After 28 years at the helm of one of the marquee names in the organic food world, Gary Hirshberg has announced that he will be stepping down as President and CEO of Stonyfield.
Beginning January 23rd, Walt Freese, the former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s and former President of Celestial Seasonings, will be taking over this position and leading the company.
While he will no longer be running the day-to-day operations of Stonyfield, Gary Hirshberg will remain as Chairman and will stay highly involved in the company’s growth and mission for years to come.
He’ll continue speaking on Stonyfield’s behalf around the world and maintain oversight of Stonyfield”s European organic sister companies, its new Stonyfield Cafés and the Profits-for-the-Planet program, among other roles.
Additionally, Gary Hirshberg will take a more active role in helping to shape national food and agricultural policy, with a specific emphasis on the labeling of genetically-modified foods.
1) In one respect, this is a huge surprise because Gary has been running one of the leading brands in the organic space for nearly three decades. When you think about the organic food leaders in this country, you immediately think about Gary Hirshberg.
Yet on the other hand, it isn’t that much of a surprise. He’s done everything that he can do there and was probably ready for different challenges in his life.
2) For organic food advocates everywhere, this is a fantastic move and we are very lucky. Why?
As I wrote about in my Top 5 Organic Food Trends for 2012, this is a critical year to get genetically-modified foods labeled.
And the movement needs a very visible, high profile leader who has strong relationships with all of the organic food CEOs and our leaders in Washington, D.C., including President Obama. No one fits this role better than Gary Hirshberg.
He very much understands that our kids’ future is at stake if we don’t get GMOs labeled quickly and will now have more time to dedicate to this incredibly important cause.
3) Interestingly enough, I had been e-mailing with new CEO Walt Freese (below) over the past few days before this announcement took place.
Based on my limited communication with him, he seems like a fantastic person and the ideal choice to replace Gary Hirshberg.
Walt Freese has a serious pedigree when it comes to managing major food brands and also has a very deep commitment to organics, something essential for anyone who is going to run Stonyfield.
I very much look forward to meeting him at Natural Products Expo West in March.
4) I am extremely grateful for everything that Gary Hirshberg has done for both the organic industry and for me.
Without a doubt, the industry would not be where it is at today were it not for his efforts and leadership. It is hard to put into words what a valuable role he has played in getting organics to become such a force in our country.
Even though it seems like yesterday, it was about a year and a half ago when I interviewed Gary Hirshberg at the U.S. Open tennis tournament and did a story about his Stonyfield Café at the food court there.
At that time, my blog had only been up for several months and my readership was still pretty small. I was just a guy who was passionate about organic food and wanted nothing more than to write about the sector. So, landing an interview with the Stonyfield CEO was an important milestone and one that I had been wanting to do ever since livingmaxwell launched.
For 45 minutes, it was just me, Gary, and his wife Meg sitting at a table, talking, and eating Stonyfield frozen yogurt. Meg Hirshberg, a fellow Brown University alum, graciously balanced the videocamera on a juice bottle for the interview because the U.S. Open wouldn’t let me bring my tripod onto the grounds.
I was so touched by how incredibly nice the two of them were to me, and it was a day I won’t ever forget.
Thanks for everything Gary.