One of the nation's largest food companies is pledging to cut the use of virgin plastics in packaging after receiving outside pressure from a shareholders advocacy group in recent months.
But Kraft Heinz Co., in revealing the move, said it actually has been working on the issue for the past couple of years.
Kraft Heinz has told the nonprofit organization As You Sow the consumer goods company will set a virgin plastic reduction goal within a year. The group, in response, now will withdraw a shareholder proposal seeking a report on how the company plans to reduce the use of plastic packaging.
As You Sow indicated the "company intends to set a substantial virgin plastic packaging reduction goal later this year or in the first quarter of 2023, the company informed As You Sow in a statement."
In response to a request for comment, Kraft Heinz issued a statement by Jonah Smith, global lead of environmental social governance at the company.
"As part of a global ESG [environmental, social and governance] strategy around sustainable packaging, Kraft Heinz has been working on this particular plastics reduction initiative for the past two years. We continue to incorporate constructive feedback on an ongoing basis through engagement with various stakeholders respective to our ESG practices. This is one of many data points that help inform our ESG platform," he said.
As You Sow said the company's move "continues a steady stream of major U.S. brands and retailers who have agreed to cut virgin plastic use after interaction with As You Sow."
The group, in a press release, indicated Kraft Heinz said the company would "continue to drive towards its packaging goals and support of a circular economy through a variety of initiatives and investments, including reduction of virgin plastic material, packaging redesign, increased use of recycled content, and continued exploration and scaling of reuse models."
As You Sow, based in Berkeley, Calif., seeks to create change through shareholder proposals aimed at environmental and social corporate responsibility.
Companies are becoming much more sensitive to their plastics use, As You Sow Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron said during a Feb. 23 interview, even compared to just two years ago.
"I think it's a heightened awareness, that this is a high priority. In that way, companies recognizing that this is high profile, and we need to be out there making commitments," he said.
Work by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme to make plastics a more circular product has been a major impetus for companies, MacKerron said.
"That was another fortuitous source of pressure, if you will, for the companies to make this a higher priority. That wasn't a factor with these folks as much. I think it's mostly the fact that the issue has become a top-tier issue. In many cases, it's on par with climate in terms of how stakeholders see it, how some consumers see it. And of course it's tied to climate because of the source of plastics being fossil fuels," he said.