On Monday, the Mind the Store campaign released their second annual review of retailer action on toxic chemicals: Who’s Minding the Store? – A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals. The report card evaluates 30 retailers across a variety of product sectors, including cosmetics, electronics, baby products, and grocery. How are retailers doing? Let’s take a closer look.
As a Trump Administration appointee tries to dismantle EPA’s credibility as a guardian of public health and the environment, other actors have been stepping up. We recently examined retailers leading the way on removing chemicals of concern from the marketplace – but there has also been significant activity from state governments and companies to increase transparency about the chemicals we are exposed to every day and to empower consumers to make informed decisions about their product purchases.
Regulatory steps in the right direction
Government activity has recently focused on cleaning products, for good reason as the contents of these products are typically the biggest mystery for consumers.
Walmart made two big moves last week to reinforce its commitment to leadership on safer chemicals. In 2013 Walmart sent a major demand signal for safer chemicals through the supply chain – issuing its Sustainable Chemistry Policy that covered 700 suppliers and over 90,000 cleaning, personal care, and cosmetics products on its shelves. The policy called for greater ingredient transparency and the reduction and elimination of chemicals harmful to human and environmental health, starting with eight prevalent chemicals of concern. Last week, Walmart released its latest results following up on these commitments and became the first retailer to participate in the Chemical Footprint Project annual survey (and the second major retailer to become a CFP signatory).
Walmart’s participation in the Chemical Footprint Project is a new indicator of its continued commitment to safer products
The Chemical Footprint Project is an initiative to benchmark how effectively companies are managing the chemicals in their products and supply chains. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s a way for investors and large purchasers to assess which firms are carrying heavy chemical risk and which ones are demonstrating competitive leadership in response to growing demand for safer products. So far, 24 companies, including Walmart, participate in this program – sending a clear signal to their suppliers, investors, and consumers that chemicals management is material to business success. Leaders identified in the CFP survey show that adopting and enforcing policies and measuring progress are key to reducing chemicals of concern.
Progress on its ground-breaking policy
Also last week, Walmart quietly released its second annual Sustainable Chemistry Policy report, showing progress on its policy to eliminate priority chemicals. The chemicals of concern were drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and other authoritative lists – starting with eight High Priority Chemicals.
A chemical inventory is the first step in meeting a commitment to reduce your chemical footprint
Before jumping into the results, let's review why this public disclosure of results is important. If you can't measure something, you can't improve it effectively. Walmart’s public reporting of quantitative data shows that it is serious about measuring its chemical footprint and being transparent about it. Walmart uses aggregate chemical inventory information across and within the departments under the policy to track progress.
Clear, meaningful metrics to track progress are the next step
Walmart tracks progress by looking at both weight volume – pounds of chemicals going out the door – and ubiquity – number of suppliers using these chemicals and the number of products in which they are using them. Both are important indicators of the prevalence of these chemicals in our world. Last year, Walmart achieved a 95% reduction in its High Priority Chemicals (HPCs) at Walmart US stores, equivalent to 23 million lbs. Since then, another 372,230 lbs have been removed – a 30% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 96% drop since the policy began in 2014. Similar reductions continue to happen at Walmart's Sam's Club stores: another 75,629 lbs have been eliminated, a 53% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 68% drop compared to 2014. The second year results also reaffirm that a concerted effort to reduce a select set of priority chemicals, i.e. HPCs, drives results faster. Overall usage of Walmart Priority Chemicals continues to decrease (at Walmart US stores), but not nearly at the rate of that of Walmart HPCs.
Walmart’s public disclosure also shows that the company isn’t afraid to share where performance is lagging
Though overall weight volume of the HPCs continues to drop, their ubiquity continues to be a challenge. Both the number of products (i.e. UPCs) containing the HPCs and the number of suppliers using them continues to drop, at both Walmart US and Sam’s Club stores, but at a rate slower than the weight volume reduction.
The tools for success
In the end, Walmart continues to make progress against its policy as demonstrated through real data. Beyond data, what else contributes to Walmart‘s success?
- Clear targets
- Driving action through the business (where relationships between buyers and suppliers stress the importance of the commitments)
- Public accountability
With new notable commitments popping up from other major retailers like Target and CVS, we hope to see similar tracking and reporting of meaningful results both directly and through the Chemical Footprint Project survey.
Boma Brown-West is Senior Manager of Consumer Health at EDF + Business. You can follow her on Twitter for insights and analysis on safer chemicals leadership in the supply chain and subscribe to her Behind the Label newsletter here.
Yesterday Target announced a new chemicals policy that applies to all products sold in its stores and to its operations. Does this policy have the capability to transform the marketplace by ushering in safer affordable products? Let’s take a look.
In the new policy, Target announces aspirations and time-bounded goals framed in three major areas: transparency, chemical management, and innovation.
On transparency, Target has surpassed its competitors by committing to gain not only full visibility into the chemicals in final products but also into chemicals used in manufacturing operations. Target also takes a leadership stance by aspiring for this full material disclosure across all product categories. This goal is significant and noteworthy, considering the number and variety of products (and associated manufacturing processes) at the average retail store. Target will first implement this transparency goal in “beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning formulated products by 2020”. In one drawback, Target is quiet regarding if and how this enhanced supply chain transparency will translate into greater ingredient transparency to consumers.
In the second area, chemical management, Target vows to implement a hazard-based approach to prioritize chemicals. It announces the use of hazard profiles – which characterize the inherent health and environmental hazards of chemicals – in judging which chemicals get added to Target’s new Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs) and Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSLs), for future reduction and/or removal. This approach is critical to fostering safer product design and is in line with the philosophy of the Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, guiding principles EDF helped develop. To kick off this work, Target outlines chemical and product specific goals: removal of PFCs and flame retardants from textiles by 2022 and removal of formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors, phthalates, butyl paraben, propyl paraben, and NPEs from the formulated product categories mentioned above by 2020.
Finally, Target commits to directly support safer chemicals innovation. In doing so, Target has shown its understanding that eliminating hazardous chemicals from the consumer product value chain is half the battle; promoting the development or discovery of safer alternatives and enabling their usability in products is as important. Specifically, Target pledges an investment of up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.
Target also pledges to publicly share progress against its new policy on an annual basis. We look forward to this regular engagement of the public and hope it will include quantitative measures of progress.
EDF commends Target for establishing a corporate chemicals policy, making it ambitious, and stipulating time-bound goals in specific product categories. Target continues the emphasis on beauty, home and personal care, and baby products that it initiated in 2013 with its Sustainable Product Index. New to the fold is action on safer textiles. In another welcome development, Target has publicly released a key set of chemicals of concern that it plans to remove from these product categories. Interestingly for formulated products, Target’s starting list of chemicals for removal is very similar to the initial set of high priority chemicals Walmart disclosed in 2016. With the two largest retailers in the U.S. not slowing down on safer chemicals leadership, the future of the marketplace looks healthier. Will other retailers finally follow suit?
Last June, fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it would do away with the remaining artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its Panera at Home products. The company expects to make its entire portfolio of nearly 50 grocery items “clean,” meaning free of its “No No List” additives, by the end of 2016.
"Cleaning" up its Panera at Home product line comes in addition Panera’s 2014 commitment to remove the “No No list” ingredients from all restaurant food offerings within the same time frame and adhere to other criteria of its “Food Policy”.
Panera has consistently run far ahead of their competitors, and they’ve done it in five key areas where companies can lead on chemicals: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informing consumers, public commitment, and product design. Panera set such a good example of leadership in making safer food available to their customers that we’ve developed a case study to showcase Panera’s approach and results to date.
EDF worked with Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, to develop the case study, who offered many insights into their process. For example, on Panera’s decision to expand its commitment to include retail food, Burnett shared that, “Much of the work that we’ve done to simplify recipes in our bakery-cafes has set a standard for Panera at Home products. However, the challenges in the consumer packaged goods space are unique, where artificial additives have long been used to preserve taste and appearance. For us, the answer was often simple. For instance, we decided early on to use refrigeration to help extend shelf life for products like our soups and salad dressings. Where necessary, we’ve relied on natural preservatives – such as rosemary extract – to do the job.”
Panera started that process by looking at every ingredient used in their food and deciding what was essential. Once that determination was made, Panera identified more than 150 food additives to be prohibited in their food after 2016. Of approximately 450 ingredients they manage, roughly one-third needed reformulation.
Out of several hundred suppliers, only one walked away as a result of the new guidelines. In addition, the deep dive into Panera’s sources and potential replacement options also surfaced opportunities for improvement. As a result, many of the suppliers found that they not only strengthened their relationship with Panera, but developed better business offerings for their other customers.
While a limited number of categories still require change – sweets and fountain sodas among them – Panera has overcome many of its toughest challenges. For example, broccoli cheddar soup took 60 revisions to meet customer expectations in taste tests. Many items, from candy pieces to mozzarella cheese, are now differently colored from their predecessors but meet Panera’s clean criteria and customer preferences. Two products – pepperoncini and white pastry cream – have been unable to meet both Panera’s and customers’ expectations, and will likely be removed from the menu come 2017.
Sales numbers would indicate that customers are also pleased. In July 2016, Panera Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich said “Our strong Q2 results reinforce the fact that our strategy is working and our initiatives are performing. Panera is becoming a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. At a time when other restaurant companies are feeling the impact of a slowing consumer environment, we are maintaining our momentum.”
Or as Burnett puts it, “When we meet customer needs and expectations, sales follow.”
Panera is not alone in their efforts, but they are definitely among the leaders. Since Panera announced its comprehensive food policy in June of 2014, more than a dozen major food manufacturers and restaurants have also made public commitments to reduce or eliminate artificial flavors and colors from their brands.
Learn more about how food companies can lead on safer chemicals management with our blueprint for safer food additives, part of EDF’s Behind the Label initiative.
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It seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.
What’s driving all this change?
It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.
According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 23% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.
Another survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.
There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.
EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food. We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food. Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.