Decision to go green affecting bakery sales

by Nico Roesler
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Wheat Montana ­exclusively grows La Brea Bakery’s heirloom grains in the Big Sky region of Montana.

In today’s political climate, regulations and policies on environmental issues seem to come and go with every election cycle. But elections can’t stop the wave of consumer support for companies that adopt sustainable initiatives. People continue to vote with their dollars for products and brands that think about — and act on — their effect on the environment.

Focusing on sustainability is important not only because of the effects on sourcing, pollution and energy use but also because of the business implications.

“Consumers are pushing the industry to be more sustainable and thoughtful in business practices,” said Ahmad Hamade, chief executive officer of CraftMark Bakery, Indianapolis. “They drive change through their pocketbooks.”

Baking and snack companies are weathering all sorts of changes in the political and social environment. And sustainability has become a hot topic at many industry conferences. During a panel at the BEMA Summit earlier this year, Tracie Sheehan, chief health, quality and sustainability officer for Aryzta, Los Angeles, joined Sravani Janga, project engineer — environmental global engineering, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J.; and Elysa Hammond, director, environmental stewardship at Clif Bar & Company, Emeryville, Calif., to discuss sustainability. Ms. Sheehan stressed that the core objective of sustainable practice is that it must be attainable.

“You want to make sure you are establishing goals that are achievable on a year’s basis — not just something that’s way out there,” she said.

The use of motion-sensor LED lights can dramatically reduce energy usage.

“Sustainability” as a buzzword will likely permeate conversations in 2018. The theme at the American Society of Baking’s (A.S.B.) BakingTech conference, to be held Feb. 25-27 in Chicago, is “Sustainability — Success Through People, Products and Productivity.” The term can include several aspects of business, whether it’s creating a culture that attracts and retains employees longer to reduce turnover, reducing energy usage and water to save on utility costs, or refining the production process to create better efficiency. Baking companies must focus on sustainability in today’s market because consumers are making purchasing decisions based on it.

“Sustainability is a focus for us because it is the right approach to improve the health of our planet, and it helps us manage our business costs as we spend less money on electricity, gas, water and waste,” Ms. Sheehan said. “Furthermore, listening to our customers and consumers is good for business, and we value their feedback.”

Rasma Zvaners, vice-president of regulatory and technical services at the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.), said consumers are asking companies questions like: “Do your ingredients come from growers using sustainable agriculture practices?” “Where are your ingredients sourced from?” “Are ethical work practices being used by your growers abroad?” “Is your company aiming to use fewer natural resources, recycle packaging and explore energy initiatives?”

Ms. Zvaners serves as the policy director for the A.B.A.’s “Nourish. Enrich. Sustain.” program. Its mission is to support continuous improvement of collective sustainability practices to minimize the environmental footprint, while also helping the industry achieve business goals.

When consumers and, in many cases, retailers, began inquiries about sustainability initiatives a decade ago, some thought it was a short-lived trend.

“It was not,” Ms. Zvaners said.

Ms. Sheehan said Aryzta shareholders are asking about sustainability programs and basing their decisions to purchase on published data, which makes sustainability a business imperative. The impetus to convert Aryzta’s Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery bread to Non-GMO Project verification was driven by Americans requesting non-G.M.O. ingredients in artisan baked foods. The company also launched the La Brea Bakery Reserve line, which brings farm-to-table artisan bread to consumers that are sourced from heirloom grains grown exclusively in the Big Sky region of Montana.

“The Fortuna wheat used in La Brea Bakery Reserve is grown for flavor, not for yield, and incorporates responsible growing practices such as crop rotation, promotion of wheat diversity and no-till farming,” Ms. Sheehan said. “We are proud to be the first national farm-to-table bread in North America, promoting sustainability, integrity, and traceability in our supply chain.”

A survey commissioned by Unilever this year looked at how a brand’s social or environmental impact plays a role in consumers’ purchasing decisions. The survey of 20,000 adults living in the United Kingdom, United States, India, Brazil and Turkey found that 33% of respondents said they choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

“This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses,” said Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer for Unilever. “In fact, it has become an imperative. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.”

Instead, he added, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.

The survey noted that 21% of respondents would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. Unilever also found purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging economies than in developed markets. While 53% of shoppers in the U.K. and 78% in the United States said they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.

Sustainability is clearly a key to not only domestic but also international growth.
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