Truckin': What Comes In
In order to make our products, we purchase hundreds of different ingredients and materials, ranging from organic milk direct from the farm to organic cocoa from Central America, and materials including bottle caps for our smoothies, aluminum foil lids, and cardboard case boxes. All these ingredients and materials have to get to us somehow, whether it’s by 18-wheeler, milk tanker, ship, or train.
Before we spent a lot of our time finding creative ways to reduce our transportation impact, we needed to know just what we were dealing with. It turns out that transporting ingredients and packaging to our factory is a relatively small portion of our total carbon footprint—about 3%—compared to what we ship out, which is 11%. The transportation impact from incoming materials is certainly not insignificant, and we still care, but it just means that we know our efforts here tackle a smaller piece of our overall “carbon footprint” pie. Our transportation impact from “What Goes Out” is much larger than from “What Goes In,” so we logically spend more effort there.
Still, we’ve learned some interesting things based on the work we’ve done, and we’re always on the quest for new opportunities. Here are a few of the ways we’ve tried to optimize the transportation on incoming materials to lessen the impact:
- We purchase full truckloads whenever possible.
- We backhaul when possible. This is when a delivery truck dropping off yogurt to a customer picks up ingredients or raw materials on its way back to the factory. We can’t always do this, but when it makes sense, we try. For example, trucks delivering to customer locations in the Boston area bring back to the factory organic fruit purée from one of our Massachusetts-based suppliers on their return trips.
- We track the “food miles” (distance food travels to get to us), mode of transport (ship, train, truck, etc.), and associated GHG emissions of all of our major ingredients, as well as the GHG emissions from refrigerating and freezing our ingredients. This information helps us identify ways to reduce the environmental costs from travel and storage.
So why don’t we buy everything local to decrease transportation?
When possible, we do buy ingredients as close to home as possible. But there are a variety of reasons that we sometimes cannot buy our ingredients locally.
Availability. Some ingredients are just not grown nearby or in the U.S. That is the case with organic vanilla, banana, and cocoa, for example. We have to source them in regions where they naturally grow.
Volume. Some ingredients are not available in the U.S. in the quantities that we need. That is the case with organic sugar, cherries, raspberries, and blueberries. The fact that we find organic fresh products on supermarkets’ shelves doesn’t mean that they are also available in the form and volume that we need them. The fresh market has a much better financial return to the farmer than the processed market, and so most organic family farmers in the U.S. want to sell their produce mainly to the fresh channels, not to the processors (who, in our case, “process” the fruit into a jam-like product for our yogurts). Additionally, fruit sold to manufacturers like us must be from growers that are near infrastructure where the fruit can be washed, frozen, and packed. Unfortunately, much of that infrastructure has disappeared from many parts of the U.S.
Geographic diversity and counter-seasonality for security of supply. If you buy our lowfat strawberry, you don’t want us running out of strawberries in February, months before strawberry season starts! To make sure that we never run out of an ingredient, we need to manage the ingredient’s sourcing, considering the counter-seasonally of crops. That means we try to keep a portion of our purchases from the southern hemisphere to give us flexibility in case our projections of our needs are off, or if the U.S. crops are affected by unfavorable climatic conditions. This strategy also helps reduce the storage time of ingredients, ensuring fresher products and a smaller carbon footprint from freezing.
Food travel miles. Believe it or not, we’ve learned from tracking our food miles, from a pure carbon footprint standpoint, that it is often more environmentally friendly to ship product by sea freight from Europe or South America to the U.S. than to ship it on trucks across the country! That alone is not a reason to buy ingredients from outside our region or country, as supporting local farms by buying their products has countless benefits—including keeping open land in our communities, helping the local economy, and increasing food security. But it’s good to know that when we do need to buy from non-local markets for the reasons stated above, the food miles are a small part of the environmental impact.