It’s a sad truth that at least 10 percent of American households are experiencing food insecurity. At the same time, diet-related diseases including type-2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension are increasing. These are preventable problems that have been manufactured, in part, by big food companies. But now is the time for the private sector to step up.
"We’re all eaters, but for food companies, the decisions about what we make, how we source and how we produce are key to keeping people and the planet healthy," said Sara Fletcher, communications and public affairs director at Oatly North America. "Food itself is a solution."
Food companies and retailers can leverage their resources, innovation, expertise and capital to find ways to end hunger and improve healthy eating in the United States.
This year, the White House called on all sectors to make commitments to a healthier future through its Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities. And already, leaders such as Albertsons, Google, Kroger and FoodCorps have stepped forward with bold and impactful initiatives, including hundreds of millions of dollars committed to ensuring access to food education, funding "food is medicine" research and building tools to help connect eligible eaters to SNAP benefits.
DoorDash is expanding SNAP/EBT and its availability of produce, partnering with 18 mayors by donating $1 million to nonprofit organizations, and expanding the local delivery of charitable food. Instacart is creating virtual food pharmacies — enabling healthcare providers to provide funds for food products, which can be funded in coordination with benefit providers and insurers, rather than just medications — and placing fresh produce front and center on its platform. The company is also partnering with researchers to launch four new studies around the impact of nutrition security interventions and food-is-medicine services.
Danone is working to improve the nutrition profiles of its products through reformulation, supporting community-based food access and nutrition research programs, and devoting $15 million by 2030 to further nutrition education for consumers and healthcare providers.
And this call isn’t just for major food brands — everyone in the sector has a role to play.
According to Miguel Freitas, vice president of health and scientific affairs at Danone North America, "[The White House Challenge] was built in a way to leave a lot of space for companies of any size to scale their response according to their resources and objectives."
Building aligned partnerships and leveraging these partnerships is often a great place to start because it allows a company to take action relatively quickly.
"Start small — even the smallest efforts count," said Rebecca Dittrich, vice president of impact and partnerships at Greek yogurt company Chobani.
Chobani started by making product donations to food pantries and getting involved in grassroots initiatives in its communities. Over time, these commitments became bigger and bolder as the company itself grew from a New York startup to a household name. Now, it's Food Access in Reach (F.A.I.R.) program — part of its White House Challenge Commitment — is designed to encourage businesses of all sizes to adopt a school in their community and pledge to make it food and nutrition secure. The commitment involves working with a school over multiple years to fill gaps and help it meet a certain food and nutrition-secure criteria, which are verified with help from an NGO.
Good food is good business
These commitments aren’t just about doing the right thing. Investing in hunger, nutrition and health is good business.
A 2023 McKinsey and NielsenIQ study found that products making environmental, social and governance-related claims have outperformed products without such claims in the past five years, achieving an 8-percent higher growth rate. As eaters pay more attention to ingredients and where their food comes from, transparency and social responsibility are opportunities for companies to build a competitive advantage.
"If you make a great product and do right by your employees and communities, consumers will reward you by buying your product," said Dittrich.
When tackling hunger, nutrition and health, it can be difficult for companies to know where to start, said Evadne Cokeh, senior vice president of social and environmental responsibility at meat delivery subscription company ButcherBox, but "it is much more important to do something than to do nothing at all."
Cokeh recommends that companies clearly integrate their action around hunger, nutrition and health with company strategy and driving business value. This makes it easier to gain executive team buy-in, allocate the time and resources necessary to do the work and ensure the initiative is lasting.
"This is where building aligned partnerships and leveraging these partnerships is often a great place to start because it allows a company to take action relatively quickly," said Cokeh. For ButcherBox, this included partnering with folks such as the Healthy Living Coalition to engage in policy and work with food banks across the country to donate ButcherBox protein products.
These are issues that transcend political, geographic and cultural divides. There is incredible bipartisan support for the National Strategy on hunger, nutrition and health. And now, the White House Challenge is a unique opportunity to join forces, collaborate and drive action across sectors.
"To create a world where everyone has access to the food they need, we need everyone at the table. Whether it’s local businesses or large corporations, healthcare providers and payers or public sector organizations and nonprofits," said Dani Dudeck, chief corporate affairs officer at Instacart. "Cross-sector collaboration will lead to the greatest impact."
Food companies cannot waste the opportunity to drive lasting change in our food system. We need nontraditional, cross-sector partnerships and commitments to provide healthier food. But we also need more action. Now is the time to set and implement bold targets — the more than 34 million food-insecure Americans, including 9 million children, cannot wait.