Since cocoa is not produced domestically, tracing its sources can be difficult.

KANSAS CITY — Concerns over sustainability are forcing food manufacturers to carefully pick and choose which ingredients make it into their products. According to the Packaged Facts’ report Nutritional Labeling and Clean Label Trends, 65% of Americans are interested in the history of their food.

However, ingredient verification becomes much harder for formulators as definitions and standards for “sustainable” can range from environmental impacts to workforce treatment. 

Companies such General Mills and the Kellogg Co. are hoping to stay transparent with consumers by releasing reports and data that address a range of sustainability issues and outlines goals for the future. 

Amy Braun Senter, director of sustainability, Kellogg Company, works with suppliers to find sustainably sourced palm oil.

For example, the Kellogg Co. has been working since 2009 with partners from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to use palm oil that is sourced from RSPO-certified supply chains, a combination of segregated supply chains and mass balance mixed-source supply chains and through the purchase of RSPO Palm Trace certificates, said Amy Braun Senter, director of sustainability, Kellogg Co.

The company also shares its progress biannually through its Palm Oil Milestones Report, which highlights key data about its suppliers, such as AAK, ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Sime Darby, and their policies for sourcing. 

“We not only work on traceability but identifying and addressing issues as they arise,” Ms. Braun Senter said. 

This level of transparency allows Kellogg Co. to build consumer confidence in an area where skepticism about packaged foods is on the rise.  

In General Mills’ 2017 Global Responsibility report, the company focused on three strategies in hopes of creating a transparent supply chain: origin-direct investment, continuous improvement and verification. 

Origin-direct investment aims to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers that produce some of its ingredients while also advancing ingredient quality. Continuous improvement focuses on reducing the environmental impacts of commodities being used in products. Verification entails the increased use of sustainable ingredients purchased from certified suppliers or conducting independent verification in high-risk regions when necessary.

As of 2016, 36% of the wheat General Mills used in products met the company’s standards for sustainability. Working with suppliers such as ADM and its network of North Dakota farmers, the company has committed to sourcing 100% of its U.S. wheat from regions that demonstrate continuous improvement by 2020.

ADM works independently and with industry partners to improve the quality of crops in the global supply chain, the lives of farmers, communities and the environment. 

General Mills' Global Responsibility report addresses supply chain goals for the company.

“We are vigilant and committed to lowering our sourcing risks globally,” said Alison Taylor, ADM chief sustainability officer. “ADM supports a wide variety of technologies that can help farmers do more with less. Our vertical integration distinguishes ADM and affords us the opportunity to develop systems that track and preserve crop identity from seed to factory to finished product.”

Through origin-direct investment, General Mills also seeks to economically enrich small farming operations in West Africa and Madagascar by working with suppliers that adhere to its Supplier Code of Conduct. Working with companies that follow its guidelines and programs has allowed General Mills to directly address systemic challenges such as deforestation and the use of child labor on farms. Beginning in 2017, the company now sustainably sources all its cocoa powder and has plans to transition an additional 25% of its chocolate onto sustainable sourcing programs.

Ingredient suppliers are also feeling the pressure to remain transparent. For example, DuPont shares ethical audit information as a member of Sedex. A nonprofit organization, Sedex offers a collaborative platform that stores and reports supply chain data on labor rights, health and safety, the environment and business ethics from more than 43,000 members in more than 150 countries. 

“Our plan is to ensure that at least 100 of our key suppliers join us on Sedex and have completed self-assessments by 2020,” said Mikkel Thrane, sustainability leader, DuPont Nutrition & Health. 

Working with companies that self-report data such as this can alleviate any questions bakers may have about how their ingredients are being produced.

“Everyone has an important role to play to ensure traceability and sustainability throughout the supply chain by selecting ethical suppliers,” said Mr. Thrane. “Food safety and sustainability need to be addressed in a lifecycle perspective to be efficient, and the chain is no stronger than the weakest link.”