More Chocolate Milk, Please!

I take my chocolate milk very seriously. This particular passion of mine began about a year and a half ago, when I happened to taste Natural By Nature organic chocolate milk from grass fed cows. I immediately commenced a search operation for this product in the Philadelphia metro area (Montgomery County, really) and came up empty. No Natural By Nature Chocolate Milk was available. However, I did find two other brands of organic (not just chocolate) milk—Organic Valley and Horizon Organic. So I more or less have 3 major organic milk options to choose from in the Philadelphia area.

The first entry is Organic Valley. My wife and I really enjoy the milk, and (full disclosure) own some shares of the stock. OV is essentially a network of regional organic producer pools—mostly dairy but not entirely. One of the requirements (aside from being organic, of course) to becoming part of a producer pool is to acquire stock (equity) in the company. In fact, ALL of the voting shares of the company’s board of directors are held by farmer/producers. So the farmers benefit from a combination of a steady higher than conventional price for their milk AND a dividend on the company stock (actually a good one). In fact, this dividend is higher for the farmers than for an outside investor like me.

Horizon Organic is the largest organic milk brand in the country. They are everywhere. They also pay their family farm producers more than the conventional pay price (higher than Organic Valley as well), BUT that is it—no equity component, and the profits ultimately flow upward to Dean Foods, a major agricultural conglomerate. They do provide financing to farmers who want to transition from conventional to organic (and of course, sell to Horizon). Since this can take up to 3 years, this can be a significant aid to a farmer looking to go organic.

Horizon’s website says that 80% of their production comes from family farms. Contributing to the other 20% is a 4,000 cow herd in Idaho. This is one of the reasons that you’ll find disagreement in the organic community about how “organic” Horizon truly is. Being owned by Dean Foods is another. On the other hand, Organic Valley had their own “factory farm” incident in Texas a year or so ago—apparently, they were buying milk from a large farm that they really should not have been. That is not happening anymore. It seems to have been a desire to fulfill Texas size market demand that led them temporarily astray. They’ve stopped, so I can forgive them.

The third entry around the Philadelphia area is Natural By Nature. They are a Lancaster County based cooperative. They are very small compared to Organic Valley and Horizon. They only use grass to feed their cows, which really helps the milk’s taste. I really do not know much about them, but I love their chocolate milk. I wish they made more of it and distributed it more widely. Buying that brand unquestionably keeps my money circulating pretty locally, and that is excellent. The milk probably travels less distance also.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which brand should I buy?

Websites:

http://www.organicvalley.coop
http://www.horizonorganic.com
http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Horizon-Organic
http://www.natural-by-nature.com/

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