Your grocery list might be pressuring big food companies to take sustainability mainstream

Seward Co-op
Mehdi Kennar, a floor supervisor at the Seward Co-op, hands a shopper her groceries in October 2013.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Maybe you've heard of influencers — people who drive trends and purchases with what they post on Instagram or YouTube. Well, Perteet Spencer considers people who shop at Twin Cities markets like Kowalski's and Lunds & Byerlys influencers.

She’s a vice president at the data firm SPINS, which tracks what's playing well with shoppers in these and other upscale markets. Spencer said their purchases are helping to take sustainable food mainstream.

“These are [product] categories that didn’t exist a few years ago that are now at wide scale across the market with over 50 percent of households purchasing these products,” Spencer told MPR News host Tom Crann. She cited brands Califia Farms, which sells plant-based milks, and Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein company, as examples.

Spencer said these consumer expectations and demands are becoming key motivators for big food companies to move toward sustainability. Earlier this year, General Mills pledged to bring sustainable farming practices to a million acres of farmland by 2030. While General Mills says the initiative helps the environment and farmers be more resilient, it also helps the company’s bottom line.

“If you look at the assortment of health and wellness products today, [it] gives us about 25 percent of sales, but 53 percent of the growth,” said Spencer. “It’s certainly a growth driver and will be the foods that transform these companies and retailers.”

So what does Spencer expect will transform the market next? Sustainable micro-nutrients. Spencer said some brands are experimenting with nutrient sources that haven’t been a part of the American diet and are plentiful, including crickets and kelp.

To hear more about the trend in sustainable foods click on the audio player above.