Sustainability Reporting in the Food Industry

By Jolee Keplinger |August 12, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

Food processing companies are central to the discussion of sustainable food production. The trend of environmental awareness, plus heightened consumer consciousness, has raised the expectations of many consumers. These days, consumers are wanting to purchase foods that are sustainably sourced and produced. Consumers are seeking openness, honesty, and transparency from food companies.

As a result, there has been dramatic growth in the number of food companies reporting on sustainability. This has led many companies to take time to communicate their sustainability philosophies, goals, and practices in a public manner. This has resulted in the publishing of Sustainability Reports (or Corporate Social Responsibility Reports).

On average, food companies have about 4 years of reporting experience.

Evidence for heightened consumer awareness:

In 2018, 59% of consumers surveyed said it was important that the foods they purchased were produced in a sustainable way (Food Technology Magazine).

In 2017, about 7 in 10 consumers reported that they wanted food companies’ sustainability practices to be more visible (The Hartman Group).

An In-Depth Example: Oatly

When attending the Culinary Institute of America’s virtual Menus of Change summit, I learned about an oat beverage (non-dairy “milk”) brand called Oatly. They were first company to put oat beverages on the market! Their mission is to offer nutrient-rich, oat-based products to the wold without building up a resource-intensive dairy infrastructure, and emitting excessive amounts of greenhouse gasses.

Oatly seemed to have a strong awareness and dedication to sustainability. During the session, the host mentioned that they are committed to tracking their efforts and have been publishing sustainability reports. I was curious to learn how this brand was addressing various aspects of sustainability in its operations. After a quick Google search, I was able to access Oatly’s 2018 Sustainability report.

First Impressions.

At first glance, the report was overwhelming! There were 89 pages filled with text and infographics. In terms of graphic design, it was not what I expected. I imagined the average sustainability report to look very scientific, bland, and not very visually appealing. I was not expecting to see an array of complementary colors, an unconventional text font, simple, yet effective graphics, and plenty of professional looking photographs. I could tell that Oatly really took the project seriously, and was catering to a target audience of millennial/Gen-Z open-minded consumers.

I appreciated the sense of humor that was integrated throughout. At the beginning of reading, I was immediately intrigued by the bold nature of the title page. which stated “Sustainability Report 2018: Slightly Worst Than Last Year!“. That made me want to continue reading. Why would a company be so straightforward about their not-so-great findings? I thought it was very transparent right off the bat, and couldn’t wait to learn what happened.

Oatly’s Sustainability Aspirations and Wins + The Triple Bottom Line

People

  • Oatly has a goal of equal distribution of women/men in leadership positions and an equal treatment policy. Currently, the board is 100% men, and 67% of men hold leadership positions with staff responsibility.
  • Fun fact: This company has three employees that are specifically focused on sustainable operations.

Planet

  • When choosing to purchase oat milk rather than cow’s milk, fewer resources are needed, and there is less of a contribution to climate change.
  • For example, in 2018, Oatly sold 71,482,745 liters of oat drink worldwide. If you assume that that number would have otherwise been consumed as cow’s milk, then 56,471 tons of greenhouse gasses were reduced! That is the equivalent of traveling around the world 11,778 times in a car!
  • Most of their packaging is paper-based, with the exception of plastic cups used for the Creamy Oat Fraiche, oat spreads, and Oatgurt.
  • Oatly ties its efforts to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Profit

  • The global increase in plant-based eating has positively affected the company’s growth in all of its markets. This indicates that the interest (and will) to opt for plant-based food is increasing.
  • Sustainable growth is a topic that of much debate. Oatly acknowledges the general issue of consumer overconsumption, but highlights the significance of large companies creating positive change. Since Oatly is a larger company, there’s great potential for accomplishing and influencing positive change.

Areas for improvement

  • The rapid increase in staff make the establishment of a unified sustainability culture a challenge.
  • There has been increased product travel due to globalization.
  • In 2016 Oatly set a goal to reduce its GHG emissions by 25% by 2020. From 2015-2017, emissions decreased, but they increased in 2018 due to an unexpected growth spurt for plant-based/vegan food products.
  • The long-term goal is to fully produce products using renewable energy and reduce energy consumption. Currently, 87% of their energy use is renewable. Co-packing facilities outside of their home base of Sweden are powered by nonrenewable energy.
What if the fields of oats were home to wind turbines!

Find Oatly! Near You

  • If you are living on Principia College’s campus, you can find the products at the Alton, IL Target. According to the product locator, currently this location carries Oat Frozen Dessert, four types of oatmilk.
  • The St. Louis area has many stores that carry Oatly, including Dierbergs, Fresh Thyme, and Target, Whole Foods and even a few coffee shops.
  • Before venturing out, I recommend checking the Oatfinder for an updated list of stores near you.

How to Use Oat “Milk”

Oat “milk” is a 1:1 substitute for dairy milk. If you’re interested in venturing into the world of plant-based milks, this variety is an excellent way to start! It’s light, airy, and the texture has been compared to skim milk. It’s a great option for individuals with food allergies or intolerance because it’s free of lactose, nuts, soy, and gluten (if certified). This is highly beneficial for those who are responsible for providing allergen-free food for many people. It’s great for chefs and restaurants that want to offer dairy-free alternative foods and beverages.

Common Uses:

  • Lattes and cappuccinos
  • Cereal
  • Baked goods
  • Smoothies
  • Drinking alone

Sources

https://www.oatly.com/uploads/attachments/cjzusfwz60efmatqr5w4b6lgd-oatly-sustainability-report-web-2018-eng.pdf

https://www.globalreporting.org/resourcelibrary/Sustainability-Reporting-in-the-Food-Processing-Sector.pdf

https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2018/august/features/sustainability-at-food-companies

Oat Bar Recipe + A Sustainable Sugar Swap

By Jolee Keplinger | June 14, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

This healthy & tasty recipe was submitted by community member Pam Fox, who works part time at Principia College’s C-Store. Pam is a plant-based food enthusiast who often shares her favorite recipes with me. Recently, she sent me an oat bar recipe which I made shortly after settling in for summer in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. Although I’m busy balancing three jobs and a nutrition course, I always make time for creativity in the kitchen. I specifically made these bars to take with me as a snack for my work at Browns Kitchen, a local gourmet kitchen shop!

Modified Oat Bar Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Makes 12 bars

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup chopped pitted dates (reserve 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp nut or seed butter (I used almond butter)
  • 1 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup flour of choice (I used arrowroot flour)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit of choice (such as cherries, apricot, prunes, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup add-ins of choice (such as chocolate chips, coconut flakes, seeds, or nuts)
  • Optional Ingredients
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp maca powder
  • Fresh ground nutmeg to taste

Notes: I used dates as my dried fruit of choice since I did not have others on hand. My add-ins were unsweetened coconut flakes and pumpkin seeds.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375o.
  2. Place 1/3 cup of chopped dates and water into a blender and process until smooth.  Add the nut butter, process again, and set aside. 
  3. In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients, except the reserved dates, dried fruit of choice, and add-ins. 
  4. Add the mixture from the blender and the remaining dates, dried fruit and add-ins of choice and mix with a spoon.
  5. Spread mixture into an 8 x 8 baking pan and either spray with oil or line with parchment paper. Bake until firm and lightly brown around the edges, 18-20 minutes. 
  6. Cool in the pan, then loosen edges and invert entire pan over a flat platter. (If using parchment paper, pull the bars out of the pan using the paper edges and place on a cooling rack). 
  7. Cut into about 12 bars & enjoy!

Tips: I store the in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer. They taste best reheated slightly in a toaster oven. You can also crumble them up and sprinkle on top of yogurt or eat them like cereal with milk.

I like to use this reusable to-go box for storing baked goods. This is a sample product from AASHE, an annual conference for sustainability in higher education. This container is made by OZZI, a company which specializes in reusable container exchange systems.

Fun Fact: 100% Plant-Based Ingredients!

What I love about this recipe is that it’s completely plant-based, so it’s perfect for those who follow a plant-forward and vegan diets. Plant-based styles of eating are often less ecologically intensive when compared to the Standard American Diet. This is because plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce (in many cases) versus animal products which are often highly resource intensive and polluting (especially when produced industrially).

Now, to get specific, not all plant-based foods are good. For instance, refined sugar, which is plant-derived, is definitely a food you want to avoid for both environmental and health reasons. Below are some reasons why I prefer to avoid refined sugars. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I replace refined sugars with natural and eco-friendly foods such as dried dates.

Opt for Organic

Since I am now 90% in control of my food intake, I’ve made a point to purchase mainly organic ingredients. It can be more expensive, but I’ve been purchasing many in bulk at Costco so I end up saving more than I would at the typical grocery store. I also like to purchase smaller amounts organic products at Farmer’s Markets, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. (Although I don’t enjoy shopping at Walmart, I’ll admit that they do have a selection of affordable organic ingredients as well.)

I opt for mostly organic ingredients because they are often more environmentally friendly than conventionally grown or raised foods. I also do not like the idea of harsh chemicals being sprayed on my food, and not knowing what chemicals I am consuming. Organic food is not always completely chemical-free, but it’s a widely available option for promoting optimal environmental and human health.

Sustainable Sugar? Switch from Cane Sugar to Dates!

  • Did you know that sugar cane production is a major environmental catastrophe in Florida? Click here for the article to learn more (Tampa Bay Times).
  • Have you always dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? Unfortunately, sugar farms in Australia are contributing to the reef’s decline. Waters around the reefs suffer from effluents, pesticides, and sediment from sugar farms, in addition to the wetlands that have been cleared. Read more at thought.co.

You have the power to make a difference! You can skip the refined sugar and use dates to satisfy your sweet tooth. Dates contain plenty of nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. They make delicious stand-alone sweet treats, and are incredibly versatile ingredients. Date sugar, made from finely chopped dehydrated dates, is a great option if you are looking for a sweetener (similar to cane sugar) that has gone through minimal processing.

In contrast, refined sugars are considered empty calories since they contain virtually no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, fiber, or other beneficial compounds. Nutrient-dense foods are both energizing and satisfying, so it makes sense to replace refined sugars with naturally sweet and nutrient-dense whole foods (like dried dates)!

Sustainability Spotlight

Most dates are grown in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and properly managed and well-tended date trees can live up to 150 years! The trees can withstand long periods of drought under high temperatures, but do require large amounts of water. Despite the high water footprint, many date farmers in traditional production areas use sustainable practices such as natural fertilizers, cover crops, and intercropping-often with other fruits, vegetables and pasture (Foodprint.org).

  • Ecological Lens: Date palm groves are important environmental niches for local wildlife and play a central role in the desert ecological system.
  • Date palms have been effective for the control of desertification and land reclamation in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Locavore Lens: Since date sugar is mostly produced in North Africa and the Middle East, finding locally produced varieties may be difficult for American consumers. To help offset the food miles, you can look for organic options. This ensures that no harmful pesticides or other chemicals were used during production.
  • If you want a challenge, you can buy some whole organic dates and make your own!

If you make the oat bar recipe and would like to share your thoughts or modifications, please respond in the comments section! Thank you for reading. You may suggest future article ideas as well. Happy baking!

Plant-Based Recipe Test #11: Grilled “Cheese”

Need a simple and satisfying lunch? This alternative grilled cheese is perfect for those who want comfort food without a long cooking commitment. Best of all, it’s 100% plant-based!

All you need is bread, olive oil, Daiya “cheese”, and your favorite vegetables.

I don’t recommend the Trader Joe’s soy cheese in the picture. It works, but it doesn’t compare to Daiya.  

Since Daiya “cheese” is dairy-free, it doesn’t melt at the same speed. To prevent burning the bread on the skillet, I recommend microwaving the sandwich first. Microwave until the cheese is slightly melted, and then crisp the bread on the skillet (with olive oil).

Yum!

  • If you want to feel even better, click to learn about how dairy cheese negatively impacts our planet. 

Feedback

Yemen 8/10

  • “This is good!”

Doug Brown 10/10

  • “That was satisfying and it felt very wholesome because of the substantial bread, the “cheese” was creamy, and vegetables were fresh. I think if food like this was served in the dining hall, people would be up for it. I like trying alternatives like this.”

Diego John 10/10

  • Delicious!!!

Boyo 9.8/10

  • Normally I’m not a fan of grilled cheese. This is very similar to the regular version, but very good! It’s the bomb!”

Plant-based Product Review: Beyond Meat Grilled “Chicken” Strips

By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability

Move over tofu, Beyond Meat has created a variety of meat alternatives! My favorite product is the Grilled “Chicken” Strips. They look just like traditional chicken, and taste very similar. On their own, you can tell it’s not real meat, but when they’re served with other ingredients, it’s hard to tell the difference!

If you’re not sold by this amazing “meat” substitute, let me give you a few reasons why you should be.

Beyond Meat Grilled chicken

  • Complete protein — 20g per 3-oz serving
    • 46% of your daily value!
  • 20% DV of iron
  • No saturated fat or cholesterol

Chicken (espeically when raised on factory farms)

  • May contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • May promote animal exploitation
  • Potential for E. coli contamination
  • Waste pollutes the land and water
  • Some are fed arsenic to make them grow faster (toxic to humans)

 

The best feedback was received when the “chicken” was incorporated into plant-based dishes such as the stir-fry pictured above, quesadillas and melts. The melt pictured below was made with Daiya provolone “cheese”, “chicken”, tomato slices, and a bit of pesto spread on top of toasted whole grain bread.

Student Feedback (“chicken” only)

Yenum Egwuenu 6/10

  • “It tastes very veggie. It’s okay but I prefer meat. I’m open to eating it in the future though.”

Stephen Stuart 8/10

  • “It has a fish-like flavor. It’s really good but it doesn’t taste like the chicken I ate for lunch. There’s a blandish flavor. It would be great with spices and other things mixed in.”

Cheesy Chicken Melt – Student Feedback

Adelainee Biang 8/10

  • “It tastes like meat. At first I didn’t like it but after eating it all I think it tastes good! I normally don’t like cheese, but this tastes really nice.”

Boyo Amuka 10/10

  • “The chicken alternative tastes like normal chicken! It’s a great substitute! I think it’s best when combined with other things.”

The Verdict

This chicken alternative is by far, the most similar to chicken out of all the plant-based imitation chicken I’ve tasted.  It was received by students, making it an excellent option for plant-based eaters here at Principia.

Plant-based Recipe Test 10: Pasta with Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is a classic choice among pasta-lovers. This rich and creamy sauce is far from being plant-based though. Most Alfredo sauces contain heavy cream, butter, and parmesan cheese. Since I’ve never tried a plant-based version of this sauce, I decided to test out a recipe I found online.

The recipe called for garlic, olive oil, cauliflower, plain almond milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

First I cooked the garlic in olive oil for a few minutes. Next, I added the almond milk and brought it to a boil. Next I added the chopped cauliflower, salt, and pepper. After about 7 minutes of cooking, I transferred the mixture to a blender and added the nutritional yeast and lemon juice. I blended it until a smooth consistency was reached. DONE!

I served the alternative Alfredo sauce with brown rice pasta and the plant-based pesto. 

Student Feedback

Blake Bischoff 8/10 (alone), 10/10 (with pasta).

  • “I appreciate how this sauce is healthier than traditional Alfredo. It’s not very flavorful on its own but it compliments the pasta well.”

Pauline Mwangi 8.5/10

  • “I like how it’s dairy free. In general, I like healthier things. This sauce is not as runny as as most are.  I’d go for it!”

 

Plant-based Recipe Test 9: Pasta with Pesto

Pasta is a go-to dish for many students at Principia. Currently, marinara sauce is the only 100% plant-based sauce option. The others are contain dairy products such as milk, cream, and cheese. For example, most traditional pesto sauces contain mozzarella cheese. Cheese-free pestos aren’t common, but they do exist! I tested out a recipe I found online

This recipe is similar to traditional pesto, but there’s nutritional yeast instead of cheese and walnuts instead of pine nuts. 

Slight change: The recipe called for two cups of fresh basil. I only had one, so I substituted a cup of kale for the basil I lacked.

The recipe was quick and simple. All it required was measuring, chopping, and blending the ingredients. Once complete, I served it with pasta and began the student feedback session.

Student Feedback

Diego John 10/10

  • “This tastes fresh, real, and I like it better than the original. I’d personally have this in the morning, afternoon, and night. It reminds me of food from Africa. I feel very satisfied after only eating a small bit!”

Boyo Amuka 9.9/10

  • “It tastes very natural. I’d definitely choose this over what’s currently available!”

Jenita Arini 9/10

  • “It’s very similar to normal pesto.”

The Verdict

This (slightly altered) plant-based pesto recipe is healthy, and incredibly delicious. It was highly rated by students based on its fresh ingredients and powerful flavor. We didn’t miss the cheese at all!

Plant-based Recipe Test 8: Pancakes

Pancakes are a frequent item on Principia’s breakfast menu. Since they contain butter, eggs, and milk, I figured that a plant-based alternative recipe would be worthwhile. 

I bought ingredients from Grassroots Grocery, a local co-op, and tested a recipe I found online.

This alternative recipe was incredibly simple. (Not cracking eggs was a plus too.)

In addition to plain pancakes, I experimented with a few other varieties: banana, chocolate chip, blueberry, walnut, flaxseed, and one with everything.

Oil, rather than butter, is used for the cooking process. I chose coconut oil due to its rich flavor.

The pancakes cooked beautifully and tasted even better. 

The Verdict

This particular recipe was quick, simple, and tasty, but it doesn’t compare to the average fluffy pancake that most people are accustomed to. These pancakes were dense, a bit tough, and the coconut oil overwhelmed the flavor. Due to this, I will continue testing other plant-based pancake recipes. Hopefully I’ll find one that’s comparable to the average pancake!

Bonus Recipe: Cheesy Basil Tomato Appetizer

With leftover tomatoes and basil from the avocado pasta bean salad, I decided to create a post-dinner appetizer-style dish.

I sliced up a tomato, placed fresh basil leaf on each slice, sprinkled Daiya “cheese” on top, and added a bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To melt the “cheese”, I placed the slices in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The end result was delicious! Best of all, it was ready in less than 10 minutes!

Plant-based Recipe Test 7: Spaghetti with Beyond Beef Crumbles

Spaghetti is a classic for food lovers. Meat sauces with ground beef are a staple of the typical college students diet. Out of all foods, beef is one of the least sustainable due to the massive amount of resources needed. Fortunately, Beyond Meat makes a ground beef alternative which serves as a delicious substitute for  spaghetti sauce. For vegetarians that would normally go without meat, this adds plenty protein, yielding a well-balanced meal.

A few students and I got together and cooked dinner. We cooked pasta, sautéed veggies, added sauce, and cooked the Beyond Meat Beefy crumbles. We mixed it together and had a delicious meal. 

We also made garlic bread with olive oil (instead of butter) and Daiya jalapeño”cheese” (instead of dairy cheese).

Student Feedback 

Stephen Stuart 9/10

  • “I love it! I think the “meat” tastes pretty good. I love the garlic “cheese” bread too!”

Kiersten Sheehan 8.5/10

  • “It has a dry smoky taste. I like how the “meat” isn’t as oily.”

Daniel Cornell 8.75/10

  • “I can’t say I’d always eat it but I like it in this form. In terms of realness, it’s great! I feel good because I’m not killing a cow.”

Alan Freeman 7/10

  • “I like this in terms of helping my conscious by moderating how much beef I consume.”

José Lucero 8/10

  • “It doesn’t taste like meat but it’s good. I’d eat it if it was an option. I’m concerned about the artificial ingredients though (specifically caramel color).”

Reilly Jeddy 8/10

  • “It doesn’t taste quite like beef so I wouldn’t eat it all the time.”

The Verdict

Even though the Beyond Beef crumbles didn’t taste exactly like beef, they complemented the meal quite nicely. Since vegetarian spaghetti (pasta, sauce, and veggies) isn’t a complete protein, the additional protein from the Beyond Beef crumbles made an already delicious meal, a nutritionally balanced and satisfying one.

Plant-based Alternative Product: Cream Cheese

Bagels with cream cheese are a go-to breakfast for many college students. I’ve always loved bagels with cream cheese, and I even worked at a bagel shop for two years. 

Sadly, dairy products, like cream cheese, are not the most sustainable choice. Click to learn more.

Luckily, there are quite a few pre-made vegan cream cheese products available. A few students, and myself tested one made by Tofutti

Student Feedback

Anna-Zoë Herr 8.75/10

  • If Dining Services offered this I’d be really grateful and totally buy it! I’d eat this instead of real cream cheese because I don’t eat dairy products.”

Kiersten Sheehan 9/10

  • “I’d eat this!”

Stephen Stuart 8.5/10

  • “It’s pretty good! I’d go for it!”

Afton Leslie 10/10

  • “There’s no milky, fatty aftertaste! I love it! Since I’m vegan I’d definitely choose this over normal cream cheese.”

Natalie Storm 8/10

  • “It seems lighter than the dairy version. I’d go for it!”

 

The Verdict

The taste testers and myself all liked this product. The texture is exactly like traditional cream cheese and the taste is similar. You can tell it’s different, but not in a bad way. A vegan cream cheese would be an excellent addition to Prin’s Bagel Tuesday.

Although this alternative cream “cheese” is a step in the right direction, there’s one ingredient I have a problem with, and it’s palm oil. I did some research the company claims it’s sustainably sourced. Personally, I like to avoid products that contain this oil if possible.