All ‘Good’ at ConAgra
by Eric Schroeder
Citizenship was one of five primary elements set forth by ConAgra Foods, Inc. as part of its five-year “Recipe for growth” strategy launched in 2011. The company’s goal is to become more innovative, more collaborative and more competitive in the marketplace. Within the citizenship program ConAgra has identified three “planks” that articulate its values: Good for you, Good for the Community and Good for the Planet.
While the company has made steady progress in the areas of community and planet, it is the strides in “Good for you” that stand out for the food and beverage industry. Specifically, ConAgra has homed in on three areas: health and nutrition; food safety and quality; and consumer communication.
“We want nothing more than to make safe, delicious and nutritious foods while providing the information you need to make choices for a healthy lifestyle,” ConAgra noted in its 2013 Citizenship Report issued Oct. 3.
Health and nutrition
In order to deliver on health and nutrition, ConAgra knows there are risks it must confront.
“Health care issues facing the population have increased the need to help consumers balance their desire to maintain or improve the nutrition profile of their overall diet with their food and taste preferences, busy lifestyles and household budgets,” the company said. “If the food we make fails to keep pace with the interplay of these priorities, our business performance may be negatively impacted.”
With the risks come opportunity, though, and ConAgra said it is looking to establish a competitive advantage in the marketplace by integrating knowledge of consumer insights with nutrition science to make informed decisions about how to diversify its portfolio of foods to address the changing dynamics among nutrition, taste, cost and convenience.
The company’s approach to nutrition and health focuses on three broad areas: portion and calorie control, dietary variety and heart health. In fiscal 2013, ConAgra said more than 60% of its branded consumer foods fit within at least one of the aforementioned focus areas.
ConAgra said 90% of its single-serve meals and entrees across brands, including Healthy Choice, Banquet, Marie Callender’s, Bertolli, Kid Cuisine and Chef Boyardee have 450 or fewer calories. The company also offers more than 120 different sizes and varieties of snacks in portion-controlled single servings with 150 or fewer calories across its Snack Pack, Swiss Miss, Slim Jim, Andy Capp’s, Kangaroo Pita Chips and HK Anderson brands.
“There are numerous changes people could make to eat a more ideal diet,” said Mark Andon, Ph.D., vice-president of nutrition for ConAgra. “However, the one simple thing the majority of us can do to become healthier and feel better is cut back a little bit on the amount of calories we eat. ConAgra Foods has a wide range of foods across many aisles of the grocery store to help consumers do this.”
Dietary variety also plays a role in eating well. According to data from the Advisory Committee Report on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, consumers are only getting about 20% of the recommended intake of whole grains, 50% of the recommended intake of beans, 64% of vegetables and 83% of nuts and seeds. To assist consumers, ConAgra said it offers more than 350 different varieties and sizes of foods to help consumers enjoy a more varied diet. In fiscal 2013, ConAgra said it introduced 15 new foods that focus on dietary variety, including several launches under the David Seeds brand and three varieties of potato side dishes under the Alexia brand.
ConAgra also introduced 15 new foods in fiscal 2013 that fit the “heart health” focus. In total, the company said it offers more than 200 varieties and sizes of foods that meet the federal government’s standards for promoting heart health.
ConAgra singled out Alexia’s Sweet Potato Julienne Fries, which in fiscal 2013 received heart-healthy certification and now carry the American Heart Association Heart-Check symbol for meeting criteria that limits fat, saturated and trans-fats, cholesterol and sodium, and includes a beneficial nutrient such as vitamin A.
Food safety and quality
All food companies face the risk of product recalls, which may result in financial and reputational losses. ConAgra is no different. However, the company feels it is positioned to limit the risk by achieving Global Food Safety Initiative (G.F.S.I.) certification at its manufacturing facilities and influencing third parties in its supply chain to do the same.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and purity of our food,” Gary Rodkin, chief executive officer, stated in the 2013 Citizenship Report.
To help manage risk, ConAgra has operated a Food Safety Council since 2007. The council is comprised of people outside the company known for their expertise in a variety of food safety areas. The group provides advice on strengthening ConAgra’s food safety program, gaining insights into emerging food safety issues and investing in food safety technology innovations.
Additionally, ConAgra was one of the first U.S. companies to adopt the Safe Quality Food Institute (S.Q.F.I.) program and has been S.Q.F.I.-certified every year since 2008.
Two areas of food safety and quality that have been in the spotlight recently are biotechnology and gluten-free.
“The use of biotechnology is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to keep our food affordable, accessible and safe, and helps us continue to provide a high quality of food to our consumers,” ConAgra noted in the report. “We understand the field of food biotechnology is constantly shifting as advancements are made in the world of science. We will continue to reevaluate our internal policies, relying heavily on evolving science, consumer and customer expectations, and regulatory decisions. Ultimately, consumers will decide what is acceptable in the marketplace based on the best science and public information available.”
Meanwhile, ConAgra said it has “stayed on top” of the approval process for the F.D.A.’s rule on gluten-free claims.
“When the F.D.A. finalized its gluten-free rule on Aug. 5, 2013, the attentiveness of the ConAgra Foods approach meant that all of our foods bearing gluten-free claims already were in full compliance with the rule,” the company said.
The final focus area of the “Good for you” strategy revolves around product labeling. Inherent risks include the possibility that inaccurate information may erode trust, is costly to correct and may have a negative impact on both short-term and long-term business performance. By focusing on continual improvement of the systems to perform food labeling, ConAgra believes it can increase the quality, efficiency and accuracy of its food labeling information.
In September 2012, ConAgra phased in new uniform nutrition criteria set forth by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative of the Council of Better Business Bureaus — a full year ahead of the Dec. 31, 2013, effective date. The criteria required ConAgra to improve the nutritional composition of certain foods currently marketed to children under 12 years of age. Products such as Chef Boyardee canned pastas have been reformulated to meet more stringent criteria around sodium content and added sugar.