In the past year, people around the world have adapted to new ways of connecting with each other, both at home (think socially distanced drive-by celebrations) and at work. In fact, Land O’Lakes U.S. Dairy senior vice president Heather Anfang has helped host virtual monthly employee meetings for upward of 700 employees at a time – all to keep people informed and engaged during a time of incredible change.
“I will say at Land O’Lakes we are fabulous problem solvers. That ability depends deeply on connection -- and has since even before the pandemic,” Anfang says. “I don’t know that everyone who buys our butter truly understands that Land O’Lakes as a company and dairy foods as a team is very much on the farmer’s team, working together.”
That value of collaborating with a team has continued during the pandemic, aided by technology.
At the beginning of 2020, the dairy industry was coming off of a tough year following major Midwestern floods and challenging market conditions. That was all before COVID-19 struck. In the face of pandemic-related disruptions to the supply chain and workforce, Land O’Lakes’ dairy foods business ended the year with a solid balance sheet and strong performance, driven largely by dairy retail.
From donating to the Restaurant Relief fund for displaced foodservice workers, to donating over 600,000 pounds of in-kind product to food pantries, to preventing supply chain disruptions, a spirit of cooperation has helped the dairy business fill pressing needs on behalf of consumers, local communities and the foodservice community. During the height of the pandemic, we found homes for all our members’ milk, so not a drop would be wasted.
“I am proud of the business for persevering and supporting our communities in the process. We’ve proven that we can solve issues along the farmer-to-fork journey and in the supply chain because we are the supply chain,” says Anfang. “Even so, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.
“I had, and continue to have, tremendous confidence in the team and their ability to quickly shift to adapt to disruptions so we can continue growing,” says Anfang. In many ways, Anfang’s more than 20 years of experience at Land O’Lakes helped her lean into the power of connection in order to empower the dairy business for this moment.
A leader with deep dairy experience
Anfang met Land O’Lakes as a recent college grad, working on behalf of the co-op for a market research firm. She was embedded at Land O’Lakes’ headquarters, where she says the team took her under their wing. A few years later, after earning her MBA, Anfang returned to Land O’Lakes as an employee.
During her 20-year tenure at Land O’Lakes, Anfang has made her rounds in dairy, holding managing roles in butter, cheese and then ingredients, as well as in foodservice and refrigerated desserts. In addition, she has also served as the vice president of marketing for Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN (which evolved to become Truterra, LLC) and as vice president of Ecommerce/Ebusiness – all prior to being named the SVP of U.S. Dairy Foods in December 2019.
She is a well-rounded leader, deeply knowledgeable about the dairy foods business as well as strategies and initiatives across the Land O’Lakes enterprise.
Paying careful attention to what consumers care about and what makes a product or brand unique is always important.
“What we saw with several other brands acquired by Land O’Lakes, including Kozy Shack and Vermont Creamery, was how important it was to allow these brands to keep the identities that made them so loved among consumers in the first place,” says Anfang.
Consumers seek a sense of place and sustainability
“In recent years, we have seen that consumers more and more want to feel a connection to where their food comes from,” Anfang says. “Consumers are increasingly focused on sustainability.”
That is true of Land O’Lakes, too. While our member-owners have always been committed to environmental stewardship and animal care, we’re proud to have taken the next step in that journey through our Dairy 2025 Commitment.
Throughout her tenure, Anfang has learned about corporate sustainability throughout Land O’Lakes’ business departments and has grown to know it intimately through conversations with farmers.
She explains, “One comment has always stuck with me: ‘When you’re a farmer, you borrow the land from your children.’ These are the original environmentalists. This is their livelihood, and they are invested in continuing to pass it down in better shape than before.”
Building on a history of innovation
Shortly after Land O’Lakes was founded by Minnesota farmers in 1921, it set the standard for butter quality in America. Land O’Lakes was the first to make butter from fresh, sweet cream -- not sour cream -- and sell it in individually wrapped sticks.
“One hundred years later, we’re still picking up our member-owners’ milk, adding as much value as we can through new product, branding and distribution — in order to return at the end of the year with a dividend to farmers that makes it worth their while to be part of the co-op,” says Anfang. “We’re able to do that in part because of our deep bench of research and analytics.”
Anfang credits her team for constantly configuring new ways to add value -- from analysts who work to identify every nuance of consumers’ needs to developers who literally dissect dairy’s parts and recombine them to alter flavor, texture or nutrition.
“Everything we do as a co-op is about opening up new revenue streams for farmers and future-proofing their business,” Anfang says. “We do this by listening to consumers and developing the products and solutions that meet their evolving needs.”
The pandemic spurred the rapid acceleration of e-commerce business at lighting speed -- moving us forward faster and allowing us to share our story and our products with consumers wherever and whenever they chose to shop. We’ll continue to invest in that digital cart, as well as our traditional brick and mortar partners. In fact, shoppers will start to see some exciting new products launch this year, including LAND O LAKES® Butter Spread with Seeds – Flax, Chia and Hemp.
Anfang knows the cooperative model is positioned to do this better than anyone: “It’s possible to find frustration in having to ask, ‘Are we a consumer-packaged goods company or are we a dairy co-op?’ But I see things differently. Our power lies in being both. It makes us unique and lets us fight above our weight. When you add talented team members to that recipe, I can’t help but be optimistic. We’re creating a sustainable and exciting future for dairy.”