Going green can come with a major price tag for companies, but McCormick's sustainability leader said the spice maker can deliver top tier financial performance while meeting its sustainability goals by 2025.
"We believe that our consumers are expecting us to really bring this platform of sustainability into the business," Michael Okoroafor, McCormick's VP of global sustainability and packaging innovation, told Food Dive. "We think it is important for businesses, especially key business leaders, to step up in this area. Being the leader in herbs and spices, we feel an obligation to do this. It is about doing the right thing, and it's about doing well by doing good."
In 2017, McCormick pledged that by 2025, the spice company would reduce emissions 20%, lower solid waste by 80% and drop its carbon footprint from packaging 25%. It also committed to 100% sustainable sourcing for its five mainstay ingredients: black pepper, red pepper, vanilla, oregano and cinnamon.
But making pledges isn’t enough, reports have shown. In order to build brand loyalty, consumers want to see that companies are delivering on those targets and are transparent to shoppers about their progress.
"We believe that our consumers are expecting us to really bring this platform of sustainability into the business."
VP of global sustainability and packaging innovation, McCormick
McCormick appears to be trying to do just that with the release of its Purpose-led Performance 2019 Progress Report, which came out last month.
"Building trust and transparency in our entire system, for me and for our company, is paramount," Okoroafor said. "We are confident that, in some cases, we're going to get there ahead of 2025 — make no mistake about it."
So how is the company doing two years after its initial announcement?
Overall, McCormick's CEO Lawrence Kurzius said in a letter to stakeholders that the report showed "significant progress in sustainably sourcing our key raw materials," but that its efforts are all ongoing.
A closer look at the numbers
According to the report, McCormick has reached 24% sustainable sourcing for black pepper; 0% for cinnamon; 4% for oregano; 60% for red pepper and 60% for vanilla with five years left on the clock.
To keep it progressing on its sourcing goal, the company announced in January that it created Grown for Good, a sustainable sourcing framework for herbs and spices that includes a new certification standard with traceability and quality requirements, as well as farmer and community resilience criteria.
McCormick is also working with suppliers to remove middlemen, often called collectors, to buy its five main spices directly from farmers, allowing the company to help them get better prices for their goods, Okoroafor said. He hopes these efforts inspire other spice companies to do the same.
"We hope that we can lead the way," Okoroafor said. "And we hope that others will see the benefit of doing that."
In terms of its other goals, the company has reduced solid waste by 63%, up from 61% in 2018, decreased its carbon footprint from packaging by 8% and dropped greenhouse gas emissions by 1%.
"You don't get there if you don't make the commitment, and we're not telling you to believe what we are saying. Look at the numbers, look at the metrics, look at our audacious commitment," he said.
Although McCormick still has a lot more work to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, the company reached an agreement with energy company Constellation last year to buy renewable energy from a solar center being developed in Virginia. The deal is part of Constellation’s largest renewable purchase agreement and will allow McCormick to use renewable energy for its Maryland and New Jersey facilities.
McCormick's 2025 goal is to have 100% circular plastic, and its recent report showed that 84% of its plastic is now recyclable or reusable.
"By 2025, none of our packaging design will enter landfill. We design it in such a way that you can either recycle it, reuse it or re-purpose it and that is for all plastics," Okoroafor said. "So that's the level of what I call audacious commitment that we're making, which means we are cognizant of the fact that it will require an investment."
The company, however, is not the only one in the ingredients space making sustainability pledges in recent years. About 51% percent of chocolatier Barry Callebaut's raw ingredients are now sustainably sourced, according to its Forever Chocolate progress report. And global spice company Olam launched a program in 2018 to increase the traceability of its spices by showing the full supply chain.
McCormick’s actions in particular though have been recognized. The company was named the world's 22nd most sustainable corporation and No. 1 in the food products industry on the 2020 Global 100 Sustainability Index released by Corporate Knights last month — a ranking the company has secured before.
"At McCormick we know that our sustainability journey is never complete," Kurzius said in his letter to shareholders. "While the 2025 goals we’ve set give us important targets to work toward, we know that our sustainability journey is ongoing."