General Mills: 'Regenerative agriculture is the most promising solution to reach our climate goals'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Annie's
Photo Credit: Annie's

Related tags General mills Sustainability regenerative agriculture

As the largest natural and organic packaged food company in the US*, General Mills has the scale and resources to drive positive change in the food system through its work in regenerative agriculture, sustainable ingredient sourcing, and nutrition access. So how much has the company moved the needle in these areas?

In its 2022 Global Responsibility Report​ which tracks the company’s social and environmental goals in 2021 fiscal year ending May 30, 2021, General Mills shared key progress made in several areas including 115,000 acres of land enrolled in the company’s regenerative agriculture program, 89% of the company’s total global packaging being recyclable, $318m spent diversifying suppliers to include more minority women, veteran, disability, and LGBTQ+-owned businesses, and more progress made towards sustainable ingredient sourcing.

“We’re investing beyond our supply chain and working in key areas where we source our ingredients to drive meaningful impact. We believe regenerative agriculture is the most promising solution to reach our climate goals and create positive planet outcomes, and we’re committed to further advancing this work,”​ said Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and global impact officer, General Mills.

*included food for both humans and pets. Source: SPINS 52 week ended 12/26/2021 – US MULO, Natural Enhanced Channel and Pet Channel

‘Regenerative agriculture is the biggest lever in reducing our climate impact’

Addressing the decline in soil health and land management practices, General Mills made a commitment in 2019 to convert 1 million acres of land to regenerative agricultural practices by 2030 (representing 25-35% of its global ingredient sourcing footprint).

So far, 115,000 acres of US farm land (split between row crops and acres of dairy farmland) has enrolled into the company’s various regenerative agriculture land management pilot programs.

“We’re energized by the level of farmer interest in our regenerative agriculture pilot and are building momentum as we learn from these early rollouts,”​ General Mills stated in its report.

“We believe regenerative agriculture is the biggest lever in reducing our climate impact, so we are piloting a range of strategies for accelerating farmer adoption of regenerative agriculture in key sourcing regions.”

The company has also invested in measurement technologies to be able to assess its impact and progress around agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions to reach a 30% absolute reduction in GHG emissions across the company’s entire value chain by 2030 and reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. General Mills reported a 16% reduction in its GHG emissions footprint in 2020 compared to 2010.

Efforts to advance the use of regenerative agriculture also offers marketing opportunities for General Mills' portfolio of brands including Annie’s, EPIC meat snacks, and Cascadian Farms, which are using on-pack call-outs detailing their use of ingredients grown using regenerative agricultural practices.

"We know that our consumers care about where and how the ingredients in their food are grown. As we continue our journey to communicate and establish the importance of regenerative agriculture to consumers, on-pack messaging is a powerful way for us to introduce commitments, progress, and the farmers with whom we are partnering in this journey,"​ said the company. 

Sustainable packaging and ingredient sourcing

General Mills reported that a large majority (89%) of its packaging is now recyclable as it aims to make 100% of its packaging used across its more than 100 consumer brands recyclable or reusable by 2030.

The company said it is actively partnering with third-party suppliers of recyclable packaging to launch innovative solutions and reduce or eliminate packaging materials such as primary and secondary film.

“Given the many different types of packaging in our products, innovation in this space requires significant time, investment, and collaboration,”​ said General Mills.

When it comes to ingredients, General Mills achieved its 2013 goal of sustainably sourcing its 10 priority ingredients (e.g. cocoa, corn, vanilla, dairy), but said that more work is needed to manage the social, economic, and environmental impacts around its ingredients, which come from all parts of the world.

“Through the results of our sustainable sourcing work, we learned that we need to take a holistic approach to regenerating ecosystems and advancing human rights in order to more fully actualize opportunities that catalyze change. This begins with understanding how systems – such as climate, agriculture, water, biodiversity, and farming communities – are all interconnected and how we as a company can positively impact each,”​ the company’s report stated.

Nutrition-Forward Foods

As a global producer of natural and organic foods, a fundamental underlying goal for the company is to expand access and availability of nutrient-dense packaged foods or what General Mills refers to as ‘Nutrition-Forward Foods’ which contain increased positive nutrients such as whole grain, fiber, iron, and a reduction of less-desirable ingredients such as sodium and sugar.

Nutrition-Forward Foods criteria varies by category. For instance, whole grain cereal products must contain 8g of whole grains per labeled serving (which 99% of the company’s cereal portfolio currently meets) while snack bars must provide at least 8g of whole grains per serving or a ½ serving of nuts or seeds (which 75% of its current snack bar portfolio meets).

At the end of fiscal year 2021, 41% of General Mills' global volume of products met the company’s criteria of Nutrition-Forward Foods.

“Our expansive and diverse portfolio offers a delicious variety of nutrient-dense products from every food group to help support consumers in building healthy eating habits,”​ reported General Mills. 

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