CEO Albert Straus, founder of the Straus Family Creamery, said his company doesn’t act like a commercial dairy or have adversarial relations with its milk suppliers.
This family-owned and -operated business fosters congenial, supportive relationships with its farmers, employees and customers in ways that reinforce its brand promise, Straus said at a recent annual gathering of Marin County business leaders. Straus’ mission is to help sustain family farms in Marin and Sonoma counties and revitalize rural communities through advocacy and education.
Straus maintains close ties with its farm suppliers and hand-delivers checks to them every two months.
“We also meet with them quarterly to talk about quality and pricing matters and appreciate their input,” Straus said at the Impact Marin Conference in San Rafael on March 2.
There were 150 Marin County dairies in 1960 but only 25 today.
“Survival is one of our key motivations,” Straus said.
Founded in 1994, Straus Family Creamery is a certified organic dairy that produces minimally-processed organic milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter, sour cream and cream-top milk in reusable glass bottles. With a dairy and creamery located in the small town of Marshall on the Northern California Coast, Straus was the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi River and the first 100 percent certified organic creamery in the United States.
Straus said about 90 percent of the dairies in Sonoma and Marin counties are now organic.
“We see family farms as a solution to climate change, along with helping to resolve immigration concerns,” he said.
Approximately 80 percent of Straus Family Creamery’s employees are Latinos. The company management treats them the way it would like to be treated, by offering English as a second language (ESL) classes, citizenship classes and by providing medical and dental insurance to help them succeed, stay well and become part of the creamery’s extended family, as well as become integrated in local communities.
At the same time, Straus said the business pays some of the highest prices to farmers in California for the milk they produce, which enables suppliers to reinvest in infrastructure and succession planning while maintaining the loyalty of the farmers and employees.
The creamery also engages in educating consumers to help them understand family farming practices and solutions that benefit everyone. This process includes informing consumers about the benefits associated with quality organic milk and other dairy products.
“High market prices do not undermine our quality messages. People have shown that they are wiling to pay more for the value received.”
To help spread the word, the creamery sponsors women cyclists participating in local road races and kids riding bikes in area parades..
“As a privately-held family company, there is no board of directors,” Straus said. “For me, making money is not the main motivation. Instead, it involves adhering to the core values we cherish and infusing the next generation with the same culture that has made our firm a leader in its category.”
Does this amicable environment lead to complacency?
“I’m never satisfied. My concern is how we can create a farm model that is sustainable, and then how can we replicate this model. We are already seeing changes when it comes to transportation involving the use of electric trucks, or ways to power vehicles by using methane from cow waste and other innovations.”
Looking ahead, Straus said, “I appreciate the millennial generation’s desire to be part of something meaningful. And given our core values, I’m sure they can relate to what we are doing.”
The shortage of available, affordable housing for farmworkers has become a major issue for creamery employees. The west Marin community of Marshall has 125 homes, but only 30 percent are occupied most of the time, according to Straus.
“We have two housing units that we offer to employees free of charge, but vacant homes in and around town could be utilized to house local workers,” he said. “That could be a win-win for all concerned.”
CORRECTIONS, March 22, 2017: Marin County, rather than Sonoma County, had 150 dairies in 1960. The proportion of certified organic dairies omitted Marin County. The company’s workforce is about 80 percent Latino. Straus is among California creameries that pay the most for milk. Straus doesn’t have brand ambassadors who deliver coffee.