Adoption rates of sustainability schemes and eco-labels are expected to increase in North America this year. Ecovia Intelligence finds that Organic and Non-GMO Project are leading in terms of sales, however there is growing proliferation in terms of number of schemes and labels.

Sustainability schemes and eco-labels are becoming increasingly popular in the food industry. Many food and ingredient firms are adopting them as part of their sustainability commitments. It is also now common for operators to make green claims about products, ingredients, and packaging. Third party sustainability schemes and eco-labels gives legitimacy to some of these marketing claims. Some companies are also adopting schemes and labels for sustainability reporting purposes, to show they are taking action to reduce impacts and / or undertake ethical sourcing.

In terms of adoption rate and sales, organic is the dominant eco-label. Retail sales of organic foods are close to USD 70 billion in North America. The US has the largest market for organic foods in the world; organic products now represent 6% of food sales in the country. USDA organic is the most widely adopted eco-label.

The Non-GMO Project is second in terms of product sales. Launched in 2010, there are now over 60,000 certified products with sales exceeding USD 40 billion in 2022. Like organic, the major motive for consumers to buy certified non-GMO products are health concerns.

Rainforest Alliance, Food Alliance and Fair Trade sustainability schemes are also established. Like organic and non-GMO, these certification schemes cover wide product ranges. A new development is that new sustainability schemes are being introduced for specific product groups and ingredients.

The Marine Stewardship Council is leading the sustainable seafood category. Almost 20% of all wild catch is now certified according to the scheme. In the US, over 80% of landings are certified. Certified Humane and American Grassfed are popular labelling schemes in the ethical meat category.

Many of the sustainability schemes for ingredients do not have consumer facing labels. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is well established for palm oil; the scheme now covers 20% of global production, however the RSPO label is usually not present on products with certified palm oil. ProTerra and Round Table on Responsible Soy are the most popular schemes for sustainable soy. The Bonsucro scheme is gaining traction for sustainable sugar cane.

The growing importance of biodiversity is leading to new sustainability schemes to emerge. The Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) standard is based on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations BioTrade Initiative Principles and Criteria. Some of the food ingredients certified by the standard include aloe vera, vanilla, hibiscus, moringa, carnauba, shea butter, sugar, and natural essential oils.

The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network is a similar scheme that provides certification to organizations that contribute to wildlife conservation. Launched in 2007, the Certified Wildlife Friendly label is becoming increasingly evident on food products in North America. The scheme covers over 13 million hectares of wetlands, forests and grasslands. Bananas, coffee, honey, nuts, and fruits are some of the certified food products.

As will be shown at the Sustainable Foods Summit, some of the pioneers are adopting multiple sustainability schemes. Bonterra Organic Estates, one of the leading sustainable wineries in the world, was an early adopter of the Regenerative Organic Certification. Launched in 2020, the scheme has been adopted by over 130 brands. The certification covers 185 farms and 52,517 smallholder farms that manage 5.7 million acres of land.

Bonterra Organic Estates has also adopted the Climate Neutral sustainability scheme. In 2021, it was the first winery to launch certified Climate Neutral organic wines. The certification demonstrates that it has reduced and offset its carbon emissions. As well as a Certified B Corporation, Bonterra Organic Estates has adopted the TRUE Zero Waste certification.

Guayaki Yerba Mate, another pioneer, is also looking beyond organic certification by adopting several new sustainability schemes. Its yerba mate drinks are certified Non-GMO, Fair For Life, as well as Regenerative Organic. The certifications assure consumers that its key ingredient (yerba mate) is ethically sourced from the Atlantic Forest in Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil.

As the sustainability remit widens, Ecovia Intelligence expects the number of sustainability schemes and eco-labels to continue to increase in 2024. Organic and Non-GMO will continue to lead in terms of product sales, however new schemes are taking off that represent single ingredients or certain sustainability attributes. As adoption rates increase, expect to see more ethical labels on product packs.

An update on sustainability schemes and eco-labels will be given at the Sustainable Foods Summit, hosted in San Francisco on 24-25th January. Representatives from Organic Trade Association, Regenerative Organic Alliance, Non-GMO Project, Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA, Fair For Life (Ecocert), Marine Stewardship Council, Union for Ethical BioTrade, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and others will be participating.


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