Overcoming an Existential Business Threat

A leading producer of private label milk and butter for many of the largest U.S. retailers was among the first to produce organic dairy products at scale, to meet rising demand from major national retail partners and to keep organic milk affordable by achieving economies without compromising standards. In a contentious category with roots in small family farms, the size of the company’s operations made it a target for scrutiny and criticism.

Crisis & Reputation Management
Communications Strategy & Planning
Stakeholder Engagement & Advocacy Communications
Premium Food & Beverage


An organic dairy policy group with ties to competing producers conducted a years-long activist campaign targeting the company, making false claims about farm practices, trespassing to capture photos, creating an “organic dairy scorecard” reflecting poorly on the company and filing complaints repeatedly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). When the producer and USDA agreed on updated organic production practices, activists seized on this news as evidence of guilt. Class-action lawsuits were filed, claiming that the company’s milk failed to meet USDA Organic standards, and major national retail accounts were pressured to switch to other organic milk sources.


Linhart PR recommended and implemented a proactive integrated reputation recovery communications strategy to regain control of the narrative, fight back against attacks and preserve key customer relationships. Key activities included:

  • Direct outreach to retail customers. The team crafted letters, emails and talking points for the company’s senior leaders to share with key retailer accounts, pushing back against activist allegations, providing the facts and putting USDA regulatory agreements in context.
  • Proactive targeted media relations. Beginning at the Natural Products Expo East trade show, Linhart PR sought interview opportunities for the company’s leaders with national, trade and local journalists willing to consider both sides of the story, and also placed an op-ed in a major daily newspaper telling “the rest of a dairy’s story.”
  • Issues advertising. Linhart PR developed and placed paid advertising in supermarket trade publications, tackling the issues and allegations head-on, telling the animal care and sustainability story and reaching retail dairy category decision-makers with the facts.
  • Organic stewardship report. To counter distortions in the activist group’s “organic dairy scorecard” and demonstrate a commitment to transparency, Linhart PR developed a detailed annual stewardship report for the producer, with facts and metrics on ownership structure, location and size of dairy farms, animal care and production protocols and organic certifications and certifiers, among other things. The report went beyond the activist group scorecard and was circulated to customers, reporters and other stakeholders.
  • ESG initiatives. As part of the reputation recovery plan, the company began to identify and implement sustainability and community partnership initiatives, including creation of a company foundation; funding of a center for organic dairy research, with a major land-grant university; support for FFA and 4-H chapters; and partnerships  with local food banks.


As a result of the team’s efforts, key customer relationships were maintained, the climate of media opinion began to improve and the company began to build out a comprehensive approach to organic dairy stewardship, sustainability practices and partnerships with key stakeholders and host communities. All class-action lawsuits were settled, and the most important indicator of reputation management success is that the company not only survived these challenges but continues to thrive.

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