The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Sustainability Series: Wholesome Sweeteners

Sustainability Series: Wholesome Sweeteners


April 28, 2013

Formed in 2001, Wholesome Sweeteners is the nation’s leading provider of environmentally and ethically responsible, great tasting sweeteners in the U.S. Made from nature’s best resources, the sweeteners are all Fairtrade Certified. In fact, Wholesome Sweeteners pioneered the certification process for Fairtrade Certified sugar and honey in the U.S. We talked to Pauline McKee, Vice President of Marketing and co-founder Wholesome Sweeteners, about the benefits of Fairtrade products and the importance of sourcing products sustainably.

How does your business define sustainability?

Sustainability has always been a cornerstone of Wholesome Sweeteners’ philosophy. Since our founding, we made a commitment to source the best tasting sweeteners from all over the world while making sure to leave the smallest footprint possible. Our concern hasalways been for the health of the planet and all of its people! We only source the highest quality, best tasting Organic and Fairtrade Certified sweeteners. 

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Wholesome Sweeteners incorporates sustainable practices in all aspects of our business but most importantly through our sourcing. Our Organic and Fairtrade sweeteners come from Cooperatives that use absolutely no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. We green cut all of our organic sugar cane, which means we do not burn or spray the fields and all of the cane is cut by hand. This is not only good for the Earth but also good for the health of the farmers and their families.

Our cooperatives are so sustainable that they even produce electricity using the spent sugar cane or bagasse, as fuel for the Mill boilers. The bagasse creates enough energy to power the cooperative villages and the sugar mill, and even creates additional power that is sold back to the power company. 

We are proud to say that absolutely no fossil fuels are used in the making of our organic sugars because of our sustainable practices! 

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Our short-term goals include expanding our line of Organic and Faitrade Certified sweeteners. We know our customers want new and innovative sweeteners and we are constantly looking to satisfy that want.  We successfully introduced Organic Coconut Palm sugar in 2012 and it has been a huge hit with our consumers.

We are working directly with farming and beekeeping cooperatives all over the world in hopes to increase the number of organically certified acreage and beehives. 

Our long-term goals are to diversify to a broader range of products that stay within our core values of being ethically and environmentally responsible. Some of the new products we are currently looking to expand into include sauces, candies, drinks, and other exciting things like clothing and furniture. 

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

Wholesome Sweeteners’ biggest impact definitely comes in the form of sustainable farming practices and Fairtrade impact. Between 2001 and 2012, there was an 18-fold increase in land dedicated to organic cane cultivation in Paraguay alone – from 10,000 acres to over 180,000 acres. All of this new organic acreage means numerous barrels of chemical pesticides and herbicides are kept out of the soil, rivers, lakes and oceans. Our cooperative farmers and their families are also protected from illnesses that are common in farmers working in chemically treated fields. We are proud to provide our farmers with a safe and healthy work environment where they can earn the living wage they deserve. 

Since 2005, Wholesome Sweeteners has paid more than $8.5 million in Fairtrade premiums to our Fairtrade partners, farming and beekeeping cooperatives in the developing world. Premiums are paid over and above the price of the product and they have to be used to benefit the community as a whole. These premiums have made a true and lasting impact on the lives of cooperative farmers and their families. Fairtrade premiums paid by Wholesome Sweeteners brought clean water and electricity to the village of Kasinthula in Malawi, as well as healthcare and schools to our cooperative farmers in Paraguay. 

We are stewards of the land where our products are produced. It is our responsibility to help create a healthy, thriving and sustainable community for our cooperative families and future generations.

How do you measure your progress?

We measure our progress in a few ways. Firstly, our quality assurance team works directly with cooperative farmers to improve their quality and production systems. We are constantly reviewing cooperatives’ progress against industry gold standards. It is important to us that our co-ops develop, expand and improve the quality of their harvests. 

We also measure our success by the impact of the Fairtrade programs. Clean water, electricity, healthcare, schools, improved transportation, and modern farming equipment are just a few of the improvements cooperative farmers and their families have seen from premiums paid by Wholesome Sweeteners. 

As a Company, ethical and environmental improvements are a key measure of progress, however, it is also important that we have a dynamic, aggressive and successful business model. During the last decade our sales have continued to grow exponentially, thanks to the U.S. consumer embracing our Organic and Fairtrade Certified Sweeteners. By having a progressive business model we are able to sell more products, and therefore buy more crops from the farmers and pay more Fairtrade premiums back to the farmers and their communities. It really has made a difference!

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

Retailers are essential in getting our product to our customers. They are a key and vital partner in our business. Natural food retailers like Whole Foods Market have been instrumental in helping Wholesome Sweeteners grow. There was no Organic and Fairtrade Certified sugar and honey before we pioneered the products in 2005 and 2008, respectively. Retailers took a chance on us believing their customers would embrace our products. And wow, did they ever! From a small start in 2001, Wholesome Sweeteners is now selling products nationally and globally thanks to our retail partners. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

In the last few years, Colony Collapse Disorder has been widely publicized by the media. Sustainable practices must be important to the food industry simply due to the fact that the disappearing honey bees pollinate 90% of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. As increased use of chemical pesticides continues to kill the bees, the food supply will continue to shrink. The less sustainable businesses are, the less food there will be. Wholesome Sweeteners is committed to increasing the amount of organic acreage for honeybees to forage. This will help rehabilitate the honeybee population and help increase crop pollination. 

As a food business, we should also be concerned with the health of the planet and the people who work so hard to produce our products. By using sustainable practices such as organic farming and no use of fossil fuels, we are protecting the health of our farmers, beekeepers and of course the planet. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Sustainable business practices are important to customers for many reasons. More and more, customers understand the effects of unsustainable practices. They realize the more we continue to pollute our farmland, the less food we will be able to produce. Less food means increased cost for the food that is available. Higher food prices and an unhealthy planet are the last things consumers want. Wholesome Sweeteners takes great pride in providing consumers with sustainably sourced products!