The snack company Kind is one of the largest buyers of almonds in the world, purchasing around 25 million pounds of the nut each year. The company is now using its heft to push almond farmers to use agricultural methods that are less damaging to bees: By 2025, it plans to source almonds only from “bee-friendly” farmland.
Almond suppliers working with Kind are making two major changes. They’ve stopped using two types of pesticides—neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos—that can kill bees. They will also convert between 3% to 5% of their orchards to a habitat that supports bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. (This habitat also supports insects that naturally manage pests, like ladybugs, reducing the need for pesticides.) “As you know, there’s been an enormous strain on bee colonies,” says founder and executive chairman Daniel Lubetzky. “And given that almonds are the most important input into Kind products, we wanted to find a way to have a positive impact on bees.”
Some growers were already beginning to make changes, but pressure from the brand can accelerate that work. Of the 1.5 million-plus acres of almonds grown in California, only around 20,000 acres are currently bee-friendly. “We’re making this commitment to help catalyze and crystallize the movement towards these changes,” says Jenny Stanley, who manages sustainability at Kind. The company worked closely with academic experts and growers to find solutions that would have a meaningful impact while being economically feasible for the industry.
“Changing agricultural practices on a large scale is extremely difficult,” says Daniel Kaiser, director of western conservation strategies at Environmental Defense Fund, which is advising the company. “It takes thorough research into alternatives, incentives to overcome the cost of adoption, and a clear signal from the market that consumers are demanding change.” Pressure from brands like Kind, he says, can help drive that change.
Almond growers rely on honeybees to pollinate orchards every spring, with beekeepers from around the country trucking in the 2 million bees used in the California almond industry. Since the early 2000s, those beekeepers have been struggling with the loss of an unusually high number of colony. (The numbers fluctuate from year to year; the winter of 2019 saw record-high losses, followed by more record losses in the summer, though the die-off was lower than average last winter.) The problem is complex, and it’s likely that bees are dying from a variety of causes rather than a single factor. Toxic pesticides are one issue. Diet is another, which is why planting wildflowers next to almonds can help give the bees access to multiple kinds of pollen. “When you create environments where [bees] are only able to pollinate one single crop, one monoculture, you can actually then potentially weaken them by not giving them enough diversity in their diet,” says Lubetzky.
The company is hoping that as more growers implement bee-friendly practices, the entire industry can follow. “Five years from now, we’re hoping it’ll become the standard, and then we’ll continue evolving and improving,” he says.