In 2015, Bel presented a decisive sustainability program for the future of Bel milk category, with strong impact in Azores. This is the Milk of Happy Cows Program, which values and differentiates Azores origin to create a sustainable business and create value for Bel, for milk producers, for the Azores and for the entire ecosystem.
Azores ensures currently more than 30% of the Portugal milk production and Bel Portugal collects about 40% of total milk production in São Miguel. This milk is transformed in products of Terra Nostra, the brand leader in market cheese in Portugal and it great ambassador of AZORES origin.
The milk is experiencing a phase of change with direct consequences in Portugal and a strong impact in Azores. Its dependence on the dairy sector, location and small size hampers its price competitiveness in Europe. Until 2013 world demand was higher than supply but in the following years, there was a reverse cycle, with global milk prices falling and approaching historical lows. The end of milk share, the Russian embargo, the contraction of the Chinese market and a decline in domestic demand are the main reasons for a serious situation of excess stocks at European and World level, leading to the devaluation of this business. In 2015, the structural losses of the last years culminated, with a heavy situation of excess milk and great increase of promotional intensity.
It was in that context that Bel felt the need to rethink this business, believing that to maintain its competitiveness, it would be mandatory to build the path of differentiation and value creation for the entire chain, from producer to consumer.
This is how the Happy Cows Milk Program was born, in January of 2015 – a cooperative initiative with the Terra Nostra’s milk producers.
This program of social responsibility promotes the differentiation and superiorization of Azorean milk based on five pillars: grazing, animal welfare, food quality and safety, sustainable production and efficiency. Although pasture is not the easiest method, it has been scientifically proven that pasture milk is nutritionally superior to intensive production milk. We believe in grazing as a method that promotes the environmental sustainability of the Azores’ beautiful natural resources by sharing value with milk producers.
The producer from Happy Cows Milk Program must comply a demanding manual of practices and requirements (out of a total of 229 measures) and is subject to an audit process for further certification by SGS.
The Program requirements correspond to the best international practices to guarantee Food quality and safety animal welfare and respect for the environment, as a way of guarantee the quality and sustainability of milk production. The good practices required fall into daily practice, animal nutrition, milk hygiene, animal health, animal welfare and environment.
Throughout the certification process, Bel provides a team to monitoring of the producers, enhancing the best results for all. We are the only company in the sector that provides to producers training and monitoring to improve the conditions of operation of the five pillars of the program.
In addition to the reinforcement of technical support, with a specialized team, the producer certified by the Program also has at its disposal the support in the acquisition of computer systems, suitable for the management of the farm, support in the use of specialized external services and other social benefits, such as scholarships.
For me it is important to preserve nature by exploring earth in a non-intensive way, thus enabling it to endure throughout the years in a balanced and sustainable way. My children are proud of the way we commit ourselves to milk production.
Fajã de Cima, São Miguel
My family has lived from milk since the time of my grandparents and my parents, and now we are participating in the process of making milk. My animals do not live in stables and are in the pasture daily which also makes a pure and rich milk in its quality. I think we should learn their language a little bit. As they live in their natural habitat and eat fresh grass every day, these cows are happy.
São Brás, São Miguel
We go further in partnership
Having high quality milk represents increased responsibilities. Because of this, Bel has worked with partners and specialists who can attest the value of their milk and the program that is underway, as well as helping to evolve to contribute for a performance in continuous improvement. Considering that the basis of the program relies on the creation of value for the ecosystem, the alliance with partners is fundamental, continuing this circle of co-construction of a better product in a more sustainable chain management.
Partnership with the Associação Portuguesa de Nutrição, who recognized the pioneering of this project and superiority of the Milk of Happy Cows Program.
Partnership with the University of Minho, with the objective of carrying out a bibliographic survey of the scientific literature on the advantages of grazing systems, comparing with conventional production, particularly about the nutritional value of milk and butter.
Partnership with reference specialist of the University of Veterinary of Lisbon, with the objective of developing and implementing protocols and training program for the producers of the program. In 2016 all the producers were certified according to the protocol developed for animal welfare.
External recognition awarded by the Compassion in World Farming world reference organization in promoting animal welfare and sustainable farming practices. It awards the Program with the European Prize for Animal Welfare.
A partnership with the Cooperativa União Agrícola, Finançor, Fertiprado and Sociedade Portuguesa de Pastagens e Forragens, and with the collaboration of the Agrarian Development Services of São Miguel, a consortium promoted by Bel to start the Sustainable Pastures project, which intends to promote and optimize the system production of Azorean milk based on pasture, which are bio diverse and richer nutritionally, improving milk quality, efficiency and profitability of producers and the sustainability of farms.
This consortium includes, in an unprecedented effort, entities from the primary sector, industry and academia to carry out the innovation project “Sustainable Pastures for milk production in AZORES”.
Partnership with a reference specialist from Instituto Superior Técnico with the objective of conducting a life cycle analysis of extensive milk production to evaluate the environmental footprint, to the detriment of an intensive system, and to define an environmental impact improvement plan of farms certified by the Milk of Happy Cows Program.
This study will use information from 32 farms of certified producers and is divided in two phases: a first phase dedicated to the evaluation of the product life cycle and a second phase to the optimization of the results in the product life cycle evaluation.
National recognition in the Agriculture, Sea and Land category awarded by the Green Projects Awards that awards projects that mobilize society around sustainable development.
Partnership with Sair da Casca, a consultant specialized in sustainability, namely in quantifying the local impact of the program and in deepening the relationship and creating synergies with the various stakeholders of the project.
Recognition of the practices of social responsibility attributed by the Portuguese Association of Business Ethics.