The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Sustainability Series: Sara Lee

Sustainability Series: Sara Lee


August 29, 2010

The Sara Lee Corporation is a global manufacturer and marketer of high-quality products in the bakery, retail, foodservice, beverages and household arenas. Based in Downers Grove, Illinois, familiar brands for the company include Ball Park, Douwe Egberts, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Kiwi, Sanex, Senseoand their namesake, Sara Lee. Recently, the Sara Lee Corporation reformulated two of their most popular bread products to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and include more vitamin D. We talked to Audra Karalius, Sara Lee’s Vice President of Sustainability, Environment & Safety, about why sustainability is particularly important to the food and beverage industry and how, by working together, programs and initiatives can have a much greater impact.

How does your business define sustainability?

Our approach to sustainability is based on three pillars: promoting wellness and nutrition, supporting our communities and protecting our planet in a manner consistent with our core values. In all aspects of our business, around the globe, we focus our efforts in these areas.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Sara Lee’s Sustainability Working Team (SWT) provides the overarching sustainability principles, commitment and strategy, and works with the business units to help prioritize those impacts where we can most effectively contribute, influence and improve. Each business segment and market implements customized sustainability programs. There are lines of business and topic-related teams that further identify, clarify and highlight emerging issues, impacts and risks. By working together, business unit management and the SWT help ensure that sustainability risks and opportunities are addressed in our strategic business decision-making and both short- and long-term planning. They also ensure necessary course corrections are made as priorities evolve.

What are your short term and long term goals?

We recognize that sustainability is a long journey, but there are ways to address it in the short term as well. For example, within our wellness and nutrition pillar, we have recently introduced new products that are better for you such as Sara Lee® Deli Lower Sodium lunchmeats and Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Plus breads Made with DHA Omega-3. DHA is important for brain and eye development particularly during the first two years of life and early childhood.

Looking at the long term, environmental goals include a 10% reduction in the use of purchased and withdrawn water and an eight percent reduction in the disposal of materials in managed, covered landfills. Within our wellness and nutrition pillar, Sara Lee has committed to the reduction of salt across its products by an average of 20% in key categories over the next five years. In our coffee business, Sara Lee has pledged to increase its purchase of coffee from sustainable sources to a total of 40,000 tons in 2010.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

As one of the world’s largest coffee companies, we have an opportunity to support sustainable coffee and tea practices.

An example of working effectively with multiple stakeholders is our sustainable coffee and tea sourcing work. The company started its own projects in 1999 and established the DE Foundation in 2002. This independent organization manages Sara Lee’s coffee and tea projects in countries of origin with an average investment of 1.7 million USD per year. In 2004, Sara Lee established a partnership with certification partner UTZ Certified. In 2009, the DE Foundation had coffee projects in Uganda, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Cameroon, Vietnam and Honduras and tea projects in Malawi and Indonesia. Every year, an increasing volume of coffee and tea is bought through this organization for which Sara Lee pays a premium of approximately 10% of the conventional price on average. 

Through our partnership with UTZ Certified, we aim to source 40,000 tons of sustainable coffee in 2010, an increase of 33% over our 2009 target. Also this year, we have pledged to source one third of our tea through UTZ certified.

How do you measure your progress?

Each year, we publish our annual Sustainability Report which details results on key metrics and discusses future sustainability initiatives and goals; available

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

Sustainability is a major issue for all companies, and our retailers are no different. We regularly team with them on issues such as packaging reduction, supply chain management (reducing the amount of trucks on the road and fuel used to ship products) and product formulation.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

Sustainable practices are important to every industry. But what sets food companies apart is the need to develop more products in the wellness and nutrition space. Wellness and nutrition is one of the three key pillars of Sara Lee’s sustainability program. Our efforts have led us to introduce such new products as Hillshire FarmLower Sodium Turkey Breast, Jimmy Dean Turkey Bacon Breakfast Bowls, and Sara Lee Lite Bakes. Our Sara Lee brand continues to be a leader in whole grains as well.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers have an important part to play in making the world more sustainable for future generations by the choices they make. They are becoming more aware of companies’ sustainability practices, and are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on them. Sara Lee strives to educate its consumers about balanced lifestyles, which include enjoyment of a variety of foods and beverages and physical activity. We are as transparent as possible about our products and our entire sustainability program.


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