On a Thursday afternoon in Danone North America’s downtown White Plains office, you can find workers in all kinds of places.
The company is weeks into its new space at The Source building at 100 Bloomingdale Road in downtown White Plains, and the design feels at times more like a college campus than corporate office. Employees are seated across from each other working on laptops in the sunny central cafe; ducking into small conference rooms to take phone calls; chatting on couches; sampling granola and almond milk under the high ceilings of the central lobby.
This is the new home for the North American offices of the French food giant whose brands include grocery store staples Activia, Dannon, Earthbound Farm, Light & Fit, Oikos Greek yogurt and Silk plant-based foods.
As described by Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Danone North America, the goal is to “create a workspace that’s flexible and dynamic to reflect our corporate culture of innovative and progressive ways of working.”
The international Danone brand has offices throughout the world, and employees are often on the move, so flexibility is important.
“We can work anywhere and anyhow in this space that works best for us,” Neuwirth said.
The company also has an office in Broomfield, Colorado, just north of Denver. That office comes from the company’s $10 billion acquisition of WhiteWave Foods in 2016.
After spending more than a decade in offices on Hillside Avenue in Greenburgh, Danone North America announced last year its final plans to move up to 400 employees to an 80,000-square-foot office space in the downtown White Plains retail building.
In making the move, Danone joined other Westchester County employers shifting from suburban office parks to downtown White Plains. New York Life similarly started moving about 500 employees last year from its Sleepy Hollow offices to 140,000-square-feet at the Westchester One office tower at 44 S. Broadway in White Plains.
Also intriguing about Danone’s move to White Plains was its plan to convert retail space to house its offices. The structure was built by Fortunoff before the jewelry retailer went bankrupt, and still is primarily retail. The company’s new neighbors in the building include Whole Foods, Raymour & Flanigan, The Cheesecake Factory and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Right next door to Danone’s entrance is the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, which also opened offices in the former retail space in 2016.
Neuwirth said the relocation to downtown White Plains was in part for convenience. Workers with children — himself included — can drop into Whole Foods on the building’s first floor to pick up groceries for dinner. They can grab lunch downtown or shop at The Westchester mall after work.
Meanwhile, converting the former retail space on the top floor of the building once home to Fortunoff gave Danone a blank slate.
Kimberly Cassano, a project manager at Danone NA, said she led a number of discussions and focus groups with employees to hear what they wanted out of the new space. The ideas included themed work areas, and a designated quiet space.
On the first day at the new office, employees were given a company-branded backpack and a locker to store their stuff. With less than a quarter of the employees at the new office utilizing actual assigned desks, the backpack and locker had both practical and symbolic purposes. They were a sign of the mobility and flexibility the new space allowed, but also gave workers a way to store the things you might typically leave behind at your desk.
While the office open concept wasn’t new — Danone’s Greenburgh office adopted the format about a decade ago — the shift away from assigned desks into laptop-enabled mobility did require some adjustments.
“Some people did struggle with it,” Cassano said. “What do you mean I’m not going to have a printer anymore? What do you mean I’m not going to have a filing cabinet?”
But there have been clear advantages as well.
“It’s much more collaborative and social,” she said, noting just that morning she had a conversation over coffee with a colleague from a separate department she had never met before the move.
The original plans included a test kitchen in the first-floor space previously occupied by Morton’s The Steakhouse, but Neuwirth said the company hasn’t decided yet whether those plans will move forward. For now, he said the focus remains getting all the employees moved over and adjusted.
The company started construction on the space last year, shortly after receiving city approvals, as well as $1.273 million in sales tax exemptions from the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency. The office was designed by CPG Architects with the build-out handled by Pavarini Construction.
Here’s a look at the new space:
With views of Bloomingdale Road and the big Neiman Marcus sign from the Westchester Mall down the street, an airy cafe area is the centerpiece of the office. Workers can grab a seat and work on their laptops, perhaps over a dish of Dannon or Oikos yogurt. The cupboards are stocked with fresh fruit, coffee and small snacks, but no full meals. Cassano said the company wants its employees getting out into downtown White Plains for lunch.
Welcome to Montreal—sort of. There are six distinct themed “neighborhoods” in Danone’s White Plains office, each named and designed in honor of cities where the company has offices. The marketing staff hangs out in “Denver,” human resources and legal are in “New York,” finance workers sift through spreadsheets in “Barcelona” and sales staff makes calls from “Montreal.” Operations staff are in “Paris,” while senior management holds court in “Amsterdam.”
For employees looking for a private space, there are several small enclosed conference rooms, many of which are named in honor of their city. Workers in New York City can duck into the “Westchester” conference room.
There’s also “Grand Central,” a large open space used for meetings.
While the main test kitchen for Danone’s products remains in Greenburgh, there are still small samples for employees in the new space. During the Business Journal’s visit, a mix of granola and cereals were on hand to test out a new style of organic almond milk.
Danone converted the former retail space into two separate levels. In between those two levels is a multitiered seating section, as well as small enclosed areas for taking phone calls or meetings.
Danone North America was certified last year as a B Corporation, a designation that requires for-profit companies to set social and environmental standards and become a public-benefit corporation. As the sign notes, Danone North America is the largest company to receive the designation.
Other signage throughout the office stresses a healthy, eco-conscious ethos. That includes a large mural near the cafeteria that reads “Food Can Change The World.”