Danone Exec. Talks Westchester and Evolving Food Industry

John Jordan | May 2017

From left, Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Marsha Gordon and Danone President, USA Yogurt Sergio Fuster.

TARRYTOWN—Danone’s US operations headquartered in Westchester County have been making national as well as local news of late that has involved a multi-billion dollar acquisition that more than doubled its size and an impending move of its corporate headquarters from Greenburgh to Downtown White Plains.

Danone President, USA Yogurt Sergio Fuster detailed the latest news from the dairy company in a one-on-one interview with Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Marsha Gordon. The event, held at the Castle Hotel and Spa in Tarrytown on May 2nd, was part of the People’s United Bank Leadership Conversation Series.

Fuster related that the firm now operates under its new name DanoneWave, after Danone’s $10-billion acquisition of soy-milk producer WhiteWave Foods last month. The combined firm now employs more than 6,000 workers and boasts more than $6 billion in annual revenue. He noted the deal also marked DanoneWave being approved as the largest public benefit corporation in the nation.

Fuster at times drew applause sharing some of DanoneWave’s forward-looking corporate principles. For example, the company, which says it would like to change the world, seeks to have its employees work as entrepreneurs and does not penalize workers for their failures.

“We empower our people to make things happen,” he said. Fuster later added, “Innovation is the fuel for our business.”

Admitting that its designation as the largest public benefit corporation is exciting, he related that the company has for some time initiated policies that were not driven solely by the corporate balance sheet. The company has for more than five years partnered with its farmer suppliers and agreed to fix margins to help farmers deal with the potential hardships caused by the instability of commodity prices.

Fuster said the public benefit corporation designation now will involve DanoneWave “making commitments that are not only about business, but they are going to be about people, they are going to be about the ecosystem, they are going to be about the planet and many other things.”

From left, Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors CEO Richard Haggerty, Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Marsha Gordon, BCW General Counsel Douglas Singer, Esq., and Danone President, USA Yogurt Sergio Fuster.

When it announced the public benefit corporation designation, DanoneWave said its mission was to “nourish people, communities and the world through its diverse portfolio of healthful dairy- and plant-based products, coffee creamers and beverages.”

In terms of its recent $10-billion purchase of WhiteWave, Fuster said the mega-deal “opens the scope of our portfolio.” He later related that to succeed in the current retail market, a company needs scale. In fact, he said the merger deal makes DanoneWave the largest organic food company in the world.

The company will maintain headquarters operations in Westchester County and in facilities in Broomfield, CO. The company has announced its intent to relocate its corporate headquarters from 100 Hillside Ave. in Greenburgh to more than 100,000 square feet of space at The Source at White Plains. DanoneWave is leasing approximately 60,000 square feet of existing space on the fourth floor of the Source at White Plains property and building another 23,000 square feet of “mezzanine space” atop its fourth floor offices. In addition, DanoneWave will occupy another approximately 20,000 square feet of space on the ground floor of the 240,000-square-foot property. The ground floor retail space will be used for a food laboratory and cafeteria space.

Fuster told Real Estate In-Depth that the new headquarters is designed to foster innovation. For example, he related that the food laboratory “will be the place where we design new products. It mimics a big dairy factory but on a smaller scale.”

He said that in addition to the activity now taking place in White Plains and its new headquarters prime location near mass transit and shopping, “One of the things that made us choose that location is the fact that we could move the pilot plant to the property. There is even going to be a window for people who walk by who will see how things are being made. It is going to bring some excitement for the pedestrians in the area,” Fuster said.

The company has previously stated that it hopes to begin relocating its more than 400 headquarters employees to 100 Bloomingdale Road by early 2018. DanoneWave has also said it expected to hire another 150 workers at its headquarters over the first five years after the relocation project is completed.

The company has operated its headquarters in Westchester for more than 20 years and has leased space at the Greenburgh property since 2004. The firm moved to Greenburgh in 2004 after maintaining its corporate offices at 120 White Plains Road in Tarrytown.

PHOTOS BY JOHN VECCHIOLLA

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth