When surveyed, 25 percent of Gen Zers and 32 percent of Millennials say sustainability plays a significant influence on their buying decisions. Considering these two generations comprise more than half of the global population, it’s only smart that businesses are rethinking their approach to the products they make. Among these changemakers include snack companies, which are responding to the global climate crisis by reducing their carbon footprint and in some cases, reversing it entirely.
Although snacking may seem far-flung from the issue of sustainability, it’s actually quite close. Here's how and why consumers are demanding change, what the major obstacles are, and which companies are innovating to meet the challenge.
Snack foods are notorious for their long list of ingredients and additives, which often feature names like “potassium bromate” or “yellow tartrazine"—these sound more like they’re from a science fiction novel than the back of a food package. Even more sobering, a loophole in legislation allows many companies to conduct their own research and label food as “generally safe for consumption," or GRAS, without even notifying the FDA.
Considering this, it's only natural to see growth in consumers' desire to know precisely what they are eating and in response, growth in companies using whole ingredients as well as posting manufacturing methods right on their websites. Whole ingredients are a big point of interest as even minimally processed snacks still hold implications for the environment. For example, if a snack company uses a synthetic ingredient, the impact that ingredient or its byproducts have on the environment is difficult to predict. This is because overall, ecosystems evolve slowly, meaning they can become burdened or sickened by foreign substances. As a result, by just using whole ingredients it's possible snack companies can largely avoid this dilemma.
Food Waste Initiatives
Food waste is a fascinating, underappreciated issue in sustainability. A manifesto put out by the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) asserts that 40% of all food produced is wasted, contributing to 8% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To put this in perspective, if food waste were a country, it would be the third greatest contributor to GHG emissions, behind the US and China.
Food waste is clearly an issue, but the good thing is that consumers are showing they care. Companies like Renewal Mill and Regrained have made it their mission to close the loop on the food economy, offering pantry staples and snacks that are made from upcycled ingredients. As Jonathan Deutsch from the UFA puts it, “Food waste isn't waste until we decide it is. Let's not think of it as making something from food that would otherwise be wasted, but rather using all of this delicious and nutritious food in our supply chain”. Not only is this a succinct perspective on the matter, but it’s one that encourages us to perceive food waste as a collective issue, not an individual one.
The Packaging Problem
Oh boy, this is a big one. After all, those snack cans, wrappers, bags, and boxes have to go somewhere and the options aren’t so savory. In general, our trash is either allocated to a landfill, incinerated, or simply neglected, eventually entering the natural ecosystem. What’s more, most snack packages are used just once, meaning they have an outsized negative impact on global waste accumulation. To address this looming issue, companies are finding alternatives. Impact Snacks, which is the brainchild of two Gen Zers, has developed a line of superfood bars that are packaged in 100% biodegradable plant material. Their point? Anything is better than plastic, and they’re right.
Plastic is perhaps one of the most pervasive and pernicious materials present in the global climate crisis. Made from extracted and refined crude oil, plastic never breaks down in the environment. Instead, it simply breaks up, creating microplastics. This means fish and other animals can ultimately consume this plastic, eventually making their way onto our plates and into our bodies. Microplastics are even in our drinking water since many water treatment plants are not equipped to filter them. All told, it’s estimated that the average person consumes a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. For as disconcerting as this is, it makes committing to snacking sustainably that much easier.
Sustainable Snack Brands for What You’re Craving
We’ve peppered this article with some upstanding (and tasty) snack brands, and we think it’s worth sharing some additional brands that are also making serious efforts towards sustainability. Here are several we recommend:
- Bjorn Qorn
- Moonshot Snacks
- Patagonia Provisions jerky
- Alter Eco
- Coconut Bliss
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