For the world’s largest food and beverage companies, the push for a more responsible and sustainable supply chain is as much about long-term survival as it is about addressing current concerns expressed by investors and other key stakeholders.
Yet much of the conversation about sustainable food usually centers on ingredients such as cocoa, coffee, soy, palm oil and beef.
Mars, Inc., however, points to one ingredient that epitomizes the company’s drive to scale impact where it can to secure a healthy planet and thriving farming communities: mint.
So why mint?
Mint is an essential flavoring for many of Mars’ products, as the company says it uses the ingredient in 65 percent of gum and candy products across 15 brands. Those names include Altoids mints as well as Wrigley, Extra and Orbit chewing gums. The millions of consumers who buy Mars’ products – and have for generations – help keep thousands of farmers in the U.S., Canada and India employed. And those family farmers contribute to a mint industry that is worth at least $700 million worldwide.
But today, mint farmers are confronting several hurdles to their family businesses, such as soil health, water scarcity, crop disease and changing weather patterns. Mars believes working with these farmers and their communities can serve as a case study for the company’s “Sustainable in a Generation” plan, which tackles big areas of impact like climate change, water consumption, land use, women’s empowerment and boosting the incomes of people who work within the company’s global supply chain.
To that end, Mars has embarked on a strategy for mint farmers that seeks three goals by 2025: advance mint plant science, decrease water consumption by 30 percent in water-stressed areas where mint is grown and improve smallholder farmers’ incomes.
The program encapsulating this strategy is AdvanceMint, by which Mars seeks to tackle these challenges by developing more resilient mint plants. The program gathers experts in agriculture, economics and supply chains to help address the challenges confronting the one million mint farmers worldwide and in the end, help equip them with improved agricultural practices while building more resilient communities.
In particular, the program seeks to advance social impact in the state of Uttar Pradesh, long a crucial region for mint farming in India. Farmers in India’s most populous state are largely subsistence farmers, and mint could provide a valuable cash crop for them to increase their income. But at a macroeconomic level, earnings are still low and these farmers confront several challenges such as water stress – while gender inequality and educational disparity are still the norm across farming communities.
One way the company seeks to make progress on this front is by expanding education programs.
Among Mars’ programs that work with Indian mint farmers is a partnership between the Wrigley Company Foundation and Indian nonprofit Pratham, which offers literacy and other basic educational skills across 1,200 mint farming villages in a drive to have an impact on the lives of over 50,000 children a year. In addition, the company is working with suppliers on additional programs designed to strengthen social capital, such the establishment of new village libraries, where books, internet access, safe drinking water and livelihood skills training are available.
TriplePundit asked Alastair Child, Vice President of Global Sustainability at Mars Wrigley, whether all this focus on one small ingredient really merits all this attention.
“Why not?” Child asked rhetorically. “This isn’t about generating headlines. It’s about ensuring raw materials so that this company can help future generations thrive. We’ve been around 100 years and we’d like to be around for another 100.”
A full article about Mars Inc.’s work will appear in the next edition of CR Magazine, to be released during 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – The Long View October 23-25. Receive a 25% discount using this code PUNDIT2018VIP when you register here.
Alastair Child will speak about his company’s efforts on October 25 during the Forum.
Image credit: ACDI/VOCA Facebook Page
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.