How large food companies measure sustainability

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Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash

A recent NYU study found that products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6 times faster than those that were not. Consumers are empowered by their food choices to make an impact. Food companies have a central role in providing products that resonate with eaters. We compared the sustainability strategies of large food and beverage companies and found the role of key data in their success. Journey Foods integrates the latest research and data points to allow innovation teams to measure and set goals to improve the impact of their products.

Sustainable brands have been enjoying faster growth and consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally and ethically conscious products. Covid has accelerated consumer awareness regarding their food. Buying food online allows them to get more information and connect with a virtual purchase. Online searches for “food delivery” and ” local food” have reached new highs and an increasing number of restaurants are posting the carbon footprint of their dishes on their delivery app. Transparency and sustainability are key to the success of packaged foods in the digitalized experience. We have studied the strategy of large food & beverage companies to connect with consumer requirements, improve their environmental footprint, and follow local regulations. We were inspired to integrate those strategies into actionable tools on our platform to allow any size company to build products with data to inform them about their impact.

Most large food companies are using the UN SDGs as a target for their sustainable strategy plan. Here are three common strategies that can effectively reduce the footprint of foods.

Reducing plastic use.

Food companies are investing in packaging technologies to reduce their impact. We found two main strategies used by large CPG.

Some of the largest food and cosmetic brands are tracking their packaging footprint and investing in lower footprint material. The specialty paper market has increased with the uptake in online groceries but also in solid and liquid food applications. With ambitious goals to reduce virgin plastic use for their products, large beverage companies have developed a consortium in the hopes to bring PET-Free solutions. Beverage companies will release their first paper bottles in 2021 which others are still conducting further analysis on the stability of the organoleptic properties.

Another strategy is to maximize recycling with materials and tools to inform consumers. For many food products, paper packaging is limited and companies are pushing for increased recycling. Conscious food companies have the ambition to make their packaging entirely recyclable. To ensure that their efforts will carry to the consumers, How2Recycle has grown to over 225 brands in 2020. How2Recycle is a US-based standardized labeling system that informs consumers what and how to recycle their packaging efficiently.

Minimizing carbon and water use in production.

Large food companies are counting the energy and the water that they directly use, setting clear targets to reduce use and improve access. From farming to distribution, each step is scrutinized. When accounted together, land use and farm-level emissions account for 80% of the footprint of most foods (See picture). Production practices need to be accounted to reduce carbon emissions. Driven large food companies report the efforts to use more ingredients from regenerative, organic agriculture and “pesticide-free”. For companies with more resources, they invest in processing and distribution efficiencies including smart water systems in production and upgrading trucks to use greener fuel options.

Maximizing benefits for consumers.

A healthy and balanced diet is linked to a lower footprint. Food companies have set to deliver better products for consumers. First by improving the nutritional score of their portfolio and optimizing nutrition with ingredient footprint. Secondly, by associating those products with a deep connection to local food culture and preferences to make those products their flagship to success. Lastly, putting an emphasis on increasing the biodiversity in their food products. Currently, almost 75% of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plant and 5 animal species, leading to an overuse of available resources. In efforts to increase biodiversity, major food companies have been adding novel ingredients to their packaged goods. By aligning culture, nutrition, and environmental considerations, those brands have enjoyed higher growth in 2020.

Transparency allows food innovation teams to make better-informed decisions and communicate those efforts to increase brand trust. We found that most food innovation teams lack transparency in the ingredients they use and that’s why we built Journey Foods. 

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