Similarly to Amy’s Kitchen, Annie's Homegrown was another all natural and organic food staple of my childhood that I continue to regularly enjoy. While I delight in many of Annie's foods, their macaroni and cheese is their most widely known and enjoyed product, and one of my favorites. The Organic Shells & White Cheddar Mac and Cheese retails for just $2.89, making it a very accessible option for many consumers. As Annie’s has grown in size and popularity, and entered the realm of Big Food, some people have raised concerns about their continued commitment to sustainable sourcing and manufacturing. However, the company appears to be resolutely devoted to making the food system more sustainable and equitable from the inside out. Partnering with larger corporations in order to get more funding has allowed them to source a greater quantity of organic ingredients, make their products more accessible across geographical and financial boundaries, and push for big changes across other companies in the industry.
Each box of Annie’s mac and cheese states that it is “Made with goodness!,” including no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, a promise of organic cheese from cows raised without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones, and certified organic ingredients grown without persistent pesticides. Annie’s explains that they heavily focus their efforts on the sustainable sourcing of 10 key ingredients in order to reach the goals of increasing organic agriculture, ensuring transparency, providing assurance through third-party certifications, and measuring impact at the farm level. Further, in recognition of the challenges that packaging poses to sustainability, Annie’s holds themselves accountable for both the manufacturing of their products and what happens to them after they’ve been enjoyed by consumers. As a result, 90% of their packaging is recyclable or compostable and 100% of their products carry the “How2Recycle” label to help uncertain consumers. Annie’s packaging is also designed with the important priority of eliminating food waste in mind, seeking to keep products fresh for as long as possible without the use of harmful preservatives. Annie’s has also partnered with companies in order to invest in and help design innovative sustainable packaging that uses reclaimed and recycled materials, seeking to make positive change at every level of the supply chain.
Annie’s states, “Food – it’s what connects us to the earth, and to each other. It is the most powerful force for change we have.” In general, the company seeks to create healthier and more sustainable versions of popular foods, with people and the planet in mind. Thus, Annie’s carefully searches for ingredients, manufacturing partners, and packaging materials that have a positive impact on farmers, communities, animals, the environment, and consumers. Almost all of Annie’s products can be traced back to the organic farm. For instance, the Organic Shells and White Cheddar Mac & Cheese begins with organically grown wheat stalks to make the pasta, and organically raised cows’ milk to make the cheese. Farmers harvest the goods that become ingredients for Annie’s foods with an emphasis on the fact that farming strategies can have massive positive or negative impacts on the earth. This foregrounds their mission to limit the harmful impacts of pesticide use on beneficial pollinators and nearby fields and ecosystems. Annie’s also emphasizes that organic farming is much more than just limiting the use of synthetic pesticides, as they invest in and collaborate with regenerative farmers in order to “heal degraded landscapes, encourage carbon sequestration, and ensure that all people have a thriving future.”
In 1989, Annie Withey and Andrew Martin founded Annie’s Homegrown in Hampton, Connecticut. Their very first product was macaroni and cheese, initially sold out of the trunk of Annie’s car. In 1998, after interest in their products grew and the USDA organic certification was introduced, they were able to make the transition to organic macaroni and cheese. In 2004, Annie’s headquarters moved to Berkeley, California, and in 2014, General Mills bought Annie’s for $820 million, causing significant contention. In 2018, GM and Annie’s created a new Triple Bottom Line Operating Unit in conjunction with the brands Cascadian Farms, EPIC Provisions, and Glen Muir. This unit is committed to driving positive outcomes for the planet, people, and profit. Despite people’s initial concerns, it is clear that Annie's has remained staunchly committed to their promise for goodness. From what I can tell, the acquisition has been largely positive. Annie’s has more access to organic ingredients, and a more sophisticated sustainable supply chain, among other things. In addition, Annie’s products are now being stocked on the shelves of a higher percentage of grocery stores nationwide, increasing consumer accessibility to affordable sustainably sourced and produced food options.
Annie’s is also a founding member of the Climate Collaborative, which “leverag[es] the power of the natural products industry to reverse climate change.” After a 2017 life cycle assessment in which they discovered that the majority of their carbon emissions come from the supply chain, Annie’s created their comprehensive “Farm to Yum” strategy, incorporating their promise to prioritize environmental and social responsibility at the levels of external and internal engagement, and throughout the supply chain. Through an understanding that big change requires supporting and collaborating with organizations that are working to make the world better, Annie’s forms strategic partnerships advocating for policy and research funding. For instance, they have donated over $3.75 million dollars in the last 5 years to support programs in agricultural research, teaching children about real food, and much more. Through the specific recognition of the passion and impact of younger generations, the company also funds school gardens and college students’ projects in sustainable agriculture through a variety of grants and scholarships. Despite initial concerns that General Mills’ acquisition of Annie’s might compromise their values, the company has been able to increase their sustainable efforts by investing their additional funding into partnerships and scholarships that will help make the world a better place.