Carbon Labeling Part 2 - The Early Adopters
The Second Carbon Labeling (14th) Edition of the Negative Foods Newsletter
Greetings from France! As my beautiful bride and I cycle through Burgundy, I’m enjoying the differences in our food systems. On the rural highways, and in the mountain villages, you can’t help but notice that France is preserving a regional food production system. Instead of the “last one turn out the lights” vibe sometimes felt in rural America, here it feels like the local economy, especially local farms, are supported by their communities, and the result is food that is more delicious, healthier and made with a lighter carbon footprint. Vive la France!
Back to the regularly scheduled program. In the first carbon labelling edition, we explored why consumers need carbon footprint labels, why carbon labeling failed in the past, and why carbon labeling will succeed going forward. Next week, in the third carbon labelling edition, we’ll discuss the picks and shovels of the carbon labeling gold rush.
This edition will shine the spotlight on carbon labeling early adopters. I’m inspired by several food brands, big and small, and some national restaurant chains.
I’m happy to be writing this edition from Europe, the source of so many of today’s stories.
Oatly. Oatly, the Swedish maker of oat milk, recently raised $1.4 billion in an IPO, and appears to be taking over the world (I won’t opine on the short seller controversy). Oatly labels its products with carbon footprints, and it discloses carbon footprint information online. It’s in my fridge.
Hopefully other brands will be inspired by Oatly’s white hot sales growth and follow in their carbon transparency ways.
Quorn. Quorn, the large UK-based meat alternative food brand, began last year to place carbon footprint information on some of its packaging, and plans to have carbon labels on 60% of its sales by the end of 2021. From the FT: “Buyers of meat-free mince made by Quorn can see it accounts for emissions of 1.3kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilo, as well as 105 calories and 2g of fat per 100g. At the moment they cannot compare that with many other foods, as very few boast the label. But Marco Bertacca, chief executive of Quorn, says: ‘We want to inspire the rest of the industry to follow suit.’” I hope he’s right!
Unilever. The Independent recently revealed that Unilever plans to introduce carbon footprint labels on its products by the end of 2021, which will be a huge milestone on the path to “badge products with their cost to the planet.” Unilever plans to be zero emissions by 2039, and is forcing all of its suppliers to measure their carbon footprints, and declare, on each invoice, the products’ carbon footprint. Why is this such a big deal? Unilever’s products are consumed by 2.5 billion humans every day, in nearly 200 countries, with U.S. brands as ubiquitous as Dove, Hellman’s, Breyers, Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation. When you consider how many suppliers work with Unilever’s huge brands, it is hard to overstate the scale and scope of this program. Imagine the virtuous cycle of overlapping ripple effects across the world’s food system, as Unilever carbon labels its own products and requires its suppliers to put in place the tools to measure and declare their own.
Restaurants. Panera, the huge chain of quick casual restaurants, recently began labeling its low carbon menu items. And Just Salad, the substantial chain of quick service salad restaurants, recently introduced carbon labels on its menus.
Carbon Labels for Home Cooking. Kuri is a sustainable cooking app featuring the carbon footprint of its recipes. Baptiste Malaguti, the CEO of Kuri, told me recently that “we built our own proprietary carbon footprint calculator to display a carbon label on each recipe. We take [the] carbon label into account in our ranking algorithm. In other words, we put low-carbon meals first. On average, the carbon footprint of the meals cooked by our users is < 1000g of CO2e per portion, roughly 60% smaller than the American average. If grocers had a climate agenda, and used carbon labels to nudge their consumers towards low-carbon options, we could see tremendous results at scale. That's what we're working on at Kuri.” I love it!
Last week we explained that the world’s biggest retailer, and the world’s biggest investor, are pushing for companies to disclose their footprints. This week we’re learning that some of the world’s biggest CPG companies, such as Unilever, are labeling their own products and pushing for other companies to disclose their footprints.
Is this the one trend in which Big Food will lead the way in man-bites-dog style? Or will startups use carbon labels to nimbly capture market share? We’ll see. This will be one of my favorite horse races to watch.
At the same time, as I type from Europe, I’m dismayed by the small number of American companies leading the way. Hopefully we’ll see fast followers.
The best news of all is that carbon labeling is already in the marketplace, and it appears to be driving consumer demand. This trend will grow, big and fast, and will help reverse climate change.
Who are the Enablers? Next week we’ll cover the picks and shovels, such as the companies providing measurement tools and services, the certifications, the certifiers, the experts, etc. Examples could include The Carbon Trust, Climate Neutral Certified, Rodale’s ROC, The Sustainability Consortium, HowGood, etc. Send me your ideas!
For Your Further Consideration: