On February 4, 2021, a congressional report exposing four major baby food companies for allowing dangerous contents of heavy metals in their products was made public. Naturally, parents of infants and toddlers nationwide were outraged. To understand how weighty and urgent the problem is, let the following findings of the investigators sink in—the manufacturers exceeded the safe limit for arsenic by 91 times, for cadmium by 69 times and for lead by 177 times.

So far, only two companies have recalled their contaminated baby food. Beech-Nut has taken off the market one lot of Beech-Nut Stage 1, Single Grain Rice Cereal, and subsequently exited the baby food industry, while Maple Island Inc. removed three lots of Parent's Choice Rice Baby Cereal from the shelves. The reason for the recalls was the sametoo much inorganic arsenic in the products, as rice is notorious for abounding in this heavy metal.

However, baby food companies that manufacture products sustainably will ensure the business has a low environmental impact. Furthermore, by producing sustainable baby food, they will avoid damaging and wasting natural resources significantly more than manufacturers that refuse to switch to sustainable practices. But most importantly, by choosing sustainable practices, baby food companies will eliminate the risk of heavy metals lurking in their products.

Embracing Sustainability as a Baby Food Manufacturer

Perhaps the most essential aspect baby food manufacturers should aim for to become more sustainable is sourcing. Most consumers want to know if the ingredients in the food they are going to feed their infant or toddler are local, organic, fair trade or grown using sustainable farming practices. Nowadays, people trying to raise their children on a sustainable diet will seek products with a clean label, ingredients they recognize and no preservatives, and lean toward whole foods and a farm-to-table approach.

Switching to a sustainable way of manufacturing baby food may bring companies financial gain, too. With environmental benefits and increased consumer trust, sustainability is also a huge win for the baby food industry, and it will only help it go forward. Sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices are correlated with a lower operating cost, more profitable business and improved share prices. With a sustainable approach to manufacturing baby food, business costs are likely to drop, innovations might be adopted, reputation can improve and more people might become loyal customers if the business is financially competitive.

Baby food manufacturers that connect with consumers by embracing principles of social good, sustainable practices and ethical conduct enjoy greater profitability when they position their leadership with a strong public appeal. Active corporate plans that consider climate change and try to minimize their impact earn a 18.7% higher return on investment (ROI) than corporate plans that do not take this factor into account. According to a recent Business of Sustainability Index, roughly 78% percent of consumers will purchase a product if it is labeled eco-friendly.

Farmers who partake in sustainable agriculture can produce food indefinitely without causing irreversible damage to the health of the ecosystem. Even more, sustainable agriculture practices nourish the health of the soil through crop rotation, green manures and composting. This is because soil health is paramountit ensures crops will be able to grow in the same area over a long time without causing any damage. When it comes to reducing the number of heavy metals in baby food, sourcing can be very helpful as, for instance, baby food companies can source their rice from a type of soil with low arsenic content.

People are becoming increasingly aware of what they, and especially their children, eat. Lately, they have been requesting food produced sustainably, and part of this is knowing how it is sourced. Moreover, consumers want to play a role in decision making when it comes to what they feed their growing and developing babies. For this reason, sourcing is extremely important, and baby food companies should make sure they employ sustainable practices in this respect.

Baby Food Packaging—Less Is More

Another crucial aspect of sustainability as a company in the food industry is the packaging. Sustainable packaging is usually recyclable, compostable, lighter in weight and reusable. In addition to using this kind of packaging for the baby food they manufacture, baby food companies can also try using less packaging material as a sustainable practice. For instance, they can opt to leave out a liner from a type of package to reduce the overall amount of packaging material their business has to use.

If possible, they should make their dry baby food available to purchase in bulk so that parents will have to bring their own bags to put the food in. This way, baby food manufacturers will reduce the need for packaging for this kind of baby food to zero, which will increase the sustainability of their business. Buying in bulk is also cost effective for parents, so it is a win-win situation. Consumers can save up to 25% if they buy certain products in bulk, including food for their babies, such as oats, beans, whole grains and chia seeds.

Still, sustainable packaging remains a great option worth investing in for baby food that cannot be sold in bulk. For packaging to be sustainable, it should have a minimal environmental impact and footprint. Sustainable packaging does not contribute to the depletion of natural resources. Good examples of sustainable baby food packaging include glass containers, bamboo, stainless steel, rice husk and gelatin films. Baby food manufacturers will likely not be able to avoid plastic altogether, but they can at least avoid single-use plastic and plastic with the additive BPA.

Believe it or not, heavy metals also lurk in baby food packaging, so making sure it is made of safe, non-toxic materials is very important. Packaging laws forbid the intentional use of any amount of the four restricted heavy metalscadmium, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium. Additionally, the incidental concentration of these metals must not exceed 100 ppm. Nevertheless, it is best to let go of plastic as much as possible, as it is likely to contain cadmium and lead in the heat stabilizers and slip agents used in manufacturing.

Increasing the Production of Plant-Based Baby Food

Finally, another practical way of decreasing the impact baby food companies have on the planet is focusing more on plant-based products, such as pureed beans, mashed tofu and smooth nut butter. At the same time, they may not want to give up producing baby food containing animal products or byproducts, as they are still in demand, although not as much as they used to be. It is a good idea for them to manufacture more plant-based food. Baby food companies can even come up with their signature recipes for such products.

More parents are looking to include a considerable portion of vegan or vegetarian foods in their babies' diet, either for health or environmental reasons. In the United States, roughly 730,000 children have a vegan diet. Moreover, 367,000 children under the age of 18, or 1 in 200, are vegetarian. Even omnivores are intentionally consuming more plant-based products and introducing their children to these meat or dairy alternatives. People often see plant-based foods as healthier today. Still, most parents will not feed their babies exclusively vegan or vegetarian food. The benefits and risks of such a diet are still debated, so you should continue to sell meat and dairy products, but to a lesser extent.

If baby food companies manufacture products containing fish for children who have reached the age for solid foods, it is advisable they stay away from fish high in mercury such as ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, halibut, orange roughy, grouper, ling and southern bluefin tuna. Instead, manufacturers should include fish like anchovies, catfish, flounder, haddock, mullet, plaice and salmon in their products. Last, certain seafood may have a high concentration of total arsenic, mercury and lead, so baby food companies should always test their raw ingredients and finished products to ensure the safe limit for heavy metals is not exceeded. 

The Takeaway

The financial benefits of manufacturing baby food sustainably can be considerable, ranging from a greater revenue and market value to a heightened bottom line. Not only will manufacturers benefit more financially from their business, but parents will be more likely to buy from them and become loyal to their brand if baby food companies become sustainable and maintain their reputation as a sustainable businesses by being ethical and transparent. Even if they include some not-so-healthy ingredients in their baby food, it is best to add them on the labels, as consumers have the right to know what is in their children's food.