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Conagra Brands' Michael Fazio talks about sustainability on eve of Earth Day

What helps drive Conagra's sustainability efforts with c-stores and the road ahead for the company and its products.
male writer Chris Daniels
Michael Fazio Conagra Brands
Michael Fazio, director of sales and sustainability lead at Conagra Brands Canada

Brands sold in c-stores are approaching their sustainability goal posts. That includes Conagra Brands, whose offerings in the channel include the popcorn brands, Orville Redenbacher, Act II and Angie’s Boomchickapop, as well as Slim Jim meat sticks.

In March, the company released its 2023 Citizenship Report, a 40-plus page report highlighting the progress and achievements made so far in its citizenship strategy. 

The strategy has four pillars: a dedication to making safe, delicious and nutritious food; responsible sourcing of packaging materials as well as ingredients, which includes advancing regenerative agriculture in supply chain (like for popcorn); bettering the planet with responsible environmental practices; and strengthening communities with impactful, energized and inclusive culture in food. 

Ahead of Earth Day on April 22, Michael Fazio, director of sales and sustainability lead at Conagra Brands Canada, caught up Convenience Store News Canada on the company’s achievements so far, the challenge of “the last mile” in fully realizing its biggest sustainability goals and the driving principles behind its sustainability efforts. 

Packaging is a huge environmental issue. What does progress look like at Conagra?  

In fiscal year 2023, approximately 93% of Conagra’s packaging materials by volume were renewable, recyclable or compostable – striving towards 100% by 2025. Building a better planet and having responsible sourcing are focus areas in Conagra’s Citizenship strategy. We take into account the potential environmental and social impacts of our products throughout their lifecycle and seek to support circularity through regenerative agriculture practices and thoughtful packaging design.

What are the biggest challenges to reaching 100% by 2025? 

The last mile to 100% can be the most challenging as food safety, product quality and shelf life (food waste), and affordability to our customers matter. We are consistently seeking solutions to achieve our 100% endeavor while ensuring proper oxygen and moisture barrier and design. Packaging not only impacts product, but also production, logistics and palletization for efficient shipping and packaging weights, so we need to get it right. When it comes to packaging, we’re committed to hitting the remaining goals by 2025 and take actions like the following:

  • Having defined a list of packaging to be designated as problematic or unnecessary, take measures to eliminate them by 2025.
  • All plastic packaging we’ll use is 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging
  • The average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging will be 30%. 

Earth Day is on April 22. How will Conagra and its brands celebrate that milestone?  

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is becoming increasingly embedded in our culture and ways of working throughout the year. For Earth Day, besides leveraging our digital communication boards throughout the office to reinforce our ESG objectives, milestones, best practices and results, we are also active within our communities as an organization throughout the year, partnering with United Way, Seva Food Bank, Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke and Food Banks Mississauga. These causes are important to our organization, and we take to heart initiatives that enhance the communities where we work and live.   

What will be important in the coming years for the CPG industry to reach their sustainability goals?  

As a leader in the food industry, aiming to make delicious, safe, nutritious, affordable, accessible and convenient food is a priority of ours. In the case of Conagra Brands, our approach is guided by four focus areas: Good Food, Responsible Sourcing, Better Planet and Stronger Communities. These encompass what we look to achieve in all our Citizenship Strategy actions and guide the actions we take as a company. 

How can c-store chains support waste-reduction measures?

Besides [recycling and proper waste separation], C-store chains can work with companies and partners with clear and robust ESG goals, metrics and objectives.

What strides has Conagra Brands made in sustainability including of its products sold in the c-store channel?  

Approximately 70% of our meatless options, including those from brands like Healthy Choice and Gardein, are rated A or B by Nutri-Score, an internationally recognized metric that evaluates the nutrition of vegan and vegetarian products.  In fiscal year 2023, Conagra’s total ingredient buy by volume was approximately 81% plant-based, 7% dairy and eggs and 12% animal proteins. And 100% of popcorn seeds were grown using winter cover crops, which prevent soil erosion, retain nutrients, conserve moisture and guard against soil compaction. 

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