Happy Earth Day!
This is a big-deal holiday for us as a brand that centers sustainability in our mission. And why is sustainability so important in our food industry?
That’s because the food industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. The production, processing, packaging, transportation, and disposal of food all require significant amounts of energy and resources, which contribute to climate change. As such – we can also lead the shift to a more sustainable food future!
According to a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, food companies collectively saved over 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2019 compared to their baseline year. That equates to taking 131 million cars off the road for a year.
It’s not surprising, then, that the food system accounts for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. This includes emissions from livestock and crop production, transportation, processing, and packaging. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the food system also contributes to deforestation, soil degradation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss.
Given the scale of these environmental impacts, food brands must take action to mitigate their contribution to climate change. And, you as consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable and environmentally-friendly products. It just makes good business sense - we as brands will risk losing market share and damaging our reputations.
Food brands have a unique opportunity to drive positive change throughout the supply chain and to empower you as consumers to make sustainable eating choices. By adopting sustainable practices, promoting plant-based diets, supporting regenerative agriculture, and investing in renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies, food brands can help to reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable food system.
Let’s take a look under the hood of some amazing brands and how they’re putting in the work to be part of the climate change solution!
Regenerative agriculture practices can help to restore soil health and sequester carbon, so food brands can support these practices by sourcing ingredients from regenerative farms and promoting their adoption among suppliers.
A brand that’s committed to this space is Quinn, the snack brand that’s flying off shelves and fighting climate change by sourcing from farmers who integrate regenerative growing practices for our sorghum and popcorn kernels. By doing so, Quinn aids the restoration and healing of the earth’s soil while also creating sustainable, allergen-friendly snacks for consumers to enjoy. You can support their regenerative ecosystem and the delicious grain-free pretzels, popcorns and more by ordering here: https://quinnsnacks.com
Another key climate solution is sourcing sustainable ingredients. As such, food brands can work with suppliers to ensure that the ingredients they use are sustainably produced, minimizing the negative impact on the environment. Upcycling is a high-impact way to source sustainable ingredients that would otherwise go to waste - thereby maximizing the value of the resources that go into growing our food. Food waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, so food brands can help by implementing strategies to reduce waste in their production and distribution processes.
Joolies is leveraging upcycling to change the date-ing game! The company lets no date go to waste by upcycling our imperfect, yet equally delicious, medjool dates into value-added products like Ugglies, Date Toppers, Jooliettes, and date syrup. Recently, we have revamped our packaging to use less material, but still post-consumer recycled, helping to alleviate the premium price of our dates, without compromising our commitment to sustainability. Find their bright teal boxes on shelves nationally and via https://joolies.com/.
Renewal Mill has another upcycled innovation: the brand fights food waste & climate change by upcycling the pulps leftover from making plant-based milks (like soy and oat) into nutritious gluten-free flours and delicious plant-based baking mixes. Renewal Mill proves that it's possible to bake a better future when we choose upcycled ingredients that reduce waste and our impact on the planet. Find their baking mixes in stores nationally, or online via http://www.renewalmill.com.
Another leader in the upcycled category is Barnana. Barnana snacks are made using delicious upcycled bananas and plantains grown by Indigenous women tending regenerative farms in the Amazon. Snacks that enrich the soil, the people and the surrounding environment just taste better! Learn more here: https://barnana.com/pages/farm-to-shelf-sustainability.
Pulp Pantry fights food waste to fight climate change, by upcycling overlooked ingredients from fruit and vegetable processing (like the pulp from cold-pressed juice!) into delicious snacks like their line of grain-free real veggie chips. As such, Pulp Pantry is proud to elevate food to its highest and best use: nourishing humanity! See what they’re up to via www.pulppantry.com.
Hungry for more climate solutions in the food industry? Aside from the solutions mentioned above, here are a few more:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Food brands can reduce their carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources, implementing energy-efficient practices in their supply chain, and optimizing their transportation and distribution channels.
- Promote plant-based diets: Encouraging consumers to adopt plant-based diets can help to reduce the demand for animal-based products and mitigate the environmental impact of meat production.
- Invest in research and development: Food brands can invest in research and development to identify new technologies and processes that can reduce their environmental impact and contribute to climate change mitigation.
- Engage in advocacy and education: Food brands can use their influence to advocate for policies that support climate action and educate consumers about the importance of sustainable food choices.
Of course doing the right thing for the environment doesn’t come without its challenges. Doing the right thing is not always akin to doing the easiest thing.
Some of the challenges that mission-driven brands face include:
Higher costs, as sustainable practices often require significant investment in equipment, technology, and certification. For example, sourcing organic or fair-trade ingredients can be more expensive, and implementing regenerative agriculture practices may require significant changes to production processes. For example, the past 30 years, Joolies has been growing organic medjool dates on their single-origin family farm in Coachella Valley, CA. Joolie’s mission is to attract attention for younger generations to eat more dates. They take pride in the fact that all of their products are organic, glyphosate residue-free, and sustainably packaged. But Joolie’s shares that it is tough to keep up with big conventional brands on price.
Pulp Pantry cites a similar challenge: “In our business, we do need to address the significant costs in dealing with organic materials. There is limited infrastructure in snack food manufacturing to work with fresh ingredients such as the inputs that we utilize. We have run into challenges and higher costs in trying to do something new in a category that is used to business as usual.”
Limited availability of sustainable ingredients: Sourcing sustainable ingredients can be challenging, as they may be produced by a limited number of suppliers or require special certifications. This can lead to supply chain disruptions and higher costs. For example, for Quinn Snacks, transitioning to regenerative growing practices isn’t the easiest path. Without the use of synthetic chemicals, there is a high risk of crop failure.
Consumer perception: while sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers, many are not yet willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. This can make it difficult for sustainable food brands to compete with conventional brands on price. Renewal Mill cites this as a key challenge: in building the brand they’ve had to build the market for upcycled food at large. While this has taken a long time, they’ve banded together with other upcycled brands to share the burden of consumer education - and, after 4 years, there’s exciting progress! The ongoing challenge is how to help consumers understand the real costs behind upcycling that justify higher price points on shelf. To do good for the planet sometimes we have to vote with our dollar.
Barnana cites a similar challenge: “It can be tricky to explain to consumers that upcycling delicious organic bananas does NOT mean that we’re using rotten bananas in our product. It just means they would have been wasted downstream because they’re not perfect enough for the produce guys. Not only does this save food from going to landfills where it creates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change but it also helps farmers make money on their imperfect but delicious crops.”
Aside from the above, other top challenges in the sustainable food industry include:
Limited infrastructure: Sustainable food brands may face challenges in finding suppliers, distributors, and retailers that share their commitment to sustainability. This can make it difficult to scale up production and distribution.
Complex regulations: Compliance with environmental regulations and certifications can be complex and time-consuming, requiring significant resources to ensure compliance.
We hope this post inspires you to get thinking about how you can make a difference - either by voting with your dollars as an eater, supporting the brands above in their mission and vision, or in coming up with the next great sustainable brand idea.
Happy Earth Day!