General Mills, Inc. achieved sustainably sourcing on 100% of its top 10 priority ingredients and advanced regenerative agriculture practices on farmland in 2020, just two of several highlights noted by the Minneapolis-based company as part of the release of its 2021 Global Responsibility Report.
The annual update, which highlights social and environmental progress made each fiscal year, features actions and outcomes across four areas: Food, Planet, People and Community.
“Everything we do at General Mills connects back to our purpose of making food the world loves,” said Jeffrey L. Harmening, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills. “The events of this past year — COVID-19 and the racial injustice and social equity movements — reaffirmed our belief that our scale brings opportunity and responsibility. We can and are doing good things that impact our people, our planet and the communities we serve.”
Among General Mills top achievements in 2020 was the company’s ability to reach its goal of sustainably sourcing 100% of its top 10 priority ingredients (cocoa, corn, dairy, fiber packaging, oats, sugar beets, sugarcane, palm oil, vanilla and wheat). As recently as fiscal 2018, only 32% of General Mills’ vanilla and 74% of its wheat was sustainably sourced.
According to General Mills, the 10 priority ingredients account for 40% of the company’s annual raw material purchases.
“We have made substantial progress on our priority ingredients over the last seven years, and the knowledge we have gained has helped inform our strategy moving forward,” the company noted in its report. “We’ve learned we need to take a more holistic approach to regenerating ecosystems and advancing human rights in order to more fully actualize opportunities that catalyze change. This begins with understanding how systems — such as climate, agriculture, water, biodiversity, and farming communities — are all connected, and how we as a company can positively impact each. Rooted in that knowledge, we much design programs that help regenerate the planet while also creating positive outcomes for people.”
General Mills also said 70,000 acres now are enrolled in the company’s regenerative agriculture pilots, with a commitment to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres by 2030, which the company said represents approximately 20% of its sourcing footprint in North America. General Mills’ regenerative agriculture efforts will focus on its most greenhouse gas emissions-intensive ingredient categories (wheat, oats, dry corn/sweeteners, fats and oils, dairy, sugar, chocolate/cocoa, meat, nuts and miscellaneous grains (barley, cassava, rice)).
The company has identified six core principles linked to regenerative agriculture: Understand context of farm operations; minimize disturbance; maximize diversity; keep the soil covered; maintain living root year-round; and integrate livestock.
“Our business is rooted in the earth, and in order to make food for future generations, we believe we can no longer simply sustain earth’s resources, we need to regenerate them,” said Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and social impact officer, General Mills.
General Mills also took steps over the past year to innovate within its food portfolio, offering more nutrition-forward options and better delivering on affordability and accessibility.
The company said it is now the largest provider of natural and organic packaged food in the United States, and 43% of its global volume met the company’s nutrition-forward foods criteria. Nutrition-forward foods must contain at least 8 grams of whole grain, a half serving of low-fat or nonfat dairy per regional definition, or a half serving of fruits, vegetables or nuts/seeds, or they must meet the US Food and Drug Administration’s Healthy criteria: 21 Code of Federal Regulations 101.65. General Mills said 22% of its global volume met the first criteria and 21% met the second criteria. Products that meet one of the two criteria include Cheerios, Kix, Fiber One, Wheaties, Yoplait Original, Nature Valley Crunchy Bars and Progresso Reduced Sodium Hearty Minestrone soup.
Recyclable packaging also has become increasingly important to General Mills. In 2020, 88% of the company’s US packaging and 72% of its Europe and Australia packaging was recyclable. The company has committed to have all brands design 100% of packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030.
Earlier this year, General Mills launched the first store drop-off recyclable snack bar wrapper for its Nature Valley bars. Wrappers recycled through the program are turned into new materials like composite lumber.
“To encourage adoption of this technology and accelerate the benefits of scale, General Mills has decided to not pursue a patent,” the company said. “We urge others in the industry to develop recyclable solutions, including polyethylene-based designs that can be certified for recycling within the store drop-off program.”