While consumers are gravitating toward healthy food and beverage options, many are realizing the direct effect their choices can have on the environment. This has led to an increased focus on the overall "better-for-us" trend.
For more expert insight on this growing trend, we spoke with Dr. Dan Sonke, the Director of Sustainability at Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division.
What's driving the "better-for-us" movement?
The concept of "better-for-us" in food occurs in a product that is "better-for-me," or nutritious or functional, and "better for the planet or society," in other words, environmentally friendly or produced in ways that are socially beneficial. Consumers have increasing concerns about climate change and other environmental impacts associated with agriculture. They want to invest in products that align with their desire for personal health as well as societal and planetary health. They may also make a mental connection between agriculture practices, such as soil health, and the nutritional content of foods.
How much better is a plant-based diet for the environment's health?
Agricultural systems vary in their environmental impact, but consumers are often concerned when they hear estimates that it takes 20 to 100 times more land to produce a kilogram of protein from beef versus plant-based proteins. Plant proteins appear to not only lower the carbon impact from one's diet, but also free up land for food production for a growing world population. Substituting plant-based foods for some or all of their meat consumption becomes a simple way to be part of a solution.
How are almonds "better-for-us" products?
The nutritional benefits of almonds have long been recognized, but in recent years researchers are recognizing their climate benefits as well. For example, similar to trees in a forest, almond trees use photosynthesis to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into the components of the wood in the tree. They do this for the 25 years that an average almond orchard is alive. In fact, Dr. Alissa Kendall from UC Davis has documented that "California almonds have a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient-dense foods."
Her research team also has demonstrated that almond orchards may be able to achieve carbon neutrality. This can be done by returning trees to the soil as wood chips at the end of the orchard life, locking the carbon in the soil for an even longer period. Additionally, the frequently cited EAT-Lancet Commission on the intersection of nutrition and climate change recommends a significant global increase in the consumption of nuts, recognizing the health and climate benefits of nut trees, such as almonds.
At the same time, many almond farmers today are looking for other ways to benefit the environment with their orchards. At Blue Diamond Growers, we pay our farmers a higher price for their almonds when they engage with our sustainable agriculture program. The highest payment goes to a grower who is certified in Bee Friendly Farming, a certification which requires creating biodiversity in, or around, the orchard in specific ways to benefit pollinators.
How do non-dairy products fit within the sustainability movement?
Dr. Kendall's research team found that almond milk has a lower global warming potential when compared to dairy milk production. This is the result of dairy production often creating significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than almond milk production. Additionally, US dairy milk on average also used twice the freshwater consumption compared to almond milk.
How does Blue Diamond produce an overall "better-for-us" almond product?
Blue Diamond is a cooperative of farmers, largely made up of small-scale family farms with less than 100 acres of almonds. Incorporating Blue Diamond products not only helps to keep small farms viable in California, but we also pay the farmers a higher price for their almonds when they participate in the Blue Diamond sustainable agriculture program. These programs are driving the adoption of environmentally friendly practices around biodiversity and soil health in the process of growing a very nutritious product.
Incorporating almonds in a variety of forms, including almond protein powder and almond butter, can help manufacturers add important nutritional benefits to their products in a sustainable way. Additionally, replacing less sustainable ingredients with more sustainable almond-based ingredients like non-dairy milk, almond butter and almond protein powder allows for consumers to indulge in a healthy product while knowing that they are choosing a more environmentally friendly option.
Want to hear more about sustainability, the power of almonds and industry trends with Dan Sonke? Check out our webinar on "What's Next In Plant-Based Innovation," featuring Dr. Dan Sonke and other Blue Diamond experts including Laura Gerhard, Kurt Waananen, Laurie Colin, Bobby McCuan and Loretta Kelly.
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