Thursday, November 16, 2023

Campbell's is grappling with how to be 'environmental sustainable' with its soups and agricultural purchases

Chief Agricultural Expert Harry Hall inspects tomatoes at Campbell's
research farm in the 1920s. (Photo via Lancaster Farming)
MMM MMM GOOD. Most Americans know that only means one thing -- Campbell's soup. What most of us may not know is where all those MMM MMM-ingredients came from, or what the agricultural practices of a company as dominating as Campbell's means. "But the Camden, New Jersey-based company is grappling with what it means to be environmentally sustainable as a major purchaser of agricultural products," reports Dan Sullivan of Lancaster Farming. "Supplier Ronnie Abrams grows 130 acres of potatoes and 130 acres of carrots in Burlington, New Jersey. . . . But Campbell's long ago shifted its tomato production to California, which grows 90% of the nation's and about a third of the world's processing tomatoes."

Campbell's soups are filled with tomatoes, wheat and potatoes, and the "company contracts with local produce growers, too. Some of the company's relationships with family farmers date back more than 70 years," Sullivan writes. "The company has sustainable agriculture programs for each of its key ingredients, part of a goal to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its supply chain 25% by 2030."

The company used to breed "its own tomato varieties and send armies of agronomists to work with farmers," Sullivan reports. "Today, field staff visit the company's growers, helping them plan the season, monitoring the crop, and making sure Campbell's gets the tomatoes it needs in August and September." Ryan Vroegindewey, Campbell's associate director for sustainable agriculture, told Sullivan: "The crops represent important opportunities for us as a company to steward the environment and to partner farmers to steward the land that these crops are grown on."

When questioned on the company's "wisdom of the company putting all its tomatoes in one basket by growing in one small region of the country — and in an area with such a scarcity of water — rather than diversifying production geographically," Sullivan writes. "Vroegindewey said Campbell's continues to contract with some producers in other parts of the country for other agricultural products, and 80% of its contract tomato growers now use subsurface drip irrigation."

When asked if "Campbell's would consider shifting more production to the East to support sustainability principles, Vroegindewey said, 'I think people are thinking about it. . . . We're in California. We're there to stay.'. . . . Campbell's products are in 95% of U.S. homes, the company employs 14,500 workers across North America, and it has annual net sales of $9.4 billion."

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