July 24, 2019

Activist Group Targets fairlife, Again

 |  By: Mike Opperman

The activist group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) is at it again, targeting another dairy with an undercover video. This time it’s Natural Prairie Farms, an organic dairy in Texas. Before that it was Fair Oaks Farms in northern Indiana, and Larson Dairy in Okechobee, Florida, before that. 

If you recognize a pattern in these last two dairies, you’re a good detective.

Fair Oaks Farms is owned by Mike and Sue McCloskey. Natural Prairie Farms is owned by Cheri and Donald DeJong. The DeJongs are starting a dairy in the same Indiana county where Fair Oaks is located. 

The McCloskeys and DeJongs are both founding families of Select Milk Cooperative. Select Milk is a 99-member cooperative that supplies a number of retail brands, but most notably is one of the chief suppliers to the fairlife product line.  (It’s important to recognize that Natural Prairie Farms does not ship milk to fairlife.)

Somewhere within the activist playbook is the chapter “how to get the most bang for your buck.” The first piece of advice in that chapter is to target the biggest brands possible. Targeting big brands means reaching a huge audience of their consumers. Big brands also wield big sticks and can force their suppliers to do things smaller brands can’t. 

While fairlife is a big brand and growing, it’s nowhere near the size of its parent, Coca Cola where, I would contend, the real prize lies. If ARM can get Coke to put pressure on fairlife, that in turn puts pressure on its producer suppliers, then ARM can affect real change.  

It’s easy to see the playbook being followed by just going to the ARM website. There’s a section on the home page called Operation Fairlife. The description outlines the lineage between the McCloskey’s, Select Milk, fairlife and Coca Cola. 

The payoff comes at the end of the article:

“As a consumer, you have the power to make more informed and compassionate choices and that the products that you purchase are free from cruelty to animals as well as being in line with the companies animal welfare stances,” the article states. 

The next line asks readers to click on the call to action button to support this endeavor. Clicking on that link takes you to a page where you can write Coca Cola, fairlife or Chick-Fil-A, which partnered with fairlife to create a Greek yogurt product. They also make it easy to share videos through social media, and, of course, donate your money to the cause. 

Which comes to the real reason why ARM is attacking large brands: for the money. Animal activism is big business, and it’s easy money. Anyone who loves animals, and millions upon millions of Americans do, would find the actions contained within these videos to be shameful, regardless if they are explained as common, humane practices. That creates emotions that lead directly to the pocketbook, and activist groups make millions of dollars this way. 

Don’t believe me? Click on one of the donate buttons on the ARM website. The copy under one of the video images reads “ARM can only expose as much baby animal torture as we can afford. Please rush your most generous tax-deductible gift to sustain the pressure and it will be matched!”

It’s hard to combat this sort of activism (which is another reason why it’s successful). The best offense is to continue to tell the positive stories of your dairy operations. Call out the actions of bad actors as anomalies, not standard practice. Be transparent. And, while you’re at it, be ready for one of these videos to be shot at your dairy.

For resources on how to manage crisis events like activist videos, see the following stories:

 Nine Steps For Managing A Crisis 

How To Handle A Crisis On Your Dairy 

A Contingency Plan Can Guide You Through A Crisis