According to a Nielsen report published at the tail end of last year, a whopping 81% of consumers globally feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. However, this could be anything from using recyclable packaging to responsible sourcing to improving social governance.
Further complicating the issue is additional pressure from retailers and investors to improve sustainability in order to secure a spot on store shelves or protect against supply chain challenges that could threaten long-term production.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, we take a closer look at how the Campbell Soup Co. and Land O’ Lakes are working together to successfully navigate these issues all the way from the farm to the fork. Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture at Campbell Soup Co., Matt Carstens, senior vice president of Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain program, share sustainability successes the two companies have achieved working together over the past year, as well as lingering challenges that data-focused tools, such as Land O’ Lakes’ Truterra Insights Engine are striving to address.
Shining a light on complex supply chains to identify opportunities
For Campbell, Sonke explains, improving the sustainability of its products and being able to communicate to retailers, shoppers and its investors how it sources its ingredients are core to its mission to provide “Real food that matters for life’s moments.”
“We believe that our purpose reflects the trust that people place in us to provide them with food and drink that is good, it is honest, it is authentic and flavorful and we clearly hear from consumers that they want that,” he said, adding, “we define real food as having roots – meaning it is recognizable, it is made from desirable ingredients, it is prepared from these ingredients with care, it is ethically sourced, it is produced in a sustainable practice and it is accessible for everyone.”
Beyond meeting the company’s mission statement, the push towards sustainability is an attempt to answer retailers’ calls for products the meet sustainability metrics and investors who want to know that the company’s supply chain is safeguarded against threats such as from climate change, he said.
Like other CPG companies, The Campbell Soup Co. has been aggressively improving the sustainability of its products and supply chain for years – and as Sonke notes, it has made significant strides, such as in an example of how it sources tomatoes.
But Sonke also notes not all supply chains are as straight forward as when a manufacturer can source fruits or vegetables direct from farmers. Sometimes an ingredient comes from an aggregator, which offers a lot of benefits, but can also obscure the full supply chain. In cases like this, Sonke says partnering with Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain and advisors who already work with and are trusted by farmers can help shed light on otherwise opaque farming systems.
Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain program provides key data for change
Land O’ Lakes launched its Sustain program about three years ago to improve the sustainability of agriculture by forging new ‘farm to fork’ partnerships between farmers, manufacturers like Campbell, and “trusted advisors,” such as the ag retailers where farmers go to buy their inputs and get advice on technology that will improve their productions. In addition, the program offers a suite of tools that seek to empower farmers by helping them collect the data they need to balance emerging environmental demands with longstanding economic realities. As Carstens explains, one of the key tools used by the farmers working with Campbell through Land O’ Lake’s Sustain program is the new Truterra Insights Engine.
“Our Truterra Insights Engine is a tool that was developed really from what I can see on two fronts – first and foremost in helping farmers balance economics with the environment and that that on a field by field and even acre by acre basis at scale,” Carstens said.
By aggregating that data, farmers can improve their sustainability and manufacturers like Campbell’s end up with relatable stories to share directly with consumers, he added.
As Sonke explains, the story of the Rose family farm is an example of one such story uncovered through the use of the Truterra Insights Engine and a partnership forged by Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain between Campbell and The Mill, which serves as a farmer advisor within the Sustain program. This story about a multi-generational farm providing wheat to Campbell is being shared across social media to help consumers better understand where their food comes from.
Sonke said another example uncovered by pilot program that has already helped Campbell is by shining a light on how farmers use fertilizer more efficiently.
The power of numbers
Beyond these examples, Sonke said the value for Campbell of the partnership with Land O’ Lakes Sustain program is the benchmarking that was the main focus of the first year of the pilot and the foundation it will lay for incremental improvements over the coming years.
“One challenge that I often talk about in my role as sustainable agriculture director is a lot of folks who aren’t familiar with agriculture,” may not realize that “agriculture involves annual cycles that are heavily affected by weather, that are affected by global markets that influence what farmers plant” and many other variables which means change and impact will be incremental and build slowly, he said.
Managing unrealistic expectations is a challenge with which Land O’ Lakes also grapples, and which Carstens says Sustain seeks to manage in part by gathering quantifiable metrics.
Despite these and other lingering challenges, the early results from the pilot partnership between Campbell and Land O’ Lakes’ is a promising approach to improving sustainability and transparency. For listeners who are interested in learning more about the pilot program or how the Sustain program might help them improve sustainability in their supply chain, Carstens encourages them to reach out, noting that that both companies are more than happy to share their journey.