KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become a goal spanning the entire food and beverage supply chain. Retailers, multinational food companies and ingredient suppliers have set objectives. The US Securities and Exchange Commission may act on the issue, and millions of consumers expect industry to have sustainability plans that include reducing GHG emissions.

Ingredient sourcing will play a pivotal role in reaching goals. Pulses, besides offering plant protein, cut down on GHG emissions. The choice of sweeteners factors in as well, and ingredients sourced closer to manufacturing sites will reduce the amount of fuel needed to transport inputs.

Potential SEC action

The SEC on March 21 proposed rule changes that would require registrants to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports. The disclosures would include information about direct GHG emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2). Scope 3 involves GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain. If a registrant had set goals for Scope 3 reductions, the registrant would be required to disclose those GHG emissions.

At least 19 food retailers worldwide have committed to reducing their GHG emissions, according to a Rabobank report released in April. They include Tesco, Walmart, Target, Aldi and Ahold Delhaize. Some have set both a long-term target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, which means the total GHG emissions from the company are equal to or less than the emissions it removes from the environment, as well as a short-term target of a 25% or a 30% reduction by 2025 or 2030.

Consumers are taking note. A survey from Garden of Life, a supplement company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, US, found 82% of Americans said they consider a company’s environmental record and sustainability when choosing which products to purchase. In the survey conducted Jan. 26-30 and involving 1,000 US adults over age 18, 48% ranked food and nutrition products as most important, ahead of second-place household products at 28%. By age group, 93% of Gen Z consumers and 89% of millennials said they considered a company’s environmental record and sustainability practices when choosing products. The percentages were 79% for Gen X and 76% for baby boomers.

Retailers could be more aware how important sustainability is to consumers. A report from Pittsburgh-based First Insight unveiled in January found 68% of consumers said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products, but 34% of retailers said they believed consumers were willing to pay more.

Ingredient suppliers are aware. Their food company customers are requesting it.

“At the beginning of our customers’ GHG reduction journeys, they were first looking internally at their own emissions and the steps they could take to reduce them,” said Michelle French, director, global sustainability programs for Chicago, Illinois, US-based ADM. “Then, supply chain emissions were taken into consideration to reach wider reduction targets. Today, many of our customers are making bold net zero by 2050, or even 2040, goals. We also see terms like ‘climate smart agriculture’ and ‘climate smart commodities’ becoming nomenclature as the buzz around GHG emission reductions continues to increase.”

ADM has set up a Strive35 plan in which the company aims to reduce absolute GHG emissions from facilities and vehicles (Scope 1) and from ADM’s use of electricity from the grid (Scope 2) by 25% against a 2019 baseline. The Scope 3 goal is to reduce absolute GHG emissions by 25% by 2035.

“Regenerative agriculture practices, such as the use of cover crops and reduced fertilizer input, can help soybeans and wheat at the farm gate reach a negative carbon emission factor due to both reduced emissions and carbon sequestration in the soil,” French said. “Further reductions in transportation and processing can enable lower carbon intensity at the product level.”

She added nutrient management helps in reducing soil erosion, nutrient run-off and GHG emissions. ADM is a member of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and works with partner companies in the program.

“With a multitude of grower touch points, we’re pushing the industry toward more carbon neutral ingredients, in-field changes and education, and ultimately greater GHG emission reductions,” French said.

Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, New York, US, aims to lower carbon emissions by 25% by 2025, said Lauren Genovese, sustainability manager. Since 2016 the company has reduced carbon emissions intensity by 19% and removed over 35,000 tonnes of carbon from the environment.

“Scope 3 emissions associated with upstream ingredient inputs often accounts for a significant portion of a company’s total GHG footprint, but the inputs would vary depending on the type of company,” Genovese said.

She added, “Environmental and social responsibility are a table stake of doing business. Consumers are voting with their dollar, and, millennials and Gen Zers in particular, are seeking out those brands that align with their personal value set. Customers are expanding their plant-based offerings and creating climate-smart menus.”

Cargill, Minneapolis, Minnesota, US, has committed to reducing GHG emissions in its global supply chain by 30% per ton of product sold by 2030 and to reduce the absolute GHG emissions in the company’s operations by 10% by 2025 against a 2017 baseline, said Gurneesh Bhandal, sustainability lead for Cargill.

“EverSweet stevia sweetener is a great example of an ingredient that can help companies reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “It’s produced via fermentation, a process that allows us to access the best-tasting part of the stevia leaf, Reb M and Reb D, in an affordable, scalable and sustainable way.”

Cargill in 2021 conducted a life cycle analysis of quantify then environmental impacts of EverSweet when compared to leaf-based Reb A, leaf-based Reb M, Reb M produced through bioconversion, beet sugar and cane sugar.

“When compared to bio-converted Reb M, the LCA found EverSweet produces a 60% lower carbon footprint and requires 70% less land,” Bhandal said. “When we consider its overall impact, we found EverSweet results in a 60% lower ecological footprint, delivering additional benefits related to land use, including biodiversity, ecosystems impact and the reduced need for water for irrigation.

“These reductions result in meaningful environmental benefits. The greenhouse gas emissions saved by using just one ton of EverSweet (enough to sweeten 7.5 million cans of 2-ounce soda) is equivalent to 311,000 miles driven by the average passenger car or charging more than 15 million smartphones, when compared to bio-converted Reb M.”

EverSweet is a product of Avansya, a joint venture of Cargill and DSM.

The maple industry always has been aware of how climate change affects the crop, said Arnold Coombs, executive director of sales and marketing for Bascom Maple Farms, Alstead, New Hampshire, US.

“Because maple is so weather dependent, we are always looking for ways to reduce our GHG emissions,” he said. “Using reverse osmosis machines we can reduce our oil consumption by over 70%. We are installing solar panels this year to cover the majority of our electrical use.”

Pulses to power the soil

Benefits of pulses include increased soil organic carbon levels as well as reduced fertilizer inputs, which leads to reduced GHG emissions, according to Pulse Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Pulse Canada engaged the Priority Research for Integrated Sustainability Management (PRISM) Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan to report life cycle analysis for Canadian peas and lentils. Six hundred Canadian pea and lentil farmers were surveyed. Peas had the best score at 0.44 kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalents (kgCO2) per 100 grams of protein. Other pulses were at 0.84 kilogram.

Protein sources are higher, with eggs around 5 kilograms, cheese over 10 and beef at about 50, according to the Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC, US.

Several ways exist to identify ingredients that have a lower GHG footprint compared to other options, said Andrew Utterback, senior manager, sustainability for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Illinois, US.

“First is to investigate the supply chain,” he said. “Are the raw materials grown close to the manufacturing site and is the manufacturing site close to the customer’s facility? Second, look at the ingredients themselves. Are there options available that take less energy or processing to produce (such as a clean label starch versus a more modified version)? Are there available ingredients where functionality can be achieved with less volume of the product or ingredients that reduce processing time or increase shelf life, which can reduce food waste?”

Ingredion aims for a 25% carbon reduction, based on a 2019 baseline, by 2030, for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.

Reducing GHG emissions is why EverGrain Ingredients exists, said Jacqueline Hochreiter, marketing and sustainability director for the St. Louis, Missouri, US-based company. EverGrain takes “spent” barley grains left over from brewing operations at AB InBev and turns them into EverPro barley protein. About 1.4 million tonnes of barley are left over from AB InBev’s brewing annually.

“From the start, upcycled barley requires no incremental land, as well as far less water to grow than other crops used for protein,” Hochreiter said. “Add to this the fact that our ingredients are upcycled means that they reduce waste and, thereby, the greenhouse gas and total carbon footprint.”

Kemin Industries, Des Moines, Iowa, US, has set a goal of reducing its GHG emissions and achieving next zero by 2050, said Courtney Schwartz, marketing director. How the use of ingredients reduces GHG emissions depends on the individual food company.

“When it comes to GHG emissions, a lot of the reduction can come in the way in which a product is made,” she said. “By evaluating your inputs, waste, and packaging of your products, you may be able to find ways to reduce your emissions. Then it comes down to evaluating your ingredient suppliers to see what efforts they are making to reduce emissions.”

Kemin views sustainability in three lenses, Schwartz said.

“The first lens is healthy people,” she said. “We are empowering our employees, partners, customers and fellow community members to contribute to a healthy future and improve life sustainably. The second is healthy planet. We are relentlessly and continuously managing sustainability and working to reduce our environmental impact within our operations. And finally, a healthy business. Sustainability drives our decision-making so that we can help improve lives in the communities we operate.”