The chart below provides an overall conclusion to this incident as combined with a limited set of retroactively compiled longitudinal data. Our best estimate is that over a period of time, if a wide variety of products were evaluated (including milk, cheese, and other products from Organic Valley), the findings would be that high quality products comprise 99.9% or higher of the overall sample. Click the chart for a larger image. While important, this incident seems to reflect a statistically insignificant quantity of poor quality products from one source.
What Was Learned
The following brief points provide insights into what was learned from this incident.
- Assessing Consumer Complaints. Often companies use as their metric for success, the limited number of consumer complaints received. Such numbers are misleading since often dissatisfied customers simply don’t communicate their dissatisfaction, or perhaps they communicate to a local vendor, but that message never makes it back to the manufacturer. As an alternative, it is suggested that companies measure the success of their products and services based on positive feedback rather than negative feedback.
- Best Practice for Consumer Action. The best action for consumers to take is to communicate directly with the manufacturer. Stores and their vendors may not communicate upstream to production facilities and their partners. The manufacturer will be at the hub of product distribution and can assess the nature of product quality issues. Sometimes a company needs a critical mass of consumer opinions to reach a threshold in order to put pressure on their suppliers and production facility partners.
- Recommendation. Organic Valley continues to be a world-class provider of high quality dairy products with exceptional value and flavor. Their responsiveness and commitment to quality was clear throughout this incident.
* * *
Below are the original incident notes that document the development and conclusion of this incident.
From November 2013 through December 2013, there were reoccurring indents of poor quality Organic Valley Lowfat Cottage Cheese as provided from production facility 39-111, Smith Dairy Products (Orrville, Ohio) delivered to grocery stores in the Iowa City and Coralville area. Presumably other areas have the same poor quality product. Unfortunately, consumers purchasing the product from Plant 39-111 will assume that Organic Valley cottage cheese is a bitter tasting cottage cheese with poorly formed curds. During this same period of time, the Organic Valley Lowfat Cottage Cheese from plant 55-372 (located in Wisconsin) has consistently been of excellent quality.
What You Can Do
- Consumers. If a food product doesn’t taste fresh, you have the right to get your money back. Return it to the store with a receipt – preferably as soon after you purchased it as possible. If you request a replacement product, ask for something from Plant 55-372 (located in Wisconsin). Also, contact Organic Valley and inform them of your dissatisfaction with the product from Plant 39-111.
- Let Us Know: Please contact us so we can better track this issue.
- Store Owners/Managers. This is a known quality issue. If you want to verify the problem in your store, simply perform a taste test between any other fresh low-fat cottage cheese product and the one from plant 39-111. You’ll quickly notice the difference. Please insist that your provider give you only product from a different plant such as Plant 55-372 (located in Wisconsin). Also, contact Organic Valley and inform them that you’ve identified this issue at your location.
- Let Us Know: Please contact us so we can better track this issue.
- 10 January 2014. We received a followup call from Organic Valley on 9 January 2014 after posting our update for that day. We’ve been reassured that they are closely monitoring the product quality, and will be doing everything possible to ensure a return to the highest quality product standards. Our own testing suggests that progress is being made, and whatever internal process they are using for product improvement is working.
- 9 January 2014. A current test of the product now coming from Plant 39-111 shows that improvements are being made. Unfortunately, the product flavor isn’t exceptional. For the best flavor, alternatives recommended at this point would be product from Plant 55-372, or if that is unavailable, other brands such as Kalona SuperNatural would be a good choice.
- 8 January 2014. We are waiting a few weeks to re-test the product from Plant 39-111, assuming it is available in our market in the future for testing. Some local vendors have specifically told their suppliers they don’t want product from that plant, and prefer the product from Plant 55-372. Others have completely dropped the Organic Valley cottage cheese from their offerings. If needed, we can check the product from other regional vendors.
- 2 January 2014. From what we can tell, it seems that the curd formation issue has been corrected (although the texture isn’t great). However, the bitter flavor is still a problem, and also bubbles are still appearing in the surface liquid. We received a phone call from Organic Valley today, and they are actively trying to track down the cause of these issues. It takes a while to test samples and determine the cause. We’ll post more updates here as we have them.
- 31 December 2013 – Video Update. The video below provides a comprehensive update regarding this issue, as well as the background describing how it was discovered.
- 31 December 2013. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that in one prominent local grocery store, the dairy manager had independently noticed a taste and quality problem with the Organic Valley cottage cheese. As a result, he had the product removed from the shelves and discontinued offering cottage cheese from Organic Valley. Also, on 31 December 2013, in speaking with a representative at Organic Valley, we were told again that they had tested the product from the plant in question and felt it was okay for sale. This seems implausible since the product is clearly bitter and, as the dairy manager described it, “not right.” The video above was produced to provide a comprehensive presentation about this issue.
- 29 December 2013. After almost three weeks of seeing no genuine change in product quality, despite promises made, this web page was created to document the problem and any corrective action. This issue has now escalated from LEVEL 1 to LEVEL 2. Further pressure will be made to correct the problem. It’s unfortunate that this problem wasn’t enthusiastically and graciously resolved internally by people who care about the quality of the products they are selling. Instead of corrective action, there has been denial and blame shifting.
- 28 December 2013. The problem from plant to store doesn’t seem to have been resolved. Poor quality product from plant 39-111 continues to be delivered and put on the shelves at local grocery stores.
- 19 December 2013. The Quality Assurance Department acknowledged the problem and reported: “The plants have taken corrective action and are continuing to monitor this product.”
- 8 December 2013. This situation was reported to Organic Valley.
- November 2013. Poor quality product was identified on store shelves at multiple locations.
- “I’ve used Organic Valley products for years and prefer their milk over other organic brands. Their cottage cheese had consistently been delicious. This is why I was so surprised with the sudden change in product quality, and equally astonished by the companies reluctance to fix the problem. When I brought this to their attention, the response I subsequently received placed the blame on my taste buds rather than the poor quality product. I hope they do something about this. Until they do, I’ll be purchasing other brands.” ~ Greg Johnson, Iowa City
Product Quality Identification
The visual images below will assist in identifying the product quality. Rather than having fresh identifiable curds (shown on left), the cottage cheese will have a sludge like consistency as pictured below on the right. Rather than having a sweet taste, the cottage cheese will taste slightly bitter or sour.
Production Facility Plant Identification
The plant number is listed under the nutrition information on the container. It is also included with the expiration date as shown below circled in red.
Some Iowa City area grocery stores are selling fresh and properly produced Organic Valley Lowfat Cottage Cheese from plant 55-372, Westby Cooperative Creamery, 401 S. Main Street, Westby, WI 54667. If you’re able to find Organic Valley cottage cheese from this dairy production facility, it should be fine. For example, the New Pioneer Co-op in Coralville, Iowa will sometimes have the same product from different plants mixed together on the same shelf.
If you’re unable to find product from plant 55-372, alternatives exist. In the Iowa City area, Kalona SuperNatural is a locally sourced company offering an organic 2% reduced fat cottage cheese product with exceptional freshness, excellent flavor, and a desirable consistency.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments. Or, you can contact Organic Valley and it’s distributors directly.