ConAgra making 'substantial progress' on corporate responsibility efforts

by Editorial Staff
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OMAHA — Despite difficulties that occurred during 2009 such as an explosion at a Garner, N.C., facility that resulted in four deaths and 113 injuries, and a few voluntary product recalls, ConAgra Foods, Inc. continued to make good progress on its corporate responsibility initiatives, according to the company’s 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report issued Sept. 24.

Since ConAgra’s last C.R.R. was published in 2008, the company said it has accomplished several key objectives, including announcing an aggressive sodium reduction goal across its Consumer Foods portfolio, constructing a LEED-certified, state-of-the-art sweet potato processing facility, and launching ConAgra’s first multi-brand, cause-related marketing effort, “Child Hunger Ends Here.” The company also in the past two years has developed an integrated, company-wide corporate responsibility platform: “Good for You, Good for the Community, Good for the Planet.”

“Our corporate responsibility platform is young, but it provides a solid foundation and clear direction for the future,” said Chris Kircher, vice-president of corporate affairs and president of ConAgra Foods Foundation. “Already, we are seeing progress in three strategic planks. In the ‘Good for You’ plank, we achieved significant sodium reduction in many of our brands during 2010, and we are on track to reduce sodium by 8 million lbs per year as we work toward our long-term pledge of a 20% sodium reduction by 2015. This initiative is particularly important given an increased emphasis on nutrition in both the public and private sectors.

“Our ‘Good for the Community’ plank includes our work to fight child hunger. Our launch of a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to Feeding America, coupled with ConAgra Foods’ integrated cause marketing campaign, is already helping address growing needs brought on by difficult economic conditions here in the United States. Looking ahead, these efforts should help ensure that ConAgra Foods continues to be a leader in working toward President Obama’s goal of ‘No Child Left Hungry’ by 2015.

“Finally, in our ‘Good for the Planet’ plank, we’re already seeing significant reductions in our five target areas of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, solid waste, packaging, and suppliers’ use of natural resources.”

As part of the company’s efforts to ensure food safety and quality, ConAgra said its internal food safety and quality audit group completed 14 and 49 audits during fiscal 2009 and 2010, respectively. Additionally, the company this past year initiated total process control microbiology in its supply chain and manufacturing plants, using a pioneering technology in the consumer foods industry.

Another way in which ConAgra has ramped up its focus on food safety and quality has come in the form of aggressive implementation of Global Food Safety Initiative (G.F.S.I.) certification. The G.F.S.I. is led by food retailers, with food manufacturers serving as advisory members. In fiscal 2009, only a little more than 20% of ConAgra’s production volume was manufactured in G.F.S.I.-certified facilities. In 2010, that percentage rose to nearly 90%, and by fiscal 2011 ConAgra said it plans to be at 100%.

“When plants earn (certain G.F.S.I.) certification, it means they have enhanced their quality and food safety systems,” ConAgra said. “These enhancements are expected to reduce the number of quality incidents — national holds and complaints from consumers and customers — while driving quality to new levels and reinforcing the correlation between improving quality and food safety performance and getting better business results.”

In its health and nutrition platform, ConAgra said it is making good progress on reducing sodium across its Consumer Foods portfolio, though doing so has not been easy.

“Reducing sodium impacts the flavor of our products; therefore, we test and evaluate a variety of approaches to decrease sodium content without affecting consumer acceptance, depending on the product line,” ConAgra said. “Though sodium is usually associated with palatability or taste, salt is one of the earliest known preservatives, playing a crucial role in maintaining product characteristics and extending the time food can be stored. Considerations such as these help us best determine how to reduce sodium in our foods. We know we have the ability to make an impact on sodium in a very meaningful way.”

The company also is taking advantage of its proprietary whole grain flours, such as Ultragrain, and integrating them as ingredients in its Consumer Foods products to enhance the nutritional value of the brands. For example, the company said it intends to incorporate whole grains into Healthy Choice frozen meals where pasta or rice is an ingredient. The move comes on the heels of the launch of Whole Grain Chef Boyardee products in late fiscal 2010.

“We will continue to leverage the whole grain expertise of ConAgra Mills to expand the integration of whole grains into our consumer foods products,” the company said. “In addition, many ConAgra Foods products are prepared to specifications unique to school food service. For instance, The Max pizza features whole grain crust and between 3 and 5 grams of fiber per serving. This improved recipe has added protein and fiber and reduced sodium and fat.”

In its 2008 C.R.R., ConAgra detailed plans to launch the “Smart Choices” program, a uniform, front-of-package nutrition labeling program. The program has since been voluntarily postponed as the Food and Drug Administration announced its intent to develop standardized criteria on which future front-of-package nutrition labeling will be based.

“We support the development of a standardized labeling system that can help consumers make informed food choices and construct healthier diets, and we look forward to working with the F.D.A. on this important program,” ConAgra said in its 2010 C.R.R.

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