The Dairy Working Group addresses key sector challenges

24th May 2021

***This interview is an extract from the SAI Platform Annual Report 2020. Go to the SAI Platform Annual Report 2020.***

Towards the end of 2020, the Dairy Working Group found new ways to use its collective power to address key sector challenges and initiated two projects that will kick off in 2021.

Hansel New is the Director of Sustainability Programs at Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). The organisation joined the Dairy Working Group exclusively as full members in 2019, when Hansel became a member. He became co-chair in 2020.

When did you become co-chair with Axelle?

I was nominated at the end of 2019. With the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP) specifically, my role has been to stay close to the SDP Steering Committee and lead the work of the technical workstream in preparing essential documents. I’ve also been involved with some project work with various Dairy Working Group (DWG) members.

What would you say the DWG and SDP have meant to the industry throughout 2020?

The DWG has been critical for a lot of different reasons. It helps to bring together the work of other dairy industry associations like the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF), the Global Dairy Platform and the International Dairy Federation and execute many of the aligned global goals in the dairy space. It’s why, through the SDP, we’ve adopted the 11 criteria of the DSF. Our job is not to reinvent the wheel but focus on implementation and drive best practices in a B2B environment.

At the same time, what we’re building with the SDP really is huge and the DWG itself is growing at an impressive rate as we attract interest from more and more global dairy buyers and processors. We have to look to our future and begin to put ways to manage and fund our growth in place now.

How would you say the progress of sustainability has been affected by the events of 2020?

It’s certainly not been deprioritised across the dairy industry. If anything, the crisis and the resulting cascading effect it had on the industry has highlighted the importance of sustainability.

What have you enjoyed most this year?

I go back to the pre-competitive nature of collaboration. I’m old enough to remember the days when sustainability was largely seen by many consumer-facing brands as mainly a competitive issue. Everyone was scrambling to get out in front, to have the latest bio-based packaging or get their cocoa rainforest alliance certified, for instance.

Of course, companies are always going to compete on all kinds of issues and sustainability can be a differentiator in that space. But what I enjoy in the dairy industry – and I think it’s special – is that sustainability is largely seen as pre-competitive and we really do come together as equals around a table, whether we’re buyers or processors. This has normalised a new way of working.

In what way?

Before, I think processors were generally speaking more inclined to say yes to any buyer demand because they wanted to keep and increase that business. Now, with the DWG and SDP, we all have the opportunity to come to the table as equals and work through the issues together. We know it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together as a group and make sure priorities and even funding are aligned with the direction we all agree we need to go in.

It’s so much better than the older model of, I guess, more secrecy and a greater amount of proceedings going on behind closed doors.

Looking to 2021. What do you hope will be achieved?

Like everyone I talk to, I’m cautiously optimistic about next year. I certainly think it’s going to be a year of evolution and growth for the DWG based on the foundations we’ve established in 2020. It will be important for us to roll out and normalise the SDP in Western dairy markets. It’s important to make the industry as aware as possible of the SDP’s potential to drive innovation and change. This will mean continuing to explore how it can be a valuable tool for some of our brethren in markets like India, China or elsewhere in the world.

I’m keen to demonstrate how the DWG and other groups can lead our industry by example, by the way we work and how our systems and processes are set up.

All in all, I think 2021 is going to be a banner year for the dairy industry as we continue to champion pre-competitive collaboration. Who knows what we’ll come up against but if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we have the adaptability to pivot as and when necessary. We’ve also learned that tackling the problems we face on the basis of our shared values will enable us to make progress.