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Food manufacturers, sellers embrace sustainability

The sustainability trend is likely to continue, as younger Gen Z and Millennial consumers are more likely than older consumers to purchase plant-based and environmentally-friendly food options.
The sustainability trend is likely to continue, as younger Gen Z and Millennial consumers are more likely than older consumers to purchase plant-based and environmentally-friendly food options. (Photo by Pexels)

Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers whose purchasing decisions are increasingly influenced by the environmental impacts of manufacturers and products. Accordingly, food and beverage makers and distributors have responded by offering more organic, natural and plant-based options, in addition to revamping packaging and pledging to reduce carbon emissions.

While taste and price continue to dominate food and beverage choices, roughly 40% of Americans value sustainability in food and beverages highly and say it impacts purchasing decisions which, according to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2022 Food and Health Survey, is up from 27% just two years ago. The survey also notes that consumers pay attention to food labels and seek information about everything from recycled packaging to local sourcing and other sustainability measures. Food and beverage makers and grocers have taken notice and are following suit with their own moves.

“Sustainability has been a long-time focus for our company and is embedded in all aspects of our business,” said Tracy Van Auker, public relations manager for Wegmans

Farmers, food processors and manufacturers and grocers have responded to consumer demands for more sustainable and plant-based food options. Nearly every food processor and seller, from major firms like Walmart and Coca-Cola to regional stores like Tops Friendly Markets and Price Chopper, have carved out portions of their websites to display sustainability initiatives and tout reductions in energy use or shifts to renewable energy.

The sustainability trend is likely to continue, as younger Gen Z and Millennial consumers are more likely than older consumers to purchase plant-based and environmentally-friendly food options.

“We continuously strive to offer the best-in-class assortment of plant-based products in our stores and have been serving the growing demand in this area for decades by bringing in new, unique and innovative items that customers may not find anywhere else,” Van Auker said, noting Wegmans recently introduced a new line of Wegmans plant-based burgers and grounds, a pea protein-based meat alternative that can substitute for ground beef in any recipe, including on the grill.

Bonduelle, a French multinational food producer and processor with several facilities in Western New York, has mission is “to inspire the transition toward a plant-based diet to contribute to people’s well-being and planet health,” according to said Émilie Jobin Poirier, corporate social responsibility manager at the firm. Jobin Poirier said by producing only plant-based foods, the firm is providing consumers with options that lower the carbon footprint of their diets.

Emilie Jobin Poirier

“Animal-based foods are much more resource intensive than plant-based foods and we think it is imperative to use most of our land to feed humans,” Jobin Poirier said.

Responding to the growing demand for plant-based foods is far from the only sustainability-oriented move Bonduelle and other food producers have made in recent years, however.

“Sustainability has always been an integral part of how Bonduelle makes business decisions,” said Jobin Poirier, adding that sustainability is entrenched in the way the firm grows crops, processes vegetables and manages relationships with stakeholders.

Jobin Poirier said it is important to Bonduelle to work with supplies who share similar values. Bonduelle sources mostly through local farms and seeks to establish long-lasting relationships with growers in each region, Jobin Poirier said, both to advance sustainability and deliver high quality products to consumers.

Wegmans also aims to source products and produce locally and has partnered with farms near its stores to supply fresh local produce. One long-time initiative at the company is the Wegmans Organic Farm & Orchard, which was launched in Canandaigua in 2007 and has trialed more than 100 different organic crops over the past 15 years.

Wegmans aims to innovate and support its partners by testing new varieties at the farm and taking successful crops to partner farms near stores that, in the peak growing season, supply most vegetables in Wegmans stores. Wegmans also sources sustainably-grown flowers at the Organic Farm & Orchard that are used to create the Grower’s Choice bouquets sold in 33 stores in New York and Massachusetts.

Providing plant-based, sustainable and local products to customers is a major part of curbing the environmental impact of food production and distribution, but firms like Wegmans and Bonduelle are also eyeing improved packaging and energy reduction.

Jobin Poirier said Bonduelle continuously measure and improve energy efficiency, water usage and waste management at each of its facilities, noting the firm has annual targets it strives to meet in each of those areas. Bonduelle frequently improves and adjusts packaging to minimize its environmental impact.

Van Auker said Wegmans is concentrating on four major initiatives it believes will have the greatest positive environmental impacts which, in addition to sourcing near stores, include eliminating waste and reducing plastic packaging as well as the company’s carbon footprint. Van Auker pointed to a bevy of Wegmans announcements made over the past 18 months that further the firm’s goals, including efforts to eliminate the use of foam containers in both egg and seafood distribution and an initiative to shift from diesel-fueled vehicles to electric and other alternatives.

Wegmans also introduced a zero-waste initiative, seeking to reuse, recycle or compost 85% of its waste this year, up from 78% in 2021. Food waste is a concern of nearly two-thirds of Americans, according to the IFIC survey, and Wegmans tracks its waste and diverts safe and edible goods to food banks. Wegmans is also seeking other measures to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

Bonduelle has several sustainability initiatives across New York state specifically, including supporting local communities by providing land for community gardens as well as a beekeeping program. Jobin Poirier said all plant waste generated in production processes at New York sites is provided to farmers for animal feed or application to the land rather than being sent to a landfill.

Food manufacturers, processors and distributors also recognize the importance of sharing the message of sustainability with consumers and employees, which can come in the form of company announcements, product labels and packaging and community events and engagement. Van Auker said for Wegmans, which publishes a community impact report each year, it’s very important to share sustainability and corporate social responsibility efforts with employees and customers, in part because it takes everyone working together to make the biggest impact possible.

“Throughout our 106-year history, making a difference in every community we serve has been a big part of who we are, and we continue to strengthen and grow that commitment with a focus on efforts that will make the biggest difference for our customers, our partners and our environment,” Van Auker said, adding at Wegmans, corporate social responsibility and sustainability are “a must, for the simple fact that it’s the right thing to do for our communities, our environment and our company.”

Bonduelle also publishes an annual corporate social responsibility report each year, and strives to share its commitments, results and improvement each year, Jobin Poirier said. The French firm is also part of the United Nations Global Compact, which calls on companies to align strategies, operations and actions with a set of principles on human rights, labor, environment and other areas that advance societal objections.

Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.