The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Amy’s Kitchen

Sustainability Series: Amy’s Kitchen

Sustainability

July 26, 2009

Family-owned since the creation of their first pot pie in 1987, Amy’s Kitchen is now the leading prepared organic food company in the nation, boasting $240 million in revenues last year. Based in Petaluma, California, the 1,600-employee company sells 140 vegetarian products in nearly all supermarkets in the U.S. We talked to co-founder and CEO Andy Berliner about the environmental and social benefits of sustainable agriculture and products.

How does your business define sustainability?

We are a family run business, named after our daughter. So we think a lot about the next generation to come. For Amy’s Kitchen, sustainability isn’t something that we define, it’s who we are. Our mission is to make a broad selection of delicious vegetarian convenience food available to as many people as possible. One of the simplest, most powerful things that any of us can do to create a more sustainable planet is to reduce our consumption of meat products. Amy’s Kitchen makes that an easy and delicious choice.

Amy’s Kitchen also subscribes to a concept of sustainability that is well recognized within the organic agriculture community and revolves around the three pillars of being environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially and ethically just. We also believe in “living within the limits of nature” and in the U.N.’s description of “meeting one’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business? 

It happens with every meal we produce. The fastest and easiest way for humans to help reduce global warming is to simply reduce their consumption of meat, or to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Much of the harmful greenhouse gas that we need to reduce is caused by the industrial production of meat.

In addition, Amy’s sustainable business practices include:

•    Working with organic growers to encourage sustainable farming practices
•    Using only non-GMO ingredients
•    Recycling and conserving water in our manufacturing facilities
•    Recycling waste paper products across our operations
•    Converting to a “cool roof” in our production facilities
•    Donating our vegetable scraps (over 740 tons last year) to local dairy farmers 
•    Working with PowerIt Solutions to create variable frequency drives for energy consumption management 

For Amy’s it’s both a mix of long-established practices and the opportunities new technologies and design changes can provide.

What are your short term and long term goals? 

Short term, some of our biggest challenges are in eco-friendly consumer packaging. We already do a great deal of recycling within our operations for paper, metal, plastics, etc. but there is always room for improvement. 

Long term, we’d like to make our food available to as many people as possible in as many countries as we can. As we expand production into other areas of the country, and eventually the world, we’ll be able to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel intensive transportation services.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact? 

If the biggest measurable impact and concern is CO2 emissions and its effect on global warming, we believe that our dedication to organic agriculture and a vegetarian diet are the most significant contribution Amy’s Kitchen can make as a food manufacturing company.

We’ve noticed that more and more young people are enjoying a healthy lifestyle and they tell us that Amy’s Kitchen is a big part of their lives. We’ve always relied on word of mouth to spread our story and we see a growing legion of fans spreading the good news – eating vegetarian food doesn’t have to be boring. As we sell our products in more stores across the country, new customers are discovering our food every day. We see healthy people and a healthy planet as one and the same. Ultimately, that’s the best recipe for a sustainable future and that’s how we will make our biggest impact.

How do you measure your progress? 

We measure our progress one customer at a time. Everyday, someone takes the time to write and tell us that since they discovered Amy’s Kitchen, they’re living a healthier life. People are learning that eating vegetarian foods can be fun and delicious. Of course we keep track of how many resources we conserve but we really value the impact of helping thousands of people find their way to eating healthy foods for themselves and the planet.

How do retailers factor into your efforts? 

Amy’s receives inquiries about our company’s sustainability, organic, and fair-trade practices from the smallest natural food store in rural Ontario to a suburban Wal-Mart. It’s definitely the current trend for retailers to be asking more about the practices of companies who are putting products on their shelves. Amy’s will benefit from this increased level of scrutiny. We have a very positive story to relate to all our customers.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry? 

There is simply is not enough land and water on the planet to sustain the crops to feed the animals that people then eat. But there’s plenty of land to grow the crops to feed all of the people many times over. It takes seven times as much land to provide a pound of meat versus a pound of vegetables.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

We’re all in this together and there’s only one Earth. With every dollar consumers spend, they are supporting the businesses that produce the food that they eat. All of us have the same motivation – to do what we can to protect the earth from harm. More and more, our customers are telling us that they value a company such as Amy’s Kitchen that stands for something more than making a profit.

Also, from the consumer feedback we receive, we know that our customers feel good about purchasing Amy’s products. Consumers want to feel that their purchasing choices make a positive difference. Amy’s dedication to great tasting organic food and to making meals for people with special diet needs such as gluten-free and dairy-free, are part of that positive impact. 

When Amy’s Kitchen was first founded, Amy’s mom – Rachel Berliner – made a promise to read every letter that came into the company. That was before e-mail! Now we receive thousands of messages from our customers. We know what they are thinking and that sustainability has become a growing concern. Being a leading company in the organic and natural foods industry, we are held to a very high standard by our customers and they expect us to be doing the right thing. We may be held to a higher bar than what other conventional food companies face, but we are up for the challenge.

 

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom atallison@foodnutritionscience.com.