The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: ConAgra

Sustainability Series: ConAgra


May 25, 2009

With brands in 97 percent of America’s households, ConAgra Foods, Inc. is one of North American’s leading food companies, offering products like Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice and Hebrew Nationalin grocery, convenience, mass merchandise and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying restaurants, foodservice and commercial customers. We talked to Christopher Kircher, President of the ConAgra Foods Foundation and Vice President for Corporate Affairs at ConAgra Foods, Inc., about the company’s commitment to doing business in a way that both respects the environment and the communities in which they operate.

How does your business define sustainability?

ConAgra Foods defines sustainability in the way that our business is not only about what food we make, but how we make it. We provide food that millions of people count on every day, and we are constantly finding better ways to do that. Our products deliver outstanding taste, nutrition and value. At the same time, we continue to seek better ways to be a good steward of our environment, nourish our employees and the communities we reach, and drive economic gain for our stakeholders.
How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

We’re focused on incorporating sustainable business practices into every aspect of our business. For example, we’ve had great success in the areas of packaging innovation and operating efficiency in our manufacturing plants. We’re now in the process of communicating these successes in a way that they can reach the consumer. Achieving this level of integration requires a tremendous effort in engaging employees at all levels to keep sustainability top of mind when they make day-to-day business decisions. When everyone pauses to ask “is there a way I can do this just as effectively while reducing my impact to the environment or community?”, we know we’ve made the kind progress needed to drive change.
What are your short term and long term goals?

This is something we’re actively working on now. About a year ago we convened a Corporate Responsibility Council, comprised of leadership across the organization who contribute to our sustainability strategy. We’re currently working with the Council to assess our current programs and define a vision for going forward. This will allow us to prioritize initiatives, communicate progress and results, and define quantitative goals that we can share with internal and external stakeholders. 
Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

There’s no shortage of opportunities, a fact that is both exciting and a bit daunting. We have tremendous opportunities internally to drive efficiency in our manufacturing processes to reduce energy intensity, water use, and waste generation. These kinds of changes mean a lot to the 25,000 employees working at ConAgra Foods. Another area where we have great potential is in demonstrating how our sustainability initiatives can change the marketplace and affect those outside of our Company. Some of our most recent packaging innovations – such as incorporating recycled PET into our CPET frozen food trays or using recycled PLA tamper bands – have fundamentally changed the industry’s expectations for sustainable packaging. Similarly, efforts to help consumers live a healthier, more balanced life through nutrition education – such as our Start Making Choices or MyPyramid initiatives – can positively impact anyone who buys our products and uses the tools we provide. 
How do you measure your progress?

ConAgra Foods recently published its first Corporate Responsibility Report, which includes a variety of performance indicators that we intend to track annually to gauge our progress across a variety of sustainability focus areas. Many metrics are commonly reported in our industry, such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy, and water use. We also track our progress in improving the nutritional profile of our products, and our impact on communities through in-kind and monetary contributions from the ConAgra Foods Foundation. Another area of progress that is exciting, though difficult to measure, is how our initiatives are improving our relationships with customers and consumers. Are the things we’re doing changing the marketplace? Are we moving our industry in new directions? These are the questions we continually ask ourselves in assessing our progress in sustainability. 
How do retailers factor into your efforts?

We do our best to be an active partner in our customers’ sustainability efforts. We recognize that just as our suppliers are an integral part of our sustainability programs, ConAgra Foods performance is critical in helping retailers meet their sustainability goals. Each retailer’s sustainability program has a slightly different focus. We’ve found the best thing we can do with customers is share information and find opportunities to collaborate. Our potential for making change is much greater when we work together.     
Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

The food industry is under immense pressure to feed a rapidly growing global population. We’re destined to fail if we tackle this challenge in a way that ignores the environmental and social issues that come with this challenge. Therefore, sustainability – both in our own operations as well as our supply chain – is paramount to surviving in this industry.      
Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

A new study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Deloitte found that fifty-four percent of shoppers demonstrated that they actively consider environmental sustainability characteristics in their buying decisions, so even in these tough economic times, sustainability matters to the consumer. This clearly emphasizes the need for ConAgra Foods to ensure that its brands actively communicate our commitment to sustainability to our consumers. And unlike durable “green” goods – such as Energy Star appliances or hybrid vehicles – consumer packaged goods provide consumers opportunities weekly, if not daily, to make sustainable buying decisions. Therefore, it is ConAgra Foods’ responsibility to educate the consumer regarding the sustainable attributes of our products. They should feel good knowing that not only are we delivering outstanding taste, nutrition and value, but also we do so in a way that respects the environment and community.
In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom