Peri & Sons Farms Sustainability Case Study

Innovative Packaging
for a Cleaner Earth

In 1902, three Peri brothers moved from Italy to the U.S. to farm on leased land. In 1914 they purchased 170 acres of farmland in Lockwood, Nevada. That farming heritage later sparked the creation of Peri & Sons Farms in 1979 in Yerington, Nevada. Since then, the company acreage has grown considerably, and the family-owned business now spans four generations. It produces over 500 million pounds of red, white, yellow, and sweet onions as well as thousands of pounds of shallots, cipollinis and garlic on their farms in Yerington, Nevada and the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys of California.

UN Goals:
3 Good Health and Well-Being
8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
9 Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
12 Responsible Consumption and Production
17 Partnerships for the Goals

From the very first hundred acres David Peri planted, the foundation of land stewardship and the principles of sustainable farming were already in place. Maintaining accredited certification as a sustainable farm has become increasingly more complex over the years and today, the company is constantly measuring hundreds of different metrics in its ongoing effort to farm as sustainably as possible. This includes transitioning from the predominant form of produce packaging, plastic, to more sustainable biodegradable and compostable materials.

The challenge: The plastic packaging predicament

Plastic packaging has been, and continues to be, the industry standard for produce. While it serves a practical purpose, there are concerns associated with its use due to the negative impact of single-use plastics on the environment.

Plastic bags begin as fossil fuels and some of them end up as waste in landfills and waterways and, eventually, the ocean. The bags are typically made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE), types of plastic that do not biodegrade quickly, if at all. While plastic bags can be recycled in some regions, not all recycling programs accept them. When not disposed of properly (recycled), these bags can contribute to plastic pollution in the environment, harming wildlife, and essential ecosystems.

A bag of Peri & Sons gourmet organic shallots. Red shallots can be see through the window of the package that has the USDA Organic stamp and the text: Our Earth-Friendly Package is recyclable and biodegradable.Over time, plastic bags break down into smaller particles, leading to microplastic pollution in the environment, including soil and bodies of water. It is estimated that 75 to 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans and 73 percent of beach litter worldwide is plastic.

The production of plastic is also harmful to the environment. Upon extraction and manufacturing, it releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere; the production of plastic is responsible for 232 metric tons of greenhouse gasses every year.

Peri & Sons’ innovative spirit is committed to finding alternative, sustainable packaging options for its onion products, even though it is challenging. With no clear eco-standards in the U.S.A, and a lack of raw sustainable materials world-wide, companies that package food products, like Peri & Sons Farms, are finding it challenging to quickly transition to earth-friendly, non-plastic packaging.

Decades of plastic-based packaging yield economies of scale that currently do not exist for new earth-friendly materials. New packaging materials are currently far more expensive to produce, which necessitates higher prices all the way down to the consumer. The farm believes it’s a price worth paying, and they hope that their customers and consumers think so too.

The solution: Innovation, outreach, and education

While it does not make sense to eliminate all plastic packaging from the produce supply chain immediately, there are many opportunities where alternative packaging is a more viable option — and small changes can have a big impact. Peri & Sons Farms is advancing its position as a premier Certified Sustainable Farm, in part, through its use of environmentally friendly packaging and packaging reduction.

In its initiative to reduce the amount of packaging on consumer products, Peri & Sons implemented the Earthbag® for its packaged organic onions. Visually appealing and food-safe, the Earthbag is made of paper and bamboo and is completely biodegradable, compostable and 100% plastic free.

A bag of Peri & Sons gourmet organic cipollini onions. Onions can be see through the window of the package that has the USDA Organic stamp and the text: Our Earth Friendly Package is RECYCLABLE and BIODEGRADABLE.Also in its sustainable packaging efforts, Peri & Sons eliminated the finger hole material along the edge of its various consumer onion packages, reducing each bags’ overall size. This small process improvements means that every minute Peri & Sons Farms is producing its consumer onion packs, they are saving 36 sq. feet of material. “We’re saving enough material to cover a baseball field every four hours. That’s over 33,000 sq. feet per day,” says Teri Gibson, Director, Marketing & Customer Relations at Peri & Sons. And that little bit of saving just keeps getting bigger. Big enough to cover The Big Apple!

After 315 days of packing their consumer onion products, the company will save enough packaging material to entirely cover New York City’s 205-acre landscape. That’s a lot of material that won’t go into landfills or end up in the ocean. And as part of its company-wide sustainable mission, Peri & Sons Farms continues to reduce product packaging and look for more sustainable packaging resources.

Peri & Sons use their savings as an example of positive environmental impacts. These initiatives help the company keep overall operating costs as low as possible, provide the best products and value to its customers and consumers and keep the planet healthy. “Peri & Sons is a conscious steward of the land by continuously evolving within the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability,” says Sarah Cormany, Food Safety Manager at Peri & Sons Farms.

The company also produced biodegradable clamshells, reducing their carbon footprint while also creating savings and the company continues to make innovative improvements to its packaging to prevent waste.

Peri & Sons continues to look for methods to reduce the amount of plastic waste they produce and often, their changes come with benefits like reduced costs and labor. They are always pushing to recycle, reduce and produce a better product, and they hope to set an example for other stakeholders in the produce industry.

The takeaway: Aligning with retailers and consumers

The support of consumers, retailers and growers has helped Peri & Sons push their initiative. It is a team effort. According to Gibson, “Retailers are likely to have their own sustainability goals and they are being pushed by consumers and stakeholders to run a more sustainable operation overall.”

A bag of Peri & Sons Organic onions. White onions can be see through the net window of the package that has a cartoon type onion saying: Earth-Friendly Non-Plastic packaging.Peri & Sons Farms participates in vendor programs that encourage suppliers to provide more sustainable products. These initiatives push suppliers to have their own sustainability goals and enact initiatives that align with a vendor’s goals. Because Peri & Sons has worked to become a Certified Sustainable farm operation for many years, the company is generally able to meet these vendor’s specifications already.

The company also educates consumers on the importance of sustainability through advertising and outreach, which encourages people to support sustainable initiatives and helps them better understand the significance of them.

You must measure to Improve.

To help Peri & Sons measure their sustainability, it designates sectors of its businesses to tracking and measurement. The company also implements tracking system technology to measure sustainable development as it occurs (e.g., smart tractors). These systems measure and provide Peri & Sons with data on their operations. Additionally, they have more than twenty programs for measuring data on environmental savings. In addition, Peri & Sons is audited against sustainable standards like “Sustainably Grown”, which measures energy usage, waste, soil compaction and composting.

Peri & Sons Farms is largely invested in sustainability and its three pillars: People, Planet and Profit.” Pamela Peri, Executive Vice President at Peri & Sons Farms says, “We are committed to our planet’s integrity, our company’s health and improving the quality of life for our employees, our community and beyond.” The company is committed to not only be invested in the efficiency of farming but also the wellbeing of people. In all aspects of life, sustainability is important to Peri & Sons.

Peri & Sons understands its obligation to care for the environment. According to Gibson, “Realizing a reasonable profit from the work we are passionate about, farming produce, in ways that allow us to continue to positively impact the lives of people and the overall health of the planet for generations to come. As an agricultural company, it is important to be kind to the land that grows your product. Sustainability has an importance that goes beyond an initiative and should be the norm in all regards.”

Related Resources