General Mills sees success in sustainable sourcing efforts

by Eric Schroeder
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MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. is focused on increasing the sustainability of 10 priority agricultural raw materials that represent more than 50% of the Minneapolis-based company’s annual purchases.

In its “2013 Global Responsibility Report” issued April 30, General Mills said it is following a four-step sourcing model to improve the sustainability of the raw materials it uses to make its products. The company said it is currently in the “strategy formation” stage for 6 of the raw materials — corn, dairy, oats, sugar (sugar beets and sugarcane), fiber packaging and cocoa — and the “transformation” stage for 4 of the raw materials — vanilla, eggs, wheat and palm oil. All 10 of the raw materials have moved through the “assessment” stage, and all 10 are on track for the “monitoring and evaluation” stage.

General Mills is furthest along in its work in palm oil and wheat.

After committing in 2010 to source 100% of its palm oil from sustainable sources by 2015, General Mills said in the report that it is “on track to meet this commitment.”

“We are advancing our pledge by identifying and securing sources of sustainably produced palm oil in a phased approach,” the company said. “We are in the process of converting our portfolio leveraging mass balance and anticipate that by the end of fiscal 2013, 50% of our global portfolio will be using sustainably sourced palm oil. Although General Mills is a relatively minor user of palm oil, we acknowledge that responsible users of even small amounts of raw materials can impact issues via principled purchasing practices.”

General Mills also said it is at the forefront of sustainable sourcing efforts for wheat. Through a partnership with Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, General Mills is conducting a three-year pilot project studying the environmental impact of wheat production in eastern Idaho. The Idaho pilot includes 15 to 20 growers with more than 50,000 acres of land raising 6 million bus of wheat annually over the 2010, 2011 and 2012 growing seasons. The goal is to reduce the impact of wheat cultivation on the environment while maintaining or improving productivity.

Earlier this year, the growers gathered to share results and insights about how their operations compare to others in the region, across the state and nationally. The next step, General Mills said, is to expand the Field to Market approach beyond wheat to potatoes and sugar beets. The company hopes to begin meeting customer requests for sustainable wheat beginning in 2014.

General Mills also is in the “transformation” stage for eggs and vanilla. To encourage the development of alternative production methods in the United States, General Mills purchased 1 million eggs from cage-free hens for its U.S. retail operations in 2012. In 2013, the company expects to source 100% free-range eggs for all Haagen-Dazs products produced in Europe.

Limited yields due to recurring crop disease, weather disruptions, price volatility and limited market access are barriers to a sufficient supply of sustainably sourced vanilla, General Mills said. The company is pursuing a two-pronged approach to address the issues: working with smallholder vanilla growers in Madagascar (the world’s largest producer of vanilla) and supporting vanilla genome research to improve the crop’s disease resistance.

General Mills noted in the report that it is in the early “strategy formation” stage for dairy, oats, sugar, fiber packaging and cocoa.

In cocoa, the company said it is exploring opportunities to help generate better sources of cocoa, improve sustainability, and foster greater economic vitality for cocoa growing communities and individual farmers. Meanwhile, General Mills said it is using its membership in the Consumer Goods Forum to help it determine the best approach for sustainable sourcing of fiber-based packaging, including managing the role of fiber packaging in helping to reduce global deforestation.

General Mills’ efforts with oats extend to Canada, where the company is helping to launch the Western Canada Sustainability Pilot in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The objective of the initiative is to boost the yield improvement and disease resistance of future oat crops, thus improving the sustainability of oats, the company noted.

In sugar, General Mills is pursuing the launch of a sugar beet pilot in the Red River valley of Minnesota and North Dakota.

General Mills said it supports efforts to establish a dairy sustainability framework for measuring the impact of dairy production from cows to consumers, and it also supports the Field to Market pilot led by industry partners to advance sustainable sourcing of corn and soybeans.

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