At last fall’s United Nations Climate Change conference, companies including Mondelēz and Mars vowed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. One increasingly popular path to help hit these targets is launching a carbon- or climate-neutral certified product.
While there are different certification programs and providers available, for a product to achieve carbon- or climate-neutral certification its manufacturer typically compensates for all of the carbon or greenhouse gasses emitted during its production and delivery. The company first calculates the emissions and then purchases carbon credits or invests in carbon offsetting projects, such as renewable energy efforts. It also usually invests in efforts to reduce future emissions, such as increasing soil biodiversity or replanting trees in areas hit by deforestation.
Some CPGs are taking it a step further by making products carbon-neutral from the start. In late 2020, Mondelēz’s SnackFutures innovation arm debuted NoCOé, a French carbon-neutral snack brand. EverGrain, an ingredients company backed by Anheuser-Busch, and Post Holdings subsidiary Bright Future Foods announced a partnership last year to develop products that have a negative carbon footprint, meaning their production would remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. They will use EverGrain’s repurposed barley protein and fiber and Bright Future Foods’ "climate-positive" oats. Last May, the first product from the partnership launched: Airly Oat Clouds crackers.
In the months leading up to Earth Day, April 22, several food and beverage manufacturers have launched new products that are said to be carbon- or climate-neutral certified, showing that the trend is only picking up speed. From beer to burgers, here are some of the most notable offerings.
Bud Light Next cuts carbs and carbon
In 2022, Anheuser-Busch debuted Bud Light Next, a zero-carb version of its flagship beer. Now Bud Light Next is cutting carbon.
Anheuser-Busch announced this month that Bud Light Next completed the process to become “Climate Neutral Certified” after the company measured and offset last year’s greenhouse gas emissions and introduced plans to reduce its emissions in the future. It will be Anheuser-Busch’s first carbon-neutral beer, which the company said will help it fully reach its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040.
The beer giant worked to achieve this certification with Climate Neutral, a nonprofit that helps brands develop solutions for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. To offset its carbon, Bud Light Next is supporting forest management efforts, including a project led by timber company UPM Blandin in Minnesota, the brand told Food Dive. Anheuser-Busch said consumers will be able to see the Climate Neutral Certification on cans starting in June.
Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, said that the climate neutral certification ties in with the zero-carb beer's targeting of a younger generation that increasingly is drinking less alcohol and values sustainability.
“When we launched Bud Light Next, we wanted to bring a beer to market that was all about breaking barriers, just like the consumers it was brewed for,” Goeler said. “We have a huge opportunity with Bud Light Next to take bold action that creates a better future for our consumers and the next generations to come, and our Climate Neutral certification is a big step in that journey for us.”
Riff re-energizes with carbon-neutral energy drink
In March, Oregon-based coffee brand Riff announced that is Riff Energy+ had become the first certified carbon-neutral energy drink. It is made with upcycled cascara, or coffee fruit. It was certified carbon-neutral through Carbonfund.org's Carbonfree Product Certification Program.
According to Riff, it helps offsets emissions by upcycling cascara. The company said the fruit is "likely the better half of what the coffee plant has to offer," but it has been historically thrown away by producers because they did not realize its potential, which led to waste and worsened coffee's impact on climate change. Riff said on its website that over 35 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent is avoided with the production of each can of Riff Energy+.
Riff CEO and co-founder Paul Evers said the product was a result of trying to find a climate-friendly alternative to coffee.
"We’re all super passionate coffee lovers at Riff, but as we learned more and more about coffee’s impact on the environment related to food waste, along with the challenging conditions coffee farmers face every day, there’s no way we could remain complacent,” Evers said. “Our focus shifted quickly to developing a product that would generate a positive impact."
Conagra’s Evol debuts carbon-neutral frozen meals
Conagra’s frozen foods brand Evol has worked to appeal to consumers looking for nutritious options in the freezer aisle, prioritizing ingredients like antibiotic-free chicken. It recently made a sustainability push by announcing the carbon-neutral certification of eight Evol frozen meals this June.
The company received carbon-neutral certification from Carbonfund.org's Carbonfree Product Certification Program, which it said makes it the first single-serve frozen offering to achieve that status. The items receiving this certification include one new offering, Give Cheese Alfredo Mac with Chicken, along with products already in its portfolio.
Evol is offsetting the carbon used to make the meals through investments in renewable wind energy and forest preservation projects. Carbonfund.org told Food Dive that the only other food and beverage products to achieve its carbon-neutral certification are three Riff Energy+ flavors and Grounds for Change Coffee.
Evol previously switched from plastic to paper bowls in order to improve the sustainability of its packaging, which is all recyclable according to the brand. The Evol products, Conagra said, are part of its pledge to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions in its supply chain by 25% by 2030.
Bill Gates-backed Neutral Foods brings carbon neutrality to milk
Neutral Foods claims to be the first carbon-neutral food company in the U.S. It debuted its Neutral Milk (unrelated to the 90s indie rock band with a similar name) in over 500 Whole Foods stores across the country this past November.
According to Neutral Foods, it works with dairy farmers to lower carbon emissions in the milk production process. The company said it is working to change what cows eat in order to manage the methane, a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the environment, that they emit. Any emissions that Neutral Foods cannot cut through these means are offset through methods like converting the cows' methane emissions into renewable energy, according to the company. According to the dairy brand’s website, Neutral's whole milk amounts to 22 pounds of carbon offset, while its 2% milk offsets 20 pounds.
Neutral announced last fall that it had raised $4 million in a funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures — the climate-focused venture capital arm owned by Bill Gates — and including Shark Tank star Mark Cuban. Breakthrough’s business lead Carmichael Roberts told Fast Company that the venture capital firm was interested in the company’s goal to bring down emissions in the dairy sector, which accounts for 3% of all global emissions — larger than the aviation industry.
In a statement at the time of the fundraising news, Cuban said that he sees the upstart as a game changer for the food space because of its sustainable operations and ambitions.
“Neutral works with farmers to deploy on-farm carbon reduction projects focused on compost, manure management and feed changes,” Cuban said. “It's a unique solution that can feed us while protecting us. It's a program that I'm proud to be part of."
Kroger's private label to launch carbon-neutral eggs
Grocery giant Kroger has seen great success with its $26 billion private label business. It is now working to make it more sustainable.
Last December, Kroger announced that Kipster Farms, a company founded in the Netherlands that operates sustainable poultry farms, would provide carbon-neutral, cage-free eggs for its Simple Truth foods line.
Kipster uses upcycled food from bakeries and other food producers as chicken feed. It attempts to improve its air quality by minimizing fine particle emissions, and is powered by solar panels. Kroger partner MPS Egg Farms is in the process of building a production facility using Kipster's closed-loop production system for the carbon neutral eggs in Indiana.
Kroger claimed that the eggs will be the first carbon-neutral, cage-free eggs to hit U.S. retail shelves. In the U.K., the carbon-neutral Respectful egg brand launched last year. Kroger, which set a goal to make its private label packaging more sustainable by 2030, is expected to launch the eggs in late 2022.
Meat, dairy and plant-based upstarts aim to bring down emissions
The meat industry is notorious for its carbon emissions, but some brands want to change this image. New Zealand-based Silver Fern Farms announced the U.S. launch of its Net Zero Carbon Zero Angus Beef in March. To achieve certification, it tracked the entire life cycle of the meat — from the cow’s birth to arriving to consumers. It then arranged carbon offsets for the related emissions.
Director of U.S. Sales Matt Luxton told Food Dive late last year that the company aims to sequester more carbon than it produces overall, and that it has embraced regenerative agriculture projects on its farms in order to restore carbon to the soil used for the grass on its farmland.
Silver Fern's beef is certified through New Zealand-based Toitū Envirocare, which is a Certified B Corporation that verifies the carbon emissions in a product's life cycle. Toitū also certified New Zealand dairy company Fonterra's new Anchor Dairy organic carbonzero certified butter. Fonterra said that it developed a plan to reduce emissions and is supporting renewable energy projects. The butter will be available this month in U.S. stores for a suggested retail price of $8 per package.
Meanwhile, Brazilian plant-based protein brand Future Farm said it has developed a carbon neutral meatless burger available in the U.S. through Vejii and GTFO It's Vegan. Future Farm told Food Dive it is offsetting 100% of carbon emissions in making the burger by supporting deforestation efforts in Brazil. It received certification from ClimatePartner and estimates that it will save 1,496 tons of carbon in 2022.