I will be the first to admit that shopping for sustainable, ethically sourced food at the grocery store can be such a headache! There is an overwhelming amount of different sustainable food brands on the shelves, and it can be tricky to figure out what foods are sustainable and which are just greenwashing.
Regulators and commercial groups meant to tackle greenwashing in the products we buy are slowly catching up (the keyword being SLOWLY).
For example, Keurig was called out by The Competition Bureau last year for leading Canadian buyers to believe they could recycle their single-use plastic coffee pods when the capsules weren’t accepted for recycling in most Canadian provinces.
While this is a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.
Until eco-friendly labeling on food products becomes more strict, the burden to find the most environmentally friendly food brands is ultimately placed on the consumers, and these misleading claims diminish the credibility of businesses that offer food products with a lower environmental impact.
Fortunately for us sustainable living folks, some tips, and tricks can help you call out the greenwashers from sustainable brands. I will even share a few brands to help you get started and add to your sustainable food companies list!
Navigating the world of sustainable food shopping can be like navigating a maze, but it's one of the best moves we can make for our planet. It's all about finding brands that put as much love into the earth and their animals as they do into their food.
What does 'sustainable' mean, and how can you tell if a brand walks the talk? It's not just about what's in the product but how it's made, who's making it, and its impact from farm to fork.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post, and you'll find handy guides on what to look for when shopping for sustainable food brands. They're designed to help you become a pro at spotting the real deals in the grocery aisles. Happy, conscious shopping! 😉
The most sustainable food brand on the market
Good Catch Foods is one of the coolest sustainable vegan food brands! Founded in 2016 by pioneering chefs Derek and Chad Sarno (who also founded Wicked Food Brands), Good Catch Foods is one of my favorite environmentally friendly food companies. They are a plant-based company trying to mimic seafood from animals… but without the bycatch! Genius.
Good Catch Foods offers all the typical seafood-based items you’d expect to find in the grocery store, like New England Style Crabless Cakes, Thai Style Fishless Cakes, and Fishless Burgers. The main difference is that their products blend legumes, including peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans, and navy beans, instead of seafood.
Their products are non-GMO certified, Vegetarian Society Vegan Approved, and dairy-free. They won't work with artificial flavors, palm oil, hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats, or synthetic colors.
Since 2016, they have expanded quite a bit, and you can now find their products in Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, Veggie Grill, and Albertsons. While they are expanding quickly, one of the company's biggest challenges remains to get the taste (and price point) just right, which remains one of their biggest critiques with reviewers.
However, Sarno said in an interview with Forbes that they are aware of and working on this. He said, “Our greatest challenge is that it’s a completely white space. If you said ‘plant-based chicken’ 15 years ago, people would turn their heads and say it’s gross. Now there are so many products out there.”
Based in Abbotsford, BC, One Degree Organic Foods offers different kinds of oatmeal, cereals, granola, flour, seeds, and various types of bread. One thing that sets them apart is that they're all about transparency and knowing where your food came from.
They believe in fostering strong relationships with the farmers they work with and producing the best organic ingredients.
I love the idea of offering product traceability all the way back to the farmer! Their packaging even has this super neat feature where you can scan a QR code to trace ingredients and watch videos of the farmers that made your product.
From a sustainability perspective, most of their products are certified vegan except Sprouted Oat Honey O’s Cereal and Sprouted Oat Honey Hemp Granola. They also ensure all their organic ingredients are grown using organic plant-based fertilizer and without chemicals like pesticides or insecticides.
Because of their innovative manufacturing choices, their products carry the Non-GMO Project Verified and USDA Organic certifications.
You can purchase their products on Amazon, where you will also find most of their products have over four out of five stars!
Maple Hill uses regenerative agriculture practices to create better organic dairy products for people and the planet. They do this by feeding their dairy cows a diet of exclusively grass.
Feeding cows grass instead of corn, grain, or other foods is better for the cow's health and the environment since the cows are eating grass grown naturally in paddocks. In fact, due to their natural lifestyle, Maple Hill grass-fed organic cows live 2-3 times longer than most dairy cows!
Maple Hill started in 2009 with just one small farm and now has a network of over 130 grass-fed organic family farms in NY State, making them the largest 100% grass-fed dairy business in the U.S.
They have come a long way since 2009, and you can now find their products (which include milk, kefir, yogurt, and butter) at Whole Foods, Wegmans, Natural Grocers / Vitamin Cottage, Amazon Fresh, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco and many more independent retailers.
Most Maple Hill Creamery products are GMO-free and carry USDA and PCO organic certifications. Several products are also certified Kosher by Orthodox Union (OU).
Offering cereal, granola, organic snacks, and oatmeal-based products, Nature’s Path will be your go-to for online bulk food! Founded in 1985 by a small family, Nature’s Path has been paving the way for other sustainable food brands in the regenerative organic movement since the beginning.
Nature’s Path is a pretty impressive company. Their production facilities (located in Washington and BC) are now zero waste and are heading towards climate neutrality by 2025.
They have an annual goal to donate at least 2 million dollars to charitable partners, and every time you purchase one of their EnviroKidz products, a portion of the proceeds go towards supporting endangered species, habitat conservation, and environmental education for children.
On the product side, all of their brands (EnviroKidz, Love Crunch, Que Pasa, and Qi’a) use only certified organic ingredients as allowed by the National Organic Standards and are certified by the Non-GMO Project.
You can find their products using their store locator tool or buy directly from their website.
In 1988, a handful of farmers in the Midwest were fed up with American agriculture. They were told, “get big, or get out!” which implied that transitioning to Industrial, chemical farming was the only path forward. There had to be a better way!
These farmers gathered to discuss this new, sustainable way of doing things at the local courthouse one afternoon, and Organic Valley Cooperative was born.
Organic Valley is one of those organic food companies on a mission to change how people think about food. And I would say they have done a great job!
The standards a small group of farmers set eventually paved the way and acted as a framework for the USDA’s organic rules.
Today, Organic Valley sells organic food products such as butter, cheese, eggs, milk, or cream all over the US (and beyond). However, unlike most companies, they are a cooperative comprising 1,600 family farms and over 900 employees who all share a vision of a healthier, more sustainable food system.
I love this story. According to Organic Valley, since 1960, big corporations have taken over more than 600,000 family-owned farms! It's this very transition that is - in some cases - forcing farmers to adopt practices that are not so sustainable.
To see a group of farmers band together and reject the climate change inducing principles of modern farming is SO inspiring.
As a bonus, their products are produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides, or GMOs and are always USDA-certified organic.
Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Brewer's is an Up-Cycled cracker company driven to reduce food waste in the craft brewing industry! Every year, breweries across the US produce over 1 billion tons of edible food waste due to the beer-making process. And this food waste often ends up in our landfills and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Brewer’s recycles these grains into our crackers and chips… How cool! Beyond being a company that recycles a food bi-product that would have otherwise gone to waste, their products are hand-made in the U.S., so you know the travel miles associated with their products are lower.
7. Vital Farms
Vital Farms is known for its commitment to animal welfare. Their hens are pasture-raised and Certified Humane, enjoying outdoor access to a minimum of 108 sq. ft of roaming room per hen. Every 21 days, these hens are rotated to a fresh section of pasture, allowing them to forage on new greens while giving the land a chance to recover.
Starting from a single farm in Austin, Texas, Vital Farms has grown into a network of more than 300 small family farms across the U.S. These farms share the brand's commitment to animal welfare and sustainable agriculture.
Vital Farms is big on traceability. Each egg carton lists the farm name, allowing consumers to search for a 360° view of the pasture where the eggs were produced.
The hens are fed a supplemental diet of soybean and corn. This feed is certified organic for their brown organic carton and new Restorative carton.
Vital Farms doesn't shy away from the tougher aspects of egg production. They openly discuss the culling of male chicks and the “retirement” of hens when their egg production declines, and they strive to handle these issues as ethically as possible.
The brand is pushing boundaries with its “restorative eggs” initiative, aiming to produce eggs using regenerative farming practices beyond sustainability to improve the land. Currently, they have five farms that are actively practicing these regenerative principles.
Once a single Austin-based farm, Vital Farms has grown substantially, and its products can now be found in most American grocery stores, making ethically produced eggs more accessible to consumers across the country.
8. Eden Foods
Eden Foods, which sprouted in southern Michigan in the late 1960s, began as a group of friends passionate about natural food and inspired by macrobiotics. Fast forward to today, and they stand as a principled natural food company and the oldest organic food producer in North America.
Eden Foods goes beyond just 'organic'; they are fully transparent about their food and ingredients' source, growing, and handling. The company's dedication to purity and quality is recognized with various certifications for its facilities.
Eden Foods was formed out of necessity; the company started as a co-op when natural foods were scarce. They are a major purveyor of traditional Japanese macrobiotic foods in the United States and Canada. More than just a brand, Eden is a partner to local farmers, most of whom are located near the company’s headquarters.
They produce various wholesome products—from beans and cereals to unique imports like traditional Japanese foods. And they aren’t just focused on food; they are committed to environmental stewardship, demonstrated by their energy-efficient buildings and meticulous tracking of their environmental impact.
In 2009, they were lauded as the best food company in the world by The Better World Shopping Guide due to their exceptional social and environmental responsibilities. Eden Foods is a true pioneer in the organic food movement, steadfast in its commitment to providing pure, purifying, and ethically produced food.
Why choose ethical and sustainable food brands?
To put it in simple terms, modern food systems are characterized by chemically intensive, monoculture farming which is awful for both people and the planet. Water pollution, the decline of pollinators, soil degradation, and loss of biodiversity are just a handful of the impacts modern farming has on the planet.
Food waste is also a huge problem, and waste production occurs throughout the entire food chain. In fact, according to the United Nations, approximately HALF of all fruits and veggies produced globally are wasted. When you think about all the negative impacts (like the ones listed above) that resulted from producing this food, you can realize how broken this system is.
Sustainable food systems and ethical food companies mitigate these issues by putting the planet before profits. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) says sustainable food systems must be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. This holistic approach considers the ENTIRE food system!
So, how do you know if a brand is sustainable and cares about all these things? Well, there are a few different clues that you can look for…
- Certifications: This one is pretty easy. Look for trustworthy food certifications like the ones below next time you shop!
- USDA Organic
- Non-GMO Project Verified
- Certified Humane
- Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC)
- Rainforest Alliance
- Certified Vegan and vegetarian
- Certified Grassfed
- Local farmers: Food grown locally tends to come with less emissions from food transportation. Plus, the products sold support local businesses and your community rather than large corporations. Buy from farmers' markets, urban farms, and co-ops when you can!
- Packaging: The sustainability of your food's packaging is also an important part of the story. Look for products that are transported/stored in packaging made from recycled materials that are recyclable or compostable after use.
Lastly, I do want to note here that as consumers, we also have a role to play to bump up the sustainability level of our food.
For example, try and minimize your food waste by preserving our food long term, using non toxic cookware instead of the chemically intensive alternative, or reuse old Tupperware and food storage containers around your home. These little things will help reduce your personal carbon footprint and ultimately change the way you interact with your food.
A final word on sustainable food brands
The best sustainable food brands come in many different shapes and sizes. Some brands upcycle food waste to create a new product, while others use the latest technology to provide a more sustainable alternative to a problematic food item.
But they all have in common: sustainable certifications, an emphasis on local farmers, and promotion of more sustainable food systems.
So, next time you shop for your next bar of ethical chocolate, think about what brands are pushing the limit of what is possible and putting people and the planet above profits. Good luck! 🙂