KeHE Hosts Sustainability Panel to Help Better Brands Nurture a Better Planet

On World Conservation Day 2021, KeHe, the national food distributor, gathered its most sustainable brands in a unique panel event moderated by life-long sustainability advocate, Nancy Trent, Founder and President of Trent & Company, the first PR firm dedicated entirely to well-being. The event was attended by media and retailers to discuss what companies can do as a collective to better our planet.

Trent kicked off the panel with a bold remark about the planet: “If we don’t take steps to create a more sustainable future, we won’t have a future.”

In the U.S., 40% of food produced goes uneaten, Trent said. Not only does 130 billion pounds of food go to waste in the country annually, but it also contributes to 8% of global emissions. Human beings are a link on the food supply chain, and it is our duty to not only combat waste, but also to reduce emissions and partner with other brands interested in the environment to create a more sustainable future.

Laura McCord, Executive Director of KeHe, echoed that sentiment by encouraging brands to take small steps. “We have the knowledge, expertise and passion in our team to tackle this issue,” McCord encouraged. “We all must work within our supply chains and ensure we’re paying livable wages, that farmers are practicing in organic and regenerative ways, and that we think about packaging for our products.”

On the panel were eco-conscious brands Alter Eco, Cadia, Kuli Kuli, Oteas, Repurpose, PipCorn and Zubi, and they explained how they are tackling the climate crisis.

“It’s who we are and it is part of our DNA,” said Antoine Ambert, Senior Director of Innovation and Sustainability at Alter Eco. “That’s why we decided to rebrand our packaging and put our mission for regenerative farming at the forefront. There are studies showing the increase in climate change so it’s now or never, we all need to act.”

Alter Eco produces chocolate bars through regenerative agriculture, and they are focusing on three regenerative commitments: being climate neutral, investing in fair trade and regenerative farming, and eliminating waste. Through their commitments, they are reducing and offsetting all of their carbon emissions, providing their farmers with funding and training, and ensuring by the end of 2021 all of their packaging is either recyclable or compostable (most of it is already)!

More encouragement to do better came from Stacee McGovern, Marketing and Product Development at Cadia, who advised views: “Seek out brand transparency. Read labels. Eat Organic. Support local.” Cadia, the company with 100% recycled bath tissue and paper towels, takes pride in long-term partnerships with organic farmers and producers that ultimately bring trusted and high-quality products to neighborhood natural markets. They believe in food without synthetic pesticides for better people and the planet. Their organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, and increase soil fertility.

Another panelist, Emma Giloth, Director of Impact and Innovation at Kuli Kuli, added, “Our biggest recommendation is to learn as much as you can about the brands you purchase and be willing to pay a little more for products made sustainably. Use your power as a consumer to support companies choosing to invest in climate-smart crops, regenerative agriculture, and sustainable packaging.”

Kuli Kuli is a moringa superfood brand with a vision to pioneer the plants of the future. With their mission to turn climate-smart, community-grown superfoods into everyday food staples, they create sustainable supply chains that provide nourishment, livelihood, and reforestation in communities around the world. Through their efforts, Kuli Kuli has provided $5 million in income to small farmers and eliminated the equivalent of 40,000 plastic bottles a year through their recyclable packaging.

“We believe in climate justice and trust that the transition to green business practices, like our Foundation’s work in regenerative cocoa, will bring opportunities to reduce poverty and inequality,” Giloth said.

Shelley Evans, Co-Founder of Oteas, makers of 100% plastic-free teabags, talked about how they converted all of their packaging to be made out of plant-based materials, ensuring that their zero-waste option can be enjoyed today without impacting tomorrow. Evans urged pioneers to make progress even if it’s not yet perfect. “The grocery industry has a long way to go in terms of becoming more environmentally friendly, and we thought the best way to start is with one’s morning cup of tea,” Oteas explained. “We know consumer packaged goods make up over a quarter of U.S. landfills, and while we like to think that most plastic will make it to a recycling center or waste treatment center, unfortunately, many pieces fall through the cracks and end up in our streams, lakes, and oceans harming local wildlife and polluting our fresh waterways.”

The war on plastic is massive, so Repurpose focused on fighting the good fight on the following fronts: toxicity, petroleum dependence, and reduce landfill waste. They use upcycled and renewable materials when possible, and all their products harness the power of plants. Additionally, they provide an end-of-life opportunity for single-use products that don’t end up clogging landfills.

“To put it simply, Repurpose cares,” said said Alison Fox, Director of Marketing. “We care about our home planet and all the people living on it. Sustainable tableware is just our piece of a greater solution.”

Pipcorn shared their mission to become the most sustainable snack food company on the planet. Through their upcycled heirloom super corn, they protect genetic diversity and enable open pollination, which reduces the number of trips to the field and cuts down on emissions. They also launched their upcycled snack crackers made from excess heirloom corn flour, allowing them to use 99% of all heirloom corn that they purchase while reducing waste.

“It can start with something small,” noted Jeff Martin, Co-Founder of Pipcorn. “Try upcycling. See what things you’d normally throw out and what you can make them into.”

Rounding out the panel of changemakers was Sarah Zubiate, Founder and CEO of Zubi, which offers dips and salsa that are always free of the top eight allergens. With a dedication to zero waste farming, they also believe in 100% sustainable farming through regenerative agriculture for a better planet. “I believe there is a growing desire for sustainability and wellness in plant-based foods,” said Zubiate. “However, I do understand there is a balancing act: establishing clean, healthy products all while also maintaining satisfaction with taste and flavors. We understand that consumers desire wholesome products that are true to the philosophy of ‘Plant to Plate’ or ‘Farm to Table.'”

Trent and the panelists also conversed on how retailers can support these efforts by using endcaps as a platform to communicate to their consumers that what these companies are doing matters. Consumer education is important. Also discussed were techniques for sustainable brands to collaborate and help one another, as well as brands thinking of becoming more sustainable, with sourcing, supply chain issues, packaging innovations, marketing and manufacturing.

These brands urged other businesses to get behind this environmental movement because if they don’t, they will be left behind. Consumers are mandating change and you must respond to consumer demands and need. It’s imperative for businesses to make this part of their ethos, their brand story, and yo give back to the community.

You can also make a difference by starting small. Consumers can vote for change with their dollars by supporting brands that celebrate and better the planet!