Sustainability isn’t just essential to farmers and consumers, it’s also vital for businesses. The Hershey Company is one of the largest chocolate companies in North America, which means that it can have a big impact on making sustainable choices in business, the environment and communities. Many US peanut farmers grow the peanuts used in your favorite Hershey products like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, PayDay candy bars, Mr. Goodbar and Nutrageous.
We asked Hershey’s Mark Kline, senior manager of peanut sourcing, and Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency, about sustainability at the Hershey Company and how peanuts play a role.
1. People can have vastly different definitions of sustainability. What does sustainability mean to the Hershey Company?
At Hershey, our commitment to ethical business practices is core to who we are. We strive to make sure all of our decisions — from responsible sourcing of our ingredients and environmental stewardship to fostering diverse work environments and transparency— are guided by our deeply held values. It’s fundamental to operating a truly sustainable business.
A key part of our commitment to sustainability is good business practices that fit with our values. This approach affects everyone in our supply chain, from cocoa farmers and their communities to our employees, shareholders and customers who buy our delicious snacks. When we say an ingredient is sustainably sourced, we know it was farmed in a responsible manner so the land, people and community that produced it can continue to thrive. Sourcing ingredients the right way involves the entire value chain. Everyone involved in making Hershey products works together to ensure mutual prosperity and a sustainable future for our communities and commodities.
Sustainability also means caring for our planet. At Hershey, we’re part of a growing effort around the world that’s committed to doing all the right things to preserve, nurture and grow what matters most. We value the limited natural resources on our planet, and work hard to use them responsibly and minimize our impact. We’ve committed to reducing several key metrics, including greenhouse gas emissions and water use in our manufacturing plants even as we seek to grow our business.
2. What is Hershey doing to emphasize sustainability and to add more transparency to its products?
We believe Hershey has a great sustainability story to tell, which is why we’re committed to sharing our progress every year in our annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report. This comprehensive document is full of details on our sustainability work, whether this is in the sourcing of our ingredients or reducing the environmental footprint of our operations. We also report our progress on our website so consumers can learn about our initiatives and feel good that one of their favorite companies is aligned with their values of environmental responsibility. Besides how we communicate this work, we’re taking a look at each ingredient we buy and doing a thoughtful analysis of where we can drive sustainability and how that can be accomplished. This is evidenced by our recent decision to source cage-free eggs as well as our focus on the issue of deforestation. We’ve realized that these are sustainability and responsible sourcing issues where we can have an impact, and we’re aligned our business accordingly with guidelines for what we buy and who we work with.
Transparency is a core value at The Hershey Company. It’s why we’ve pioneered the new SmartLabel™ industry-wide program that allows consumers to access a full suite of product information by easily scanning a QR code on the product package. From definitions of ingredients to allergens to a product’s GMO status, a vast array of information is a click away. By the end of this year, we will have live landing pages for all products in our U.S. portfolio, and we will be adding links to SmartLabel™ landing pages on the product pages of our corporate and brand web sites.
3. What are you hearing from consumers when it comes to what they want regarding sustainability? From retailers and other customers?
Consumers are increasingly concerned about sustainability, but how they assess a brand’s commitment to sustainability varies. For some, it’s only buying organic. For others, it’s looking at carbon footprint or how the company gives back to the communities in which they operate. We also know that sustainability is increasingly important to our retail customers because it’s important to consumers. Our retail customers want to feel good about the products they offer in their stores. Our intent is to make sure that everything we are doing is easily accessible and viewable to those looking to learn about us, either in our annual CSR report, on our website or in other communications venues.
4. Why are peanuts so important at Hershey?
We use peanuts in a number of our products including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, PayDay, Mr. Goodbar and Nutrageous to name a few. Peanuts provide a rich roasted nut flavor and creamy or crunchy texture to our products. Peanuts are versatile and pair well with indulgent chocolate or can be combined with other salty and sweet ingredients for a snackable treat. With the number of peanut-containing products in our portfolio, Hershey’s has become one of the largest buyers of peanuts in the U.S.
5. How do Hershey and peanut farmers work together to preserve the environment and create high-quality foods?
It is important for The Hershey Company to support the peanut industry in enabling sustainable practices. Over the past few years, Hershey has invested in the Peanut Genomics Initiative. The overall goal of this project is to improve peanut competitiveness and sustainability through understanding the natural genetic diversity of peanuts and enabling rapid characterization of desired peanut traits through non-GMO marker assisted selection. This approach is based on traditional breeding, but with the ability to tell if a plant has a specific characteristic before it is visually apparent. Desired peanut characteristics to improve peanut sustainability include early maturity, disease resistance and improved yield. Food products will also benefit from traits such as the high oleic character which improves flavor of peanuts in products over time.
6. Hershey recently launched Sourcemap. What is it, how does it work and what’s its purpose in supporting sustainability?
Sourcemap is a new software tool that we are piloting to create maps of where a product is made and where around the country and the world our key ingredients come from. By clicking on each ingredient’s node on the map, consumers can learn more through text, photos and videos, including how the ingredient is grown and harvested, and details about our sustainable sourcing initiatives in different communities. We have two Sourcemaps that are live on our company website right now, including one for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We hope that users of Sourcemap will perhaps learn something new about different agricultural crops, the farmers who help feed our families, and all that we are doing in local communities for environmental and economic sustainability.
7. What does the future of sustainability look like at Hershey?
We believe that sustainability is not a fad. This is an issue that is not going to diminish in importance to our company, our customers, our consumers or our supply chain. We believe that the future of sustainability around the world will involve a transition from a topic that is treated as separate from normal business operations to one that is an integrated part of how we and the world do business. Growing populations, scarcity of key resources, and growing concern for the environmental impact of personal consumption in the minds of consumers all are pointing to the necessity of sustainability work to be a successful business in the future. We believe we’re getting a head start on this future, and are working on making sustainability a core tenet of how Hershey operates. Doing well by doing good is at our core, and sustainability fits perfectly in this mindset.