Leading executives pledge to increase sustainable food production

by Eric Schroeder
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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Top executives from many of the world’s largest food and beverage companies gathered recently in Bentonville for Wal-Mart’s inaugural Sustainable Product Expo. The three-day event was held to highlight several initiatives to further expand access to sustainable products and create more transparency in the supply chain.

“Wal-Mart and our suppliers recognize that collaboration is the key to bringing sustainable solutions to all of our customers,” said Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “A great deal of innovative work is happening every day, but there are still too many gaps and missed opportunities. Today’s commitments are about creating real systems change from one end of the supply chain to the other — meaning how products are grown and made, how they’re transported and sold, and how we touch the lives of people along the way.”

Among the food and beverage companies represented at the event were executives from Campbell Soup Co., Cargill, The Coca-Cola Co., General Mills, Inc., Kellogg Co., Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., Monsanto, PepsiCo, Inc., and Unilever.

Kendall Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills, said the Minneapolis-based company will work with Wal-Mart to bolster the work of Field to Market, a non-profit organization dedicated to working across the agriculture supply chain to address the food demands of the rapidly growing population, while conserving resources. The companies jointly committed to more than doubling the acreage enrolled in the Field to Market initiative to 2.5 million acres by 2015 and agreed to co-sponsor an innovation challenge for the innovators and farmers who demonstrate the most promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in nitrogen management.

“General Mills recognizes the importance of collaborating with others to address global challenges and pursue solutions to sustainability priorities,” Powell said. “We share Wal-Mart’s strong commitment to environmental stewardship and are pleased to announce our collaboration to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture — which will improve the economic vitality of agricultural communities, increase productivity and protect the environment for future generations.”

Kellogg Co., meanwhile, has agreed to collaborate with Wal-Mart to support the livelihoods of rice growers and sustainable rice growing practices around the world. Specifically, Kellogg pledged to further support rice growers and rice growing communities to help smallholder rice growers advance their practices, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The company also committed to promoting and supporting initiatives with producers in every country in which Kellogg sources rice globally, that will, by 2020, lead to a 25 percent increase in the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture practices.

“As a grains-based company, we have a commitment both to the environment and to the people who grow those crops,” said John Bryant, CEO and president of Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. “We are pleased to partner with Wal-Mart in support of rice growers and rice growing communities around the world.”

He continued, “Because rice is one of our largest ingredient purchases — used for Rice Krispies and Special K worldwide — it’s appropriate that our new partnership with Wal-Mart focuses on supporting smallholder rice growers as they work to improve their methods — and with that their yields and livelihoods as well.”

Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Green Mountain, PepsiCo and Unilever were among the companies joining forces with Wal-Mart in a new recycling commitment. Called the “Closed Loop Fund,” the initiative will help finance projects that increase recycling, Wal-Mart said.

“The aspirational goal is to divert valuable raw materials from landfill by helping to provide 100 percent of US consumers with access to recycling where and when they need it,” Wal-Mart said. “We are calling the rest of our peers and competitors to join us on this journey. We will be announcing full commitments in the coming months.”

Also during the Sustainability Product Expo, Wal-Mart previewed plans to create a sustainability store on www.walmart.com. The shopping portal, expected to launch by the end of 2014, will allow customers to easily identify brands that are leading sustainability within a category via a special icon.

“No one should have to choose between products that are sustainable and products they can afford,” said Manuel Gomez, vice president of sustainability for Wal-Mart. “We want to make sustainability easy by taking the guesswork out of values-based shopping. Accessibility and transparency really put the customer in the driver’s seat.”

The new on-line tool for customers and other initiatives to drive sustainability across the supply chain are based on metrics from the Sustainability Index.
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