Leah Swalling, senior brand manager at Justin’s, lights up when she talks about the work her team has accomplished to help bees. She is keen to remind us that Justin’s products would not be possible without pollinators and the critical role they play in the ecosystem. “A lot of people think of pollinators and maybe just think of our products that contain honey. However, many other products and ingredients in our portfolio today are made possible by pollinators,” says Swalling.
To drive the point home, the Justin’s team recently conducted a social experiment where they pranked some unsuspecting diners at a high-end restaurant in New York City. After delivering food to the tables, waiters unceremoniously retrieved one-third of it back from the diners’ plates. When the Justin’s team revealed the experiment (and the hidden cameras recording the event), the message had been received. “This was eye opening,” said one diner. “I didn’t realize that one out of every third bite came from pollination.”
Getting the message out is just the beginning. The brand has ongoing partnerships with national, state and local organizations to protect pollinators through habitat conservation and expansion, sustainable agriculture, research and education. Recently, the brand joined forces with the National Honey Board to support pollinators for National Pollinators Month, and launched a campaign to educate consumers about pollinators’ need for preservation.
In Boulder, Colo., Justin’s team members volunteer at community gardens that teach beekeeping as well as regenerative farming practices. The team is passionate about bringing consumers the best products while having a positive impact on the environment and the local communities, from curating mindfully sourced ingredients to innovating packaging solutions to tackling food insecurity.
The Justin’s® brand is just one of the many brands at Hormel Foods working to understand our interconnected food system and improve their impact on the world.
With a portfolio of 40 leading brands sold in more than 80 countries, including China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines, Hormel Foods plays a critical role in the world’s food supply. Behind each brand is a team of engineers, plant professionals, marketing professionals and business strategists innovating to create a healthy future for humans and the planet. The “how” varies, from ingredient sourcing and manufacturing through to packaging. Each brand’s ability to make a difference is directly tied to their specific business model and location.
These efforts are integral to the overarching mission of Hormel Foods, known as Our Food Journey™, that describes the company’s commitment to raise the bar on sustainability while propelling the business forward. As part of Our Food Journey™, the company focuses on three strategic pillars:
- Investing in our people and partners
- Improving communities around the world
- Creating products that improve the lives of others.
In 2021, the company launched the 20 By 30 Challenge, a set of 20 goals to achieve by 2030, across environmental and social priorities. Ambitious sustainability efforts are not new for Hormel Foods. Over its history, Hormel Foods has prioritized environmental and social programs that have reduced inputs, saved energy, supported team members and communities and reduced waste while generating business value.
Powered by Renewables
One of the company’s 20 By 30 Challenge goals is to match 100% of its energy with renewable sourcing. Through a vast portfolio of renewable-energy wind and solar projects, the brands are making strides toward this goal. By the end of 2022, in just two years, the company nearly achieved its target to have 100% of its global energy consumption matched with renewable energy sources. In addition, the company furthered its commitment to renewable energy by enrolling in community solar gardens across five production sites. Others, including the Wholly® brand, have committed to 100% renewable energy across operations by 2024. One hundred percent of the energy powering the plant in Mexico creating Wholly® products comes from a wind Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), notes Andrew Lower, senior director of operations and sustainability lead at MegaMex Foods. Lower is excited about the progress thus far and continuing on this journey.
In the Central Valley town of Fresno, Calif., the Corn Nuts® brand roasting and packaging facility is powered by one of the most high-tech, state-of-the-art solar projects in the state. The system produces one megawatt, which is equivalent to the amount needed to power 400 homes for a year. When the sun is shining, that electricity is more than enough to power the facility that processes 100,000 pounds of corn kernels each day. On days when the plant isn’t running, the extra energy that can’t be stored is fed back into the community grid. Behind this project is a team of plant managers and farmers passionate about making the best product while protecting the environment and our natural resources.
“There are huge economic advantages to the deal. It helps us reduce our business cost, improve our margins and keep us competitive in the market,” says Dan Pattani, plant manager. “But more importantly, we are providing sustainable energy to this community. We’re helping the whole town use renewable energy.”
Streamlining the Supply Chain
When Tom Raymond, director of environmental sustainability at Hormel Foods, talks about Jennie-O’s sustainability journey, he likes to pull out a map of the northern midwest of the United States. He points out the cluster of dots around Minnesota and Wisconsin, each dot representing a Jennie-O’s turkey farm, a feed supplier or a production facility. Circling the area, Raymond points out that 100% of the turkey production from Jennie-O takes place within an area of around 400 miles, from manufacturing and processing and all the way to grain contracts — a true embodiment of local. “With our control over this local supply chain we can pursue all sorts of efficiencies and sustainability practices. The concentration of the supply chain saves energy and water, and reduces waste. Transportation alone represents around nine or ten percent of the total environmental footprint of the product. Having our facilities and farms close together is a huge help,” Raymond says.
The team’s ability to have direct oversight and contact with suppliers across the value chain has enabled the team at Jennie-O to spearhead innovative projects on key environmental issues, from water conservation and antibiotic stewardship to energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Jennie-O is always exploring new innovations. One new project is a partnership with an energy company with plans to build a large anaerobic digestion plant in Minnesota that will turn turkey manure and other bio-waste — byproducts currently being used as fertilizer supplements — into natural gas. Moreover, businesses within a 50-mile radius will have the opportunity to take part in this initiative, establishing a mutually beneficial arrangement and fostering a positive impact within the community.
Innovating Packaging Solutions
The packaging team at Hormel Foods is a group of scientists, innovators and engineers passionate about developing efficient and safe solutions that meet product and consumer needs. “We are very data driven and constantly looking for efficiencies across the brand portfolio,” says Oliver Ballinger, senior packaging scientist at Hormel Foods. “Over the last five years, we have saved over 6.5 million pounds of packaging material.” The team is constantly searching for opportunities to use less material and to encourage recycling, and they know that small changes can make big impacts. In 2022 alone, they reduced product packaging, across the brands, by more than 1.5 million pounds.
Packaging efficiency is a priority. Recently, the Planters® brand plastic bottle was redesigned with projected annual savings of 440,000 pounds of plastic, along with specific tweaks to avoid any issues with the recycling cleaning process. A Jennie-O® tray pack corrugated downgrade saved 1.04 million pounds of material, and Don Miguel® mini tacos and burritos film downgauge saved 127,000 pounds of material annually. Justin’s is on the same path, in 2022 the team redesigned their signature peanut butter jar to use 30% less plastic, saving over 165,000 pounds of materials annually. Material reduction is one strategy, but the team is also eager to incorporate alternative materials. To that end, the packaging for Hormel® Square Table™ entrees was redesigned to include 25% post-consumer recycled material, saving over 382,000 pounds of material annually.
Across brand locations, both domestically and internationally, Hormel Foods team members are pursuing sustainability and cost-effectiveness as core values, continuously striving to improve their performance.
To foster a culture that incentivizes improvements, Hormel Foods hosts an annual competition — Sustainability Best of the Best — recognizing the many team members implementing new improvement practices, goal setting and problem solving. In 2023, the team at Progressive Processing (Dubuque, Iowa) won first-place honors for their innovative water efficiency practices resulting in saving over 7.2 million gallons of water and $100,000 in costs per year. Other finalists featured projects working to improve wastewater processes, repurpose inedible products or implement energy efficiency projects. The Sustainability Best of the Best — now in its 15th year — is a strategic, company-wide project reinforcing the notion that each initiative matters and helps the company get closer to a more sustainable future.
Beyond these examples, many Hormel Foods brands consistently raise the sustainability bar. For example, Applegate has taken a pioneering role in offering regenerative certified products, and Columbus has launched ambitious initiatives in antibiotic stewardship. As we enter the next decade, the urgency of these issues demands that we innovate to identify environmentally and socially responsible solutions that also benefit the bottom line.
As Hormel Foods embarks on the next chapter of Our Food Journey™, this mission will not only continue to fuel its growth but also pave the way for a better and more resilient future for generations to come.