Unilever United States, Nestle USA, Mars Inc. and Danone North America - who all left the GMA last year - are joining forces to create the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, which initially will focus on improving nutrition labeling and lowering carbon emissions.
Further down the line, the new alliance will expand its focus on nutrition and consumer transparency, while also advocating for improved food safety and stronger, more diverse and healthy workplaces, including supporting rural economies up and down the supply chain.
Among the new alliance’s values will be improving nutrition labeling, starting with a “comprehensive update of the definition of terms important for people, like ‘healthy,’” the group said in an announcement this morning.
FDA in late 2016 acknowledged that the rules for when companies can make “healthy” claims are out of date, and it asked stakeholders for help determining what nutrition standards need to be met to make nutrient content claims. The agency’s about face on the issue followed a run-in with KIND Snacks, which argued that equating low-fat with healthy was outdated.
The new alliance says it wants to help define ‘healthy’ based on strong science so that consumers can confidently make better choices.
Caring for the environment
The alliance also will focus on advancing climate policies that balance environmental and business needs.
One way it hopes to do this is by building into the Farm Bill policies around water conservation and quality, soil health and expanded use of renewable energy.
“The Farm Bill should leverage all available tools, including research and public-private partnerships, such as Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), to make smart investments in conservation and sustainability,” the alliance says in the announcement.
It also wants the government to explore financial incentives for companies that reduce their emissions and transition to low-carbon alternatives.
Finally, the alliance says it wants the conversation about environmental impact to be larger than just the US and to look at the issues from a global perspective, such as through the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan.
A jump start
In many ways, the alliance’s founders already have a jump start on these priorities.
For example, Mars Food recently teamed with the Partnership for a Healthier America to improve the nutritional quality of its food and increase access to dietary information as part of its global Health & Wellbeing Ambition.
Danone also worked with the Partnership for a Healthier America to reduce the sugar in its yogurts and make 75% of its products low-fat or fat-free. It also invested $3 million in nutrition education and research – a move that aligns with the new alliance’s commitment to transparency and improved nutrition.
Other companies also have reduced the sodium and sugar in their foods and made strides to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
While the founding companies have already started down this journey, they recognize that they do not have all the answers, yet. But they say they will rely on science-based evidence to continue to refine their positions and actions and help others do the same.
“As an alliance, we commit first and foremost to leading by example. Each member company has independently proven a willingness to advocate for the long-term interests of the people who farm and supply our raw materials, and people who make and consume our products,” the group notes in the announcement.
It adds: “With so many pressing food policy opportunities on the horizon, now is the time to help steer America’s food policy and our food system on a better path for long-term success.”
CSPI: This further marginalizes the GMA
Washington DC-based consumer advocacy group The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) welcomed the formation of the new alliance, adding: "The new alliance further marginalizes the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has been steadily losing members, staff, and influence.
"GMA, long a barrier to progress on nutrition, should view the alliance as yet another sign that it needs to moderate its agenda and do more to support—not undermine—consumers’ ability to eat healthfully."
The recent exodus from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has prompted a lot of soul searching as large brands took issue with its approach on everything from GMO labeling to added sugar disclosures. So will new president and CEO Geoff Freeman be able to woo the big names back - or at least convince others not to leave?
Freeman - currently president and CEO of the American Gaming Association – takes the helm on August 1, and succeeds Pamela Bailey, who is retiring after almost a decade in the role.
Freeman “has a clear understanding that perception drives policy,” said CEO search committee member and Clorox CEO Benno Dorer, while Frito-Lay president and COO Vivek Sankaran argued that he was “the best person to lead our industry’s response to the changing needs of consumers.”
Freeman told FoodNavigator-USA that he is "energized by the significant opportunity to build a compelling agenda reflective of the crucial role our industry plays in the world today."
He added he is "eager to meet with all current and past GMA members to listen to their perspective and outline my approach to achieving industry growth, delivering enhanced member value and building a unified industry. It has been my consistent experience that industries are strongest when working together."