As part of Gerber’s Climate Forward ambition, the company is undertaking “unprecedented research” in which demonstration farms, managed by the Rodale Institute and Michigan State University, will compare the impact of regenerative and traditional farming techniques on soil health, biodiversity and the potential for nutritional benefits, Emily Johannes, Gerber’s senior manager of sustainable sourcing, told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained that beyond the research farms, Gerber is working with suppliers to encourage the adoption and documentation of regenerative farming practices through a process that will be overseen and verified by Sustainable Environmental Consultants’ EcoPractices platform, which will enable the company to evaluate the impact of regenerative agriculture on soil, the environment and nutrition at a larger scale.
“We’re also assessing the environmental impact of our new product innovations, and introducing more products with plant-based protein across the baby food portfolio” to further reduce and eliminate carbon emissions, Johannes added.
“We feel that plant-based products are a part of that equation and this actually links up to Nestle’s overall Net Zero Roadmap, which we published in December 2020, and includes an ambition to expand plant-based offerings to help address the Net Zero goals and carbon emission reduction goals,” Johannes explained.
While Gerber recognizes the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans note it can be challenging for very young children to meet all of their nutrient needs with a vegan or completely plant-based diet, and recommends that parents considering this diet work with their pediatricians, it adds that plant-based foods such as beans, peas, lentils and whole grains are nutrient-dense foods and “great choices for all young children because they add diversity and key nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals to the diet.”
A broad ambition
She added these initiatives are only a small part of Gerber’s larger commitment to make its baby food portfolio carbon neutral by 2035, beginning with its Organic portfolio and Natural pouches and glass jars, which are set to be carbon neutral next year.
“We created a variety of workstreams within this ambition to help us achieve our goals. The first of which is creating the research farms,” and developing more plant-based options, but other components include reducing emissions from manufacturing and packaging, Johannes said.
For example, she said, “within our own manufacturing and distribution facilities, we’re optimizing our energy use and sourcing 100% renewable electricity by 2025 because we want to open action within our four walls.”
In addition, she said, “we’re progressing with our ambition to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and continuing to reduce or eliminate unnecessary packaging material wherever we can.”
This includes developing and expanding the use of additional packaging formats that use more recycled plastics and reduce Gerber’s dependence on virgin plastics, Johannes said.
She explained this builds upon Gerber’s launch last summer of its IncrediPouch – a first-of-its-kind, single-material baby food pouch developed in response to some local municipal waste stream managers’ struggles to breakdown multilayer pouches, which are a popular format for baby food.
The last component of today’s announcement was a promise to plant one million trees with the National Forest Foundation and One Tree Planted in US National Forests across 10 states, Johannes said.
How do consumers prioritize sustainability?
Gerber’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and more sustainably produce products are “founded on the ambition to give babies the best start in life,” which is why Johannes says “our work doesn’t really stop just at the nutrition, but expands to our actions to protect the planet as well so that babies can grow and thrive for generations to come.”
She explained that Gerber knows parents and caregivers have a lot of priorities to balance and that historically sustainability may not have factored high on the list when selecting food or immediately caring for their children.
But, she said, the climate increasingly is in the news and is becoming a higher priority for families.
“Moms and families are seeing or maybe even experiencing some of the weather conditions and wildfires that are happening, so we want to make sure we’re bringing a message of stewardship for the planet to our consumers and share with them what we’re doing as a brand to address climate change,” Johannes said.
To do that, she said, Gerber will promote today’s commitment to become carbon neutral and its other efforts under its Climate Forward Ambition across social media, its websites and through packaging so that caregivers can learn more about the brand’s sustainability efforts anywhere they go for nutritional information and support.
Johannes explained: “We know this can be kind of a complicated topic, and we want to make sure that we’re reaching consumers in any way we can to share what’s happening and what we’re doing with this commitment … so they will be able to see where Gerber stands.”