.
Alex: It’s all relative.
Alex: So it sounds like all of these marketing messages that you guys have are really at Organic Valley’s core that’s bringing in the farmers because that’s really who Organic Valley is is this group of farmers. And the philanthropy side as well, it all is very genuine, and that comes across pretty clearly.
As far as how you guys communicate that with the type of voice that you use and the types of content that you put out, I mean, organic valley now is extremely relatable and just seems really laidback. If the brand was a person, I would wanna be friends with it.
So before the interview, you mentioned that the company hadn’t always communicated in that certain way. So what was the catalyst to the shift in how you guys portrayed the company, and what was that process like?
Tripp: Yeah, so starting out, you know, again, we were a young industry. Organic itself was just getting defined. Consumers in the mainstream didn’t know what organic was really at all.
I mean, it’s only been in the last 10 years where organic has really become much more mainstream. You see a great proliferation of products across all different lines.
In fact, what I find exciting now is to find products that aren’t hitting you over the head with their organic-ness, but they’re organic. You know, it’s these companies that are choosing “I wanna use quality ingredients. And if I’m gonna use quality ingredients, they’ve gotta be organic.”
But going back to your question, and so I think, early on, we were a little more professorial. We were a little bit more…I’m not gonna see preachy, because I don’t think we ever got to the point of being preachy, but we were definitely trying to educate. We were definitely spending a lot of time and energy to even explain what organic was.
It’s something that we just have to keep doing. At any given point, I think the most recent statistic I saw was that up to 30% of organic dairy users were new to the category within the last two to three years. And so there’s gonna always be a need for continuing education about organic.
And a lot of that is being driven by young families having kids, you know, really starting to be conscious about their food choices. I’ve heard the joke over the years, and I still hear it, is “It may be too late to save me or my partner, but, dang, I wanna do the best I can for my kids.” And organic education is gonna remain important.
That said, we really did some evolution work probably about five, six years ago where we said, “Look, we’ve got to pull back a little bit. We need to be less complicated. We need to be less multi-personalitied.”
And so we spent a lot of time and energy kind of harmonizing our brand voice, our brand look and feel, our communication style.
And really where it comes out of is our brand personality is it is a lot like a family farmer, especially a family organic farmer.
It’s got a great sense of optimism, of hope and wonder in the world, of believing that we can make a positive impact and a positive change and believing that we can leave our part of the world or parts of the world that were involved with in a better place than when they started.
And that is the personality we try to bring across, definitely not taking ourselves too seriously. The organic industry as a whole can take itself pretty darn seriously. And so, you know, that gets into…if you look at our portfolio of marketing work that we’ve done over the last few years, we definitely have challenged and made ourselves uncomfortable.
I’ve got a great mentor and boss, Lewis Goldstein. And Lewis’s challenge to me is, you know, “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re probably not going far enough.” You know, you can always kind of pull back in, but push yourself, get out of your normal path.
What I’ve really enjoyed with is working with different creative agencies over the years. You know, today, we work with a wonderful agency, Humanaut out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. And we started working with them just on a small project.
I’ll digress a little bit. Part of being a marketing brand manager at Organic Valley is not just figuring out how to sell milk or butter, but we think about it at the end of the day of we’ve got 100 pounds of raw milk coming off of a cow, and how do we create kind of the best value-added product portfolio with that 100 pounds?
And we’ve got some wonderful fat-heavy products, butter, for example. We’ve got some beautiful butters, which is about an 84% butterfat product, 80% butterfat product. We have a heavy whipping cream at about 40% butterfat, half and half at 11% to 13%.
And when you factor that the cows themselves are giving milk that has about an average of 4% butterfat, which is about what whole milk is, in order to get those butterfat value-added items created, you then have to have a lot of skim that’s left over. And consumers these days aren’t necessarily drinking more skim to offset their other butter needs.
And, therefore, Organic Valley has had to be really creative in its product development to look at how do we develop more value-added products in these areas, like skim, that will better help us balance our portfolio?
So several years ago, working with my colleague, Nicole Mydy, we developed two lines of what I’d call high-protein milk-based beverages. And one is Organic Valley’s Organic Fuel, and the other one is Organic Valley’s Organic Balance.
And Organic Fuel is, essentially, we take milk. We run it through filtration system that basically sucks the water off of it, and therefore it kind of concentrates the proteins and the calcium and the other good minerals in the milk.
And as a result, we’re able to develop an 11-ounce product that’s got 26 grams of protein in it as well as 70% of the RDI for calcium.
And it’s a great-tasting product. It’s made from milk. There’s no powder added to it. There’s no chalky aftertaste.
And so as we were bringing this product to life, we realized that this is not your normal, everyday Organic Valley product. It’s not something that we’re gonna necessarily market side-by-side with our eggs, butter, and cheese.
And so we hired Humanaut to come on and really give us a creative challenge, to really get out there and think about “Okay, we’ve got a limited budget. We’ve got a pretty good idea of a target audience. How can we create something with a high likelihood of going viral?”
And I think they thought we were a little nutty at first, but we had worked with them, or Lewis had worked with them on another project, for another nonprofit that he’s a part of. And they were up to it. They were up to the challenge.
And that’s where they came up with Save the Bros. And the Save the Bros campaign really pushed us out of our comfort zone. It was a campaign that, you know, had us all kind of gulping a little bit and going, “How far is too far?”
At the same time if you peel it back and you’re a real brander, you’re gonna realize that our core elements of, you know, trust, dependability, of innocence, of optimism and hope for the future is there. It’s just it happens to be kind of embodied in one character in the film, not by the entire video clip.
And so if you haven’t had the chance to see it, please do check out our Organic Valley. We have a great YouTube page where most of all of our videos are up there and the Save the Bros. And then we moved into a second part of that, the Brononymous Hotline.
But, again, it was a concept that challenged this bigger concept in society that, you know, these choices that we’re making every day in our food choices, we don’t always realize the implications that they’re having.
And so Humanaut kind of in a really interesting takeoff of colony collapse disorder, you know, created this element of the Save the Bros campaign, you know, that if you looked across the landscape before we entered that, what was seen as kind of muscle recovery beverages out there, a lot of the beverages out there had tons of ingredients that were just unpronounceable and undescribable.
And we saw that it’s a huge opportunity for us to come in and really simplify and say what is it you’re looking for at the end of the day. You’re looking for high-quality protein, to some extent, with calcium as well. And the product really simply and cleanly delivers it. And Save the Bros was a great way for us to get attention.
Of course, this is not one-dimensional. So out of that, we’re looking to have them engage in the videos.
We’re looking for high shareability. We’re looking for them to also follow through with some of the tagging elements that we do of coming back to our website, of coming back and picking up, taking opportunities for coupons to again drive trial.
And so it was really an integrated campaign on many, many levels. But, you know, best remembered through its videos is Save the Bros.
Alex: And that was probably one of my favorite marketing videos of all time. I feel like it was directly aimed at me as a consumer. And it definitely resonated with me, and I shared it multiple times.
And it’s clear to see the success through all the video views that you’ve had. But in general, how was it for the launch of the Organic Fuel?
Tripp: In general, it was good. I mean the timing was excellent. The ability for it to break through was fantastic.
But, you know, it’s part of marketing. It’s one of the mixed elements that are in play. And so you time that up with the right trade distribution work that we were doing, along with the right trade promotional activities that we were doing, and, you know, we’ve continued to see success to continue to grow the brand.
One thing that we’re a fan of here is obviously being a sustainably driven company is we do like to recycle. We often believe that running an ad campaign one time through and that being the end of its life is a waste of a lot of good energy and resources.
And so this January and February, we brought Save the Bros back for a limited run, again, retargeting, refocusing, getting it out to some new folks as well as folks who had seen it before. And it was equally successful this time through, which is kind of fun to think that you can do that. And then it really speaks to the quality of the video itself.
And so, that said, you know, we had some other fun ones. Right next to it, I talked about our Organic Balance product. So this is a product that’s really aimed as a breakfast, you know, opportunity or a snack.
So it’s a product with 16 grams of protein, with 50% of the RDI, made essentially the same way as the Fuel is, it’s just not as concentrated, targeted to busy women, active women on the go.
And so the insight we had buying that campaign, it was called the Real Morning Report, was, you know, sitting around, brainstorming, talking with consumers, talking with our own internal folks about, you know, what’s your morning really like? You know, we were trying to understand what the need state was for this product.
And coming out of that, we realized that our consumers really are really busy and on-the-go.
Now, the surprise, I’m sure there are some folks who have some good pace in their mornings, but that wasn’t the norm. And so we said, “What if we created a survey? And we’ll do a survey up front.
We’ll talk to a large group of women and get their feedback about what mornings are like, you know, what’s really going on.
“And from that, then what we’ll do is we’ll develop our creative from their feedback of these surveys. And then let’s share that survey with them. Let’s share the results kind of ongoing so they could continue to build. And let’s encourage more women to come in and take the survey.”
And so we had a lot of fun with the Real Morning Report, where, again, it was being really driven out of a factual place and then bringing it to life for the consumers.
And Save the Bros and the Real Morning Report, those were two of the first campaigns where we kind of pushed off from…the mantra had been always, you know, “How are we gonna include farms? How are gonna include farmers on it?” And we said, “In this case, let’s suspend that model theory for a little bit.”
Coming out of that one, what we did do then is move into our next campaign that we ran last year, which was focused on the world’s best coffee, and so, again, looking for a campaign that was going to be shareable, that was gonna have some fun brand personality to it.
But in this case, what we asked the creative agency to do was make a deeper connection back to the product in the sense of place, where the product was coming from. And so that video, we actually went and used our in-house farmer talent agency, which, believe it or not, we have one. It’s called our Farmers and Marketing Team.
And they’re the ones who help us coordinate all our farm shoots and speaking engagements and everything else. But they put a callout to farmers saying, “Hey, Organic Valley farmers, if you’re interested in starring in an upcoming video ad that we’re gonna be doing, here’s the context, and go ahead and submit a video.”
And so farmers are fun. They love challenges like that. And we got a whole bunch of videos in from farmers. And that’s not the first time we’ve used that technique. We ended up on a farmer out of the Pacific Northwest, Gerrit van Tol, and he killed it. He was fantastic.
And we brought Gerrit on to a farm. And the first part of the ad setting is on farm, and he was talking about pasture and his cows and the importance of the quality of cows and pastures to the milk that we’re consuming.
And the context then goes on to Gerrit getting advice and deciding that if he’s really gonna do this half and half thing seriously, he needs to open up a coffee shop in New York City in some hip neighborhood. So we actually did that.
We brought Gerrit to New York, and we opened a pop-up coffee shop for a long weekend, where the first couple days of the coffee shop, we shot our commercial. And the second couple of days at the coffee shop, we had a lot of local folks from the Soho area into the coffee shop. It was a lot of fun.
And the theme of the coffee shop was that it was a half-and-half bar, that you walk in, and Gerrit is your barista. And he’s asking you, you know, “What size of half-and-half do you want in your cup?”
And you’d get these wonderful confused looks from the folks coming in looking for the world’s best coffee.
And he’d assured them that, sure enough, the coffee is over there, and point to the nondescript, stainless steel carafes over on the side counter, which is that great kind of juxtaposition to how most of half-and-half is treated at coffee shops, you know, where it’s just kind of an afterthought.
So we’re spending all of these dollars on this beautiful Sumatra, single-estate, shade-grown, handpicked beans, and then we’re paying very little attention about what’s going into that. And so, again, we had a lot of fun with that concept.
And we’re really excited again to bring in a little bit of the cheekiness while including our farmers in with us to do that.
Alex: I love that video. The ending gets me every time where the farmer’s name again was…
Tripp: Gerrit van Tol.
Alex: Ah, Gerrit. If you haven’t seen this video and you’re listening to this, you absolutely need to go listen to it after you finish listening to the podcast episode, or watch it. But the ending, where it’s like, “Oh, the hipsters in New York love you girls.” And then the cow moos, and he’s like, “I know, I know.”
Tripp: I know.
Alex: It’s so perfect.
Tripp: It is. And, again, this is one of the things we do that most people don’t believe we do, which is, you know, that’s one of the owners of the cooperative, of the Organic Valley brand.
And he was just as passionate about doing that as he was, you know, farming and being a part of his community out in…I believe they’re in Southern Washington.
And what was really fun is it was the first time the van Tols had been to New York City, you know? And so to have that real kind of wide-eyed experience and be part of that with the folks I work with and for was a lot of fun.
Alex: I was always wondering if that was actually a real farmer. And he did a really great job.
Tripp: Yeah, he definitely did. And we’ve had other videos where we’ve done that. And so, you know, I guess that’s the beauty of having 2,000 farmer-owners is we do have a pretty good talent pool to pull from.
But that said, you know, when you look at our packaging, when you’re looking at all the milk containers out there, that’s our real farmer on the container. That’s their signature on the front to let you know that they stand behind what we’re doing.
Alex: And all of the content you put out, whether it’s the more educational towards the benefits of organic or a little more tongue in cheek, like Save the Bros or the dairy farmer taking on NYC, it’s so on brand and consistent in either one of those realms. So how do you guys make sure that you’re consistently hitting the nail on the head with that kind of marketing content and keeping it on brand?
Tripp: I think we’re really finicky, you know. So I should back up a little bit. So I mentioned I grew up in this business.
What I’m really lucky about is that I have partners, I have mentors who have come in having worked for bigger CPG companies, who have had training and experience outside of the cooperative.
And so I think when we sit down at a table and we go through our meetings, I bring one perspective of 20 years in the organic dairy business, and they bring their other perspectives.
And, you know, I’ve got a great partner, our creative director, Josh Peters. And Josh comes out of the agency world and, you know, is very kind of dogmatic about brand guidelines and, you know, having a playbook that we work from.
You know, so having those established up front, having those agreed to upfront is a big help.
That said, as we get into the actual process, we work with some wonderful agency folks, and they pay a lot of attention to hearing us out. And they have a lot of patience for us.
And that is part of the reason we selected them is they’re a small, hands-on agency that really gets who we are.
And I think that’s so important is, as marketers are out there, one of the biggest challenges that we always have is finding the right partners. And so this element of working with folks who really understand you and who have patience for you is great.
And that said, you know, from the ground up, our CEO, George Siemon, our management team here, most of whom have worked together for a long time, we created a playbook, you know that’s the guiding principles for the cooperative.
And from that playbook, that then does a pretty good job of setting up where the marketing team is gonna work from, you know, what do we have at hand, and what are our true beliefs.
And so I think having that true north, that north star that guides you of taking the time and effort to get that documented so that, as you grow and as you become a bigger company, as you move from having three or four employees in the marketing department, when I started out, to certainly a much bigger team than that today, it’s really important to have those guidelines.
And then we spend a lot of time on culture. We spend a lot of time educating our new employees about who we are and what we do the same way that we do, again, with our agency partners.
So I appreciate that you found this consistent because we definitely do a lot of work to make that happen.
Alex: And it definitely shows. I’m a huge fan of basically everything that you guys put out. You guys do such a good job of keeping it consistent and on brand. You can definitely tell that there’s a north star guiding what you guys are doing. And I think it runs deep to the company.
We have a few closing questions that we ask each of our guests, whether it’s marketing or just life advice. Is there a best piece of advice that you can think of that you’ve ever received?
Tripp: Yeah, I think so. And it really goes back to…and I received it in multiple ways. I started out my career in banking.
And my father was a banker. My grandfather was a banker. And I thought, “Well, geez, that means I’m gonna be a banker.” And, you know, I hated it. It was not what got my juices flowing, so to speak.
And so my dad’s advice is “Well, what do you love to do?” And I said, you know, “It’s gonna sound crazy, dad, but I love to ski. I love to drink beer. I love to have fun and socialize.” He goes, “Yeah, who doesn’t love that?” He goes, “How are you gonna make a career out of it?”
And so I ended up quitting my banking job, moving out to Jackson, Wyoming, the home of the skier Jackson Hole, and I ended up opening a pub at the base of the ski area.
And that was really kind of my entrée into being a mini entrepreneur and, you know, being somebody was trying to experience and figure out what is it that motivates me. And so that was the early part of it, what is it that I love?
The second part then came when somebody said, “Okay, the next part that’s gonna give you long-term fulfillment is making sure that your value system is aligned with the value system of whatever the work is that you’re doing, whether you’re working for yourself, whether you’re working for an organization, whether you’re working for a big or small company.
If you have that alignment, doing what you love and having your own personal values aligned, you’re gonna wake up every day, and you’re gonna go do the things that you love.”
And that’s the fun thing. You know, when I interview new candidates to come here and work here, I can say I honestly…you know, there’s a rare day where I‘m like “Ah, I don’t wanna go into the office today.”
And I think that comes out in the work that I do, and I think it comes out in the work that the folks I recruit do, try to find those folks who are interested, who are engaged, who have a passion for what we’re doing, who love the work that’s being done. When you get those two things aligned, great things happen.
Alex: Now, is there anything over the course of your current role that you’ve picked up, whether through hard learning or just in the course of the job that you wish you could go back and tell yourself on the first day?
Tripp: Yeah, you know, trust your instinct. As I started out in a small company, entrepreneurial roles, continuing to trust my instinct, and, you know, not second-guessing myself all the time was really kind of key and, I guess, in retrospect, telling myself, you know, “Let go of those second guesses.
Don’t spend a lot of time or energy there.” At the end, when you look back over a cumulative career of 20 years, they amount to a lot of wasted time and energy for very little extra, you know, forward progress.
Alex: It’s kind of that 80% rule.
Tripp: Yeah. And I think that the key joke is you gotta make sure that you got the right 80%.
Alex: That’s a good point. Now, is there a book that you like to recommend to people?
Tripp: I do a lot of reading for my work. And so at night, I’m often reading to just disconnect. And, you know, these days…I just finished up a good book that I loved. It was on George Washington and Benedict Arnold called “Valiant Ambition.”
I like recreated kind of nonfiction works. That said, the book I’m diving into right now, which is really strangely written, but you can understand why, is Keith Richards’ “Life,” you know?
So just getting a glimpse of what his world was like and what was going on is super fascinating. So those are two, you know, fun quick-read books.
You know, in terms of business books, I’ve read a lot of the business books. I think one of the ones I’ve appreciated the most came out a bunch of years back, which was Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing.” And, you know, he’s such a visionary, and I have so much respect for what he does and what his team at Patagonia does. Talk about a mission-driven organization from top to bottom.
Maybe they’ve got some glitches in politics. But I think, overall, what they’re doing is some pretty amazing stuff. And, you know, I think Yvon himself is one of those folks who constantly wants to be challenged and to learn.
And you get the sense that he brings forth in that book all of his wisdoms and management styles and investigating that he’s done…into a form that really seems to make sense and this element around not being afraid to break some of the rules just because they’re the business rules.
And it’s one of the things that, you know, I think reflects really well actually back to Organic Valley is that we’re not here just to run a business. Yes, that’s important at the end of the day.
We don’t have our farmers supported, we don’t have our mission supported if we don’t run that business and do it well. But it’s really important to run the business right, to do and make decisions that are going to have greater good impacts.
And I think, you know, Chouinard really helped me remember what I’m doing and keep my eyes open to that. So that was a great book.
Alex: Well, Tripp, thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview. What’s the best place for our listeners to check out what you guys are doing and what you have next?
Tripp: Yeah. So, again, check out organicvalley.coop. By all means, plug in your address to find out if we’ve got a farmer near you. As we’re in 34 states, there’s a good chance that we are.
Check out our Facebook page. That’s where we keep current with social. And YouTube, you know, we’re constantly creating little snippets and vignettes of what’s going on here and how to have fun with our consumers. And those are some great places to stay connected with us.
And thanks a lot for your time. I really appreciate what you guys are doing. It’s a lot of fun.