KANSAS CITY — With Earth Day rapidly approaching, sustainability is top of mind for many. But concern about environmental impact isn’t limited to the holiday, as sustainability claims in new food and beverage launches have been steadily climbing for years.
The pandemic hasn’t shaken consumer interest in food sustainability either, according to a recent poll from C.O.nxt and Menu Matters.
The companies surveyed 750 consumers across the United States and found sustainability is more important now than a year ago. They also found the definition of sustainability continues to broaden to include social concerns as well as environmental impacts.
More than 80% of consumers said sustainability is an important factor when deciding what food and beverage to purchase from grocery stores or order from restaurants. More than half said they are “somewhat” or “significantly” more concerned about sustainability compared to a year ago. Concerns about sustainability were highest among consumers ages 18 to 44, with more than a third rating it as “extremely important.”
The top reasons for heightened concern include impacts on food workers, climate change and wildfires. Increased use of single-use plastics also emerged as a top concern.
“This research shows that food producers from farms to supermarkets and restaurants must remain transparent in communicating their sustainable practices to customers,” said Mark Gale, chief growth officer at C.O.nxt.
The poll also found consumers increasingly tie sustainability to factors extending beyond the environment, including affordable food, fair wages and humanely raised animals. Nearly half of consumers defined sustainability as encompassing social and economic issues, compared with 19% who defined sustainability as exclusively related to the environment.
“Along with broader definitions of sustainability come expectations for specific action,” said Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters. “Merely claiming to be sustainable is not enough.”
One of these specific actions is using upcycled ingredients, which are materials that would otherwise have been discarded and ended up in a food waste destination, according to the Upcycled Food Association.
Foods and beverages made with upcycled ingredients are trending in new product launches.
Fancypants Baking Co. has introduced a line of cookies designed to reduce food waste through the use of upcycled ingredients. They come in three flavors: okara chocolate chip cookies, double chocolate cookies made with coffee cherries and vanilla oat cookies made with oat milk pulp.
Okara flour is made from pulp generated during soy milk production, according to Walpole-based Fancypants Baking Co. Coffee cherry is a byproduct of the coffee bean harvesting process. Oat milk pulp, a byproduct from the creation of oat milk, is turned into flour for the vanilla oat cookies. Fancypants Baking Co. worked for two years to create the cookies with upcycled ingredients, which were unfamiliar to commercial bakeries, according to the company.
“I tip my hat to our entire team for coming up with this innovative, eco-friendly line that meets the premium taste standards Fancypants fans have come to expect,” said Maura Duggan, founder of Fancypants Baking Co. “It took real dedication to get the recipes just right.”
Doughp, a maker of cookie dough, is launching a new offering formulated with upcycled brewers’ grains. The company partnered with ReGrained, a Berkeley, Calif.-based startup transforming the byproduct from beermaking into a nutritious, versatile ingredient.
Beast Mode Brownie cookie dough incorporates ReGrained SuperGrain+ blend, which has 75% fewer net carbohydrates than conventional flour, according to the company. The cookie dough contains twice the protein and six times more fiber than Doughp’s other flavors.
“Creating a ridiculously tasty treat that is also environmentally friendly is a win-win,” said Kelsey Moreira, founder of Doughp. “Partnering with ReGrained gave us the ingredient to make a cookie dough flavor that is packed with nutrients without sacrificing on taste and decadence.”
Upcycled food startup Renewal Mill recently teamed with single-origin spice company Burlap & Barrel to launch a new snickerdoodle cookie mix.
Gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO, the recipe for the mix was developed by Alice Medrich, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and expert in dessert and alternative flours. The cookie mix is made with Renewal Mill’s okara flour, sourced from soybean pulp leftover from soy milk production, and Burlap & Barrel’s heirloom royal cinnamon, which is equitably sourced from smallholder farmers around the ancient Vietnamese capital city of Huế.
“This collaboration is the fruit of a friendship started in 2018 between Renewal Mill’s and Burlap & Barrel’s founders,” Renewal Mill said. “Partnering with a fellow brand committed to responsibly sourcing premium ingredients has been a dream … and access point for future products.”
In March, coffee company Riff unveiled Riff Energy+ Immunity, a new sparkling energy drink featuring plant-based energy and immunity boosting ingredients. The beverages are made with cascara, an upcycled coffee bean pulp that is otherwise discarded. The drinks also include antioxidants like elderberries and vitamin C. Riff Energy+ Immunity drinks are non-GMO, carbon neutral and contain 120 mg of caffeine per can.
“At Riff, we love coffee, but don’t love coffee's impact on our planet,” said Paul Evers, co-founder and chief executive officer of Riff. “When we discovered that the coffee fruit (cascara) is packed with nutrients and livened up with natural caffeine, we were inspired to add a unique, fruit-forward energy beverage to our lineup to help keep the earth we love in balance. Not only are we delivering consumers an immunity-boosting, clean label refreshment, we’re also making an impact in the coffee industry by creating economic viability for small coffee farmers with a new source of income and minimizing waste left by unused remains of the coffee fruit.”
Eat the Change, a new plant-based snacks company, in March launched mushroom jerky made with portobello and crimini mushrooms sourced from a family farm in Kennett Square, Pa., including mushrooms that would not typically make it to retail because of their size or bruising. Eat the Change upcycles these mushrooms, marinating them in a savory splice blend and smoking them using hickory wood. The result is a plant-based jerky that evokes the flavors of traditional meat jerky and offers a 12-month shelf life.
“Our goal is to change the food system by giving people daily, actionable choices that make a difference,” said Seth Goldman, co-founder of Eat the Change, founder of Honest Tea and chair of the board at Beyond Meat, Inc. “With Eat the Change Organic Mushroom Jerky, we hope our customers will start to rethink the climate impact of their diets.”
GoodSport, a new sports nutrition beverage that debuted in February, is formulated with ingredients sourced from ultrafiltered milk. The ultrafiltered ingredient — milk permeate — is often a waste component of the ultrafiltration process. Rescuing the milk permeate for the sports drink gives GoodSport the attribute of being upcycled.
“There is no question consumers care about sustainability in their products,” said Michelle McBride, founder and CEO of GoodSport Nutrition. “We are very excited about contributing to the sustainability efforts of the dairy industry. We want to get the messaging out about the effectiveness of the product, but also that it contributes to reducing waste.”
Along with upcycling, another action food and beverage companies are pursuing to enhance sustainability is the support of regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices that aims to rehabilitate and enhance the ecosystem of the farm by prioritizing soil health, water management, fertilizer use, and more, according to the Climate Reality Project. It is a method of farming that “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them,” according to the Rodale Institute. Examples include aquaculture, composting, pasture cropping, perennial crops and no-till practices.
Pete and Gerry’s Organics, LLC is launching Consider Pastures, a new national egg brand that supports regenerative farming practices. Consider Pastures produces its Certified Humane pasture-raised eggs on small family farms.
“When we first started our Pete and Gerry's and Nellie's brands, we took the knowledge we gained from my family's three generations of farming experience and proved that smaller-scale production with a network of small family farmers is a win-win-win for humane animal care, for small farms, and for our customers,” said Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete and Gerry’s Organics. “With Consider Pastures, we believe we can use our expertise to pioneer a better pasture-raised model, too. Although this journey to regenerative will not happen overnight, it will be effort well spent and it is our hope that by blazing the path forward, we can be a model to all and help to heal a food system and planet in distress.”
Consider Pastures has committed to zero use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, no deep tilling or fallow rotation to help protect soil from erosion and nutrient loss, increasing the organic matter and carbon sequestering ability of the soil through strategic use of cover crops, multi-species livestock integration, planting and encouraging wildflowers to assist in pollinator health, and installation of bat houses as natural pest control.
Additionally, the brand is partnering with the Savory Institute to create an egg laying program under its Land to Market program, which tracks outcomes in soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. This program will allow Consider Pastures to expand learnings to other egg producers looking to implement regenerative agriculture practices.
Simple Mills is launching Organic Seed Flour Crackers, the company’s first cracker product to receive USDA organic certification. The new crackers are made from crops harvested from farms practicing regenerative agriculture.
“How our food is grown has a direct impact on the health of the planet,” said Shauna Sadowski, vice president of sustainability at Simple Mills. “It’s not only cars and airplanes that are causing climate change — it’s the food on our plates. While agriculture is one of the key contributors to climate change, it can also be a part of the solution. That’s why Simple Mills is helping to advance regenerative agriculture, working with suppliers and farmers to adopt practices like extended crop rotations, cover cropping, and organic amendments that build healthy soil and ultimately heal the land.”
Epic, a subsidiary of General Mills, Inc., in March launched its first bar made from beef raised using practices to reduce carbon emissions. The Epic Beef Barbacoa-Inspired Bar is the first bar to bear the Savory Institute’s Land to Market Ecological Outcome Verifications (EOV) Seal, which illustrates the product was made using regenerative farming practices that improve soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem functions. The beef used to make the new bar is sourced from White Oak Pastures, which offsets 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions through regenerating soil practices.
“At Epic, it is our mission to improve the current agricultural system,” said Steve Rosenzweig, PhD, senior soil scientist at General Mills. “Epic’s new EOV Beef Barbacoa-Inspired Bar demonstrates General Mills’ pledge to drive positive change in our food system and ensure a sustainable future.”
New in February, Kuli Kuli SuperBark is a collection of snacking chocolate infused with ingredients grown regeneratively, including moringa, chia seeds, quinoa and cacao. A mint chip variety includes coconut and breadfruit. A chocolate peanut butter flavor adds maca, and a raspberry chia variant contains baobab and hibiscus.
“We started thinking about what we could do that was more indulgent but still healthy and had all the functional benefits, like the rest of our superfood products,” said Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli. “As we started to think about what ingredients to put in it, we started looking at it from both a functional and medicinal plant side but also from the perspective of other climate-smart tree crops that we can grow in a regenerative way alongside moringa, that will enable us to go deeper into the communities we already source from. Many of the African farmers we work with grow moringa and also grow hibiscus, cacao and baobab.
“For us, it’s really bringing to life this dual vision of a delicious guilt-free dessert that is also supporting these rural farming communities and helping to build these regenerative food forests.”
GoodSam Foods debuted in December 2020 with a line of chocolate products — including bars, chips and candy-coated nuts — made using direct trade and regenerative farming practices.
“We want consumers to enjoy GoodSam products without feeling guilty about what they are eating or how it was produced,” said Heather K. Terry, co-founder of GoodSam. “Not only are good-for-you ingredients a priority, but also how we grow and source those ingredients. We believe in biodiversity that supports regenerative systems. We do not see GoodSam as a candy brand, rather a small farmer brand.”
Ms. Terry and Sam Stroot founded GoodSam in 2019 with the goal of bringing the high-quality cocoa products found in Colombia to the US market.
The pair is committed to direct trade practices to maintain strong relationships with the supply chain, manufacturers and indigenous communities, the company said. GoodSam also works with farmers through regenerative farming practices to maintain the quality of soil to ensure farms continue to thrive for future generations.
“The creation of our chocolate and supporting those who farm, manufacture and distribute has been a passion project for me and Heather,” Mr. Stroot said. “We believe that when you open a bag, you shouldn’t have to wonder if the company you are spending your money with is doing the right thing.”