Sustainability and transparency
Baking and snack companies pursue sustainability initiatives as consumers look to support good causes.

KANSAS CITY — In today’s political climate, regulations and policies on environmental issues seem to come and go with every election cycle. But elections cannot stop the wave of consumer support for companies who adopt sustainable initiatives. People continue to vote with their dollars for products and brands that think about — and act on — their effect on the environment.

Focusing on sustainability is important not only because of the effects on sourcing, pollution and energy use but also because of the business implications.

“Consumers are pushing the industry to be more sustainable and thoughtful in business practices,” said Ahmad Hamade, chief executive oficer of CraftMark Bakery. “They drive change through their pocketbooks.”

Baking and snack companies are weathering all sorts of changes in the political and social environment. And sustainability has become a hot topic at many industry conferences. During a panel at the BEMA Summit earlier this year, Tracie Sheehan, chief health, quality and sustainability officer for Aryzta, joined Sravani Janga, project engineer — environmental global engineering for the Campbell Soup Co., and Elysa Hammond, director of environmental stewardship at Clif Bar & Co., to discuss sustainability. Ms. Sheehan stressed that the core objective of sustainable practice is that it must be attainable.

CraftMark facility, sustainability
The CraftMark Bakery facility was built using 25% recycled materials as well as locally sourced resources.

“You want to make sure you are establishing goals that are achievable on a year’s basis — not just something that’s way out there,” she said.

“Sustainability” as a buzzword will likely permeate conversations in 2018. The theme at the American Society of Baking (A.S.B.)’s BakingTech conference, to be held February 25-27 in Chicago, is “Sustainability — Success Through People, Products and Productivity.” The term includes several aspects of business, whether it is creating a culture that attracts and retains employees longer to reduce turnover, reducing energy usage and water to save on utility costs, or refining the production process to create better efficiency. Baking companies must focus on sustainability in today’s market because consumers are making purchasing decisions based on it.

“Sustainability is a focus for us because it is the right approach to improve the health of our planet, and it helps us manage our business costs as we spend less money on electricity, gas, water and waste,” Ms. Sheehan said. “Furthermore, listening to our customers and consumers is good for business, and we value their feedback.”

La Brea Bakery, Aryzta, sustainability
Wheat Montana exclusively grows La Brea Bakery's heirloom grains in the Big Sky region of Montana.

Turnout at the polls

Rasma Zvaners, vice-president of regulatory and technical services for the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.), said consumers are asking companies questions like: “Do your ingredients come from growers using sustainable agriculture practices?” “Where are you ingredients sourced from?” “Are ethical work practices being used by you growers abroad?” “Is your company aiming to use fewer natural resources, recycle packaging and explore energy initiatives?”

Ms. Zvaners serves as the policy director for A.B.A.’s “Nourish. Enrich. Sustain.” program. Its mission is to support continuous improvement of collective sustainability practices to minimize the environmental footprint while also helping the industry achieve business goals.

When consumers and, in many cases, retailers began inquiries about sustainability initiatives a decade ago, some thought it was a short-lived trend.

“It was not,” Ms. Zvaners said.

Aryzta shareholders are asking about sustainability programs and basing their decisions to purchase on published data, which makes sustainability a business imperative, Ms. Sheehan said. The impetus to convert Aryzta's Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery breads to Non-GMO Project verification was driven by Americans requesting non-G.M.O. ingredients in artisan baked goods. The company also launched the La Brea Bakery Reserve line, which delivers farm-to-table artisan breads that are sourced from heirloom grains grown exclusively in the Big Sky region of Montana. 

Field, sustainability
A traceable supply chain to crops grown sustainably fosters transparency with consumers.

“The Fortuna wheat used in La Brea Bakery Reserve is grown for flavor, not for yield, and incorporates responsible growing practices such as crop rotation, promotion of wheat diversity and no-till farming,” Ms. Sheehan said. “We are proud to be the first national farm-to-table bread in North America, promoting sustainability, integrity and traceability in our supply chain.”

A survey commissioned by Unilever this year looked at how a brand’s social or environmental impact plays a role in consumers’ purchasing decisions. The survey of 20,000 adults living in the United Kingdom, United States, India, Brazil and Turkey found that 33% of respondents said they choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

“This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses,” said Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer for Unilever. “In fact, it has become an imperative. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.”

Instead, he added, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.

Twenty-one per cent of respondents would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing, the survey discovered. Unilever also found purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging economies than in developed markets. While 53% of shoppers in the U.K. and 78% in the United States said they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.

Sustainability is clearly a key to not only domestic but also international growth.

Bakery efficiency
Using less electricity is both good for bakery plants and for operating costs.

A crowded field

Companies have many ways to show they are making products while being mindful of the environment and the people who take it from farm to shelf. The most effective businesses, Ms. Sheehan said, embed key aspects of sustainability into their culture with metrics to hold people accountable.

For example, using less electricity is one such metric that is both good for the plant and for operating costs.

“We measure both the kilowatt hours per pound of food and the cost per pound each month to drive improvement at each location,” Ms. Sheehan said. “We have installed additional meters to reduce usage and use motion activated lighting when possible. We have a current project to investigate fuel cells for energy storage to reduce usage during peak hours, which benefits the bakery’s cost and also benefits the community.”

Associations like the A.B.A. and A.S.B. are also encouraging their members to get involved. The A.B.A.’s first initiative was to partner with the Environmental Protection Agency on the voluntary Energy Star initiative for commercial bakeries. The A.B.A. asked bakers to take the Energy Star challenge and decrease their energy intensity by 10% in five years or less.

“The commercial baking industry now has the most individual facilities taking the Energy Star challenge,” Ms. Zvaners said.

To earn certification, these bakeries demonstrated a top level of energy efficiency by scoring a 75 or higher on the Energy Star Energy Performance Indicator (E.P.I.) for Commercial Bread & Roll bakeries. Energy Star certification designates a plant, building, home or consumer product as being the most energy-efficient within its class. Certification is awarded annually to existing facilities based on their annual energy use. As of May 2017, the A.B.A. had 173 bakeries taking the challenge. Since 2016, 27 commercial bread and roll bakeries received certification Energy Star and 64 cookie and cracker facilities.

Sustainable energy is a win-win for bakeries looking to cut costs and improve a sustainable image. The Campbell Soup Co. installed 25,000 solar panels that reduced electrical consumption by 15% at its soup manufacturing plant in Napoleon, Ohio. Likewise, two fuel cells combined with a 1 MW solar array have the capability of generating 100% of the electricity at its Pepperidge Farm plant in Bloomfield, Conn. The Campbell Soup Co. continues to evaluate and update its sustainability program as the business grows, Ms. Janga noted at the BEMA Summit.

Solar panels, sustainability
Installation of solar panels may reduce energy costs and the environmental footprint of a bakery plant.

“Campbell’s business footprint has evolved over the past several years through a number of acquisitions,” she said. “By analyzing external reporting trends, we decided to reset our enterprise sustainability goals to better reflect the Campbell we are today and to align with our Purpose: ‘Real Food that Matters for Life’s Moments.’”

Campbell Soup also maintains relationships with partners and stakeholder groups by providing ongoing education sessions and general information sharing, said Megan Maltenfort, senior manager of corporate social responsibility (C.S.R.) for the company. For example, the corporate social responsibility team recently visited with a group of farmers in Maryland to discuss sustainable agriculture processes.

“Consumers care about where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and C.S.R. efforts help to increase transparency for consumers, which builds trust and helps consumers feel good about the food they are eating,” Ms. Maltenfort said.

Aryzta coined the phrase “Aryzta Cares” to describe the overall approach to social responsibility and sustainability.

“We aspire to be viewed internally and externally as a socially responsible organization and to leverage our global resources to improve ethical, environmental and economic outcomes,” Ms. Sheehan said.

Aryzta operates 11 bakeries in the Americas that have achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status, meaning all waste is recycled.

“We protect our environment through reducing electricity, gas and water and by increasing our recycling rate in our bakeries,” Ms. Sheehan said.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported recently that roughly one-third, about 1.3 billion tons, of the food produced globally for human consumption is lost to waste. The United States is a particularly large contributor to the problem with 133 billion lbs wasted annually.

Clif Bar & Co., sustainability
Clif Bar is committed to creating a healthy and sustainable food system and primarily sources organic ingredients for its food.

Clif Bar & Co. is another industry leader in sustainability. With regard to environmental responsibility, Clif Bar is committed to creating a healthy and sustainable food system and primarily sources organic ingredients for its food. Since 2003, the company has sourced more than 750 million lb of organic ingredients. It also supports organic research through university endowment and graduate fellowship programs.

“At Clif Bar & Co., we’re focused on next generation investments such as our organic research endowments, which provide university programs with funding to not only develop improved crop genetics (seeds) but also train future leaders in science, business and public policy,” said Thao Pham, vice-president of community and executive director of the Clif Bar Family Foundation.

The company’s mantra to “think like a tree” is scripted on a wall at Clif Bar’s headquarters. To spread this way of thinking across the industry this summer, Rich Berger, vice-president of engineering for Clif Bar, and the company donated 625 trees to be planted in the High Sierra Ranger District Restoration project.

“Trees run on renewable energy, recycle all waste, and sustain and improve the places they grow. Why can’t the work we do in the baking industry follow this vision?” asked Mr. Berger, who presented a case study on designing and building the Clif Bar Baking Co. of Twin Falls facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, at BEMA’s annual convention.

There are plenty of other examples of large bakeries taking sustainability initiatives to the next level. The Kroger Co. has established goals of becoming a zero-waste company by 2020 and achieve zero-food waste by 2025 in all stores and company-wide. The company is also joining forces with partners including Feeding America and the World Wildlife Fund.

CraftMark production line, sustainability
The use of motion-sensor LED lights may dramatically reduce energy usage.

Flowers Foods has already reached 66% of its 2020 goal to reduce manufacturing greenhouse gas emissions. It has cut emissions by almost 7% per metric ton of product. Moreover, the company is within 1% of its goal to reach 90% zero-waste-to-landfill. By 2020, Flowers plans to reduce water use by 10% per metric ton of product.

And at CraftMark Bakery, Mr. Hamade said the company prides itself on operating a zero-waste-to-landfill facility in Indianapolis. The bakery was built with 25% recycled materials along with locally sourced structural resources. The building uses motion- and timer-based LED lighting to conserve energy.

As politics, regulations and food trends shift from year to year, sustainability remains constant. As baking companies and many others have shown, it is imperative to join the movement.