“The Harvard Business School is always on the lookout for interesting business case studies to help teach its high-powered students about the latest trends in business management.
I’m going to nominate Organic Pastures Dairy Co. for consideration as an HBS case—as an extraordinary example of a company that has forged such a close bond with its customers that they have become a potent political weapon on behalf of the company. Whatever the food safety issues at Organic Pastures, the true nature of the agenda became clear when the California Department of Food and Agriculture rushed to lift the quarantine after OPDC’s owner, Mark McAfee, said, “Enough screwing around,” and had the clout to back up his demand. Without the clout, OPDC would still be waiting, and waiting, and waiting. It’s clearer than ever that politics comes before any considerations of safety in this struggle.
A core teaching principle at HBS is for students, who are tomorrow’s senior company executives and entrepreneurs, to continually come up with new and creative ways of reinforcing among their customers such traits as loyalty, commitment, caring. In today’s globally competitive price-sensitive marketplace, it’s become ever more difficult to encourage even the most basic loyalty, let alone commitment and caring, among customers.
But from the time OPDC was shuttered four weeks ago for being connected epidemiologically to five illnesses from E.coli O157:H7, its customers have been there on Facebook, bemoaning the loss of the opportunity to pay $18 a gallon for raw milk, demanding the government regulators get the hell out of the way of production. News of the five illnesses that led to the shutdown barely rated any mentions of concern from customers. Even the news Friday that the quarantine was lifted had any number wanting their milk…immediately. Said one woman: “Went to Berkeley Bowl yesterday, no raw milk ;-( ..its been weeks now, what are you doing with all that milk, this is a travesty. Are the cows depressed? I am!”
When all was said and done (and there was a lot to say and do), the struggle at Organic Pastures Dairy Co. came down to political power. And it turned out that OPDC had an ace in the hole in its struggle with the CDFA. The company tried to maintain a professional relationship with the regulators. But eventually, the regulators reverted to form by delaying unreasonably, so OPDC played its ace. And the regulators, afraid to confront the coiled raw power inherent in those highly committed consumers, backed off….”