Boulder Daily Camera
By Alicia Wallace, Camera Business Writer

Horizon Organic Dairy is losing shelf space at regional Whole Foods Markets.

The nation’s largest natural-foods grocer is expanding its private-label organic milk brand and dropping Horizon’s one-gallon milk product in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions.

The one-gallon milk produced by Horizon, which is part of Broomfield-based WhiteWave Foods, is the only milk product being dropped, said Scott Simons, associate marketing coordinator for those two Whole Foods regions.

The move, Simons said, is one of expansion and not a reaction to an activist group’s claims that some organic dairies — notably locals Horizon and Aurora Organic Dairy — are compromising the credibility of organic.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about organic milk these days,” Simons said. “This is just our stance, and our move to our private-label products produced by Organic Valley is not a reactionary thing.”

The private-label milk’s production falls in line with Whole Foods’ core values, Simons said, noting that Organic Valley is a cooperative that supports family farms and gives profits to the farmers, employees and surrounding communities. Simons said there is not a quality issue with Horizon.

Sonja Tuitele, a spokeswoman for natural grocery chain Wild Oats Markets, said Whole Foods’ private-label expansion makes sense at a time when demand for organic milk outweighs supply. The Boulder-based Wild Oats has a private label that is sold nationally.

“You have more control,” she said. “We’ve always been able to have organic milk on our shelves.”

Simons said he was unsure if the Horizon move is occurring nationally or if it involves the squeezing out of any other Horizon products.

Molly Keveney, a WhiteWave spokeswoman, said Whole Foods is an important customer and the two companies continue to work together nationwide. WhiteWave is a division of Dallas-based Dean Foods.

“We’re obviously disappointed when any retailer decides to stop carrying our product,” Keveney said.

Two weeks ago, the Boulder Co-op Market, 1904 Pearl St., boycotted Horizon products because it objected to the company’s confinement, feed and pasture practices. The co-op said it believed Horizon’s cows on its larger dairies do not have enough room to roam and feed.

Preceding the boycott was a report on pasturing practices by the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, a self-described corporate watchdog. Horizon and Boulder-based Aurora Organic Dairy, which did not participate in the study, were ranked low.

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, said the timing of Whole Foods’ move is “intriguing.”

“That’s very interesting that this shift happens when the Horizon brand is under such scrutiny,” he said.

He said Horizon’s large-scale farms — some with more than 4,000 cows on site — do not provide adequate access to pasture and are putting smaller family farms at a competitive disadvantage.

Horizon denies that claim and points to its Horizon Organic Producer Education Program, which is intended to help farmers transition to organic. As a result, the company said it has 325 certified organic family farmers who contribute 80 percent of its milk supply.

Horizon has 200 more farmers in transition, Keveney said.

“That’s all in keeping with our mission to convert more acres to organic agriculture,” she said, “(providing) more customers with organic food choices.”

She said the company’s farms — both large and small — operate within the spirit and letter of the law, which is evolving.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Organics Standards Board is taking public comment about the role of pasture in organic dairy farming.

Horizon said it encourages the USDA to require pasturing for organic dairy cows.

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at (303) 473-1332 or [email protected].

Copyright 2006, DailyCamera. All Rights Reserved.

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