Danone North America, Mars, Nestlé USA and Unilever USA have banded together to form a Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. The four companies said the partnership is "focused on driving progress in public policies that shape what people eat and how it impacts their health, communities, and the planet."
The alliance members said in a press release that they have collectively and voluntarily moved forward on issues such as sodium reduction, responsible marketing and transparency and reducing their impact on the planet, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In a joint statement, company leaders said, “We are committed to a collaborative approach and to listen and learn about issues affecting all parts of our food system from the field to the store shelf and beyond. ... With so many pressing food policy opportunities on the horizon, now is the time to help steer America’s food policy and our food system on a better path for long-term success.”
These four Big Food companies have embarked on various sustainability issues on their own and are now joining forces to try and make a greater impact. In addition to nutrition labeling and carbon emissions, their alliance plans to focus on product transparency, science-based environmental solutions, food safety, nutritional health and strong and healthy workplaces that support the supply chain.
Three of the firms — Mars, Nestlé and Unilever — have another thing in common: They withdrew their membership in the Grocery Manufacturers Association after disagreeing with the trade group on some of its policy positions since GMA had opposed the labeling of genetically modified organisms and the listing of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel. It will be interesting to see how the guidance provided by this new alliance will differ from the trade group's positioning in the food space and whether additional companies will end up joining.
The heft that the makers of Dannon yogurt, Snickers candy bars and Hellman's mayonnaise bring to the table could influence other food manufacturers to tackle nutrition and sustainability in a more coordinated and effective manner.
Along with the general focus areas the alliance plans to address, it will also lobby to make sure the Farm Bill and related policies address water quality and water conservation, soil health and renewable energy. The group is interested in financial incentives to limit emissions and move to low-carbon energy alternatives in ways that could help farmers, ranchers and others curtail greenhouse gases.
No doubt the four Big Food companies could have continued to go their own way in adopting sustainability practices. However, their efforts are liable to be much more effective when they're in an alliance.
Food industry critics — including Marion Nestle of New York University and Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant-Based Food Association — told The Washington Post they're taking a wait-and-see attitude to find out what the alliance accomplishes and whether the four companies will aggressively support policies that could cut into sales.