Stonyfield co-founder and outspoken organic food crusader Gary Hirshberg announced today he’s stepping down as CEO (or “CE-Yo”). In his blog, Hirshberg wrote he personally hand-picked Walt Freese to replace him as head of “the world’s leading organic yogurt company” beginning January 23. Hirshberg wrote he will, however, continue as the Chairman of the Londonderry-based company he helped found nearly 30 years ago:
“As Stonyfield’s Chairman, I will continue contributing to Stonyfield’s growth and mission for years to come. I will be highly involved with the company, speaking on Stonyfield’s behalf, maintaining oversight of our European organic sister companies, our new Stonyfield Cafés and our Profits-for-the-Planet program among other roles.
I will also focus a significant amount of attention on advancing Stonyfield’s broader mission and specifically advocating for change in national food and agricultural policies, especially seeking the labeling of GE [genetically engineered] foods.”
Hirshberg’s blog and Stonyfield’s news release both point to Freese’s experience with other natural food companies. Most notably, Freese was CEO of Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, when the company sold to Unilever. Before that, he was president of Celestial Seasonings. In the Stonyfield news release, Hirshberg describes Freese as:
“…a leader with a stellar track record at another values-led company,’ said Hirshberg. ‘Walt is well versed in fostering a sustainability mission in partnership with a global food company, and is deeply committed to Stonyfield’s organic and environmental missions. Since our early days at Stonyfield, I’ve watched organic become a $29 billion industry and a healthy mainstay in peoples’ diets. Now more than ever, people want to know where their food comes from and to trust the companies behind the brands. I look forward to working with Walt to continue to grow Stonyfield and further our mission of promoting healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet.’”