Materiality Case Study: Smithfield Foods

Materiality Case Study: Smithfield Foods

Smithfield Foods conducted its first materiality analysis in 2010 to gain a better understanding of the key sustainability issues for its company and its stakeholders. In early 2012, the company conducted a streamlined update to see how concerns over specific issues may have evolved over two years.

For its materiality analysis, Smithfield Foods used a third party to interview 30 internal and external stakeholders. These stakeholders included customers, regulators, NGOs, suppliers, company management, company sales personnel, and employees. Those interviewed were asked about what they considered challenges and successes for Smithfield Foods, as well as what they felt were the most important issues that Smithfield Foods should be addressing.


Smithfield Foods Materiality Matrix (FY12)

The information collected through this process resulted in the above matrix of the company’s most material issues—those of greatest impact on Smithfield Foods and the highest concern to stakeholders. Those issues appear in the upper right box, and are the issues that are most critical to the company’s ability to create and sustain value today and in the future.


The company used the results to continue to place high importance on its animal welfare and food safety programs, but also increased its focus on creating value in the local communities where it has operations. Goals are now in place that include stakeholder engagement, community outreach, and educational participation at the local level.  As much as is practical, the company weights discussion around the topics that have been identified as most material to its business and to its stakeholders in its annual sustainability reporting.

An updated materiality analysis is being planned by the company for 2015/2016 to address the new GRI guidelines.

[This case study originally appeared in GEMI’s Quick Guide on Materiality.]

Questions for Interviewees

  • What are Smithfield’s most important challenges, risks and opportunities from a corporate responsibility point of view?
  • For each challenge, risk, or opportunity, why is it important?
  • Does it have the potential to improve business results? How (e.g. by supporting innovation/new products; saving money through operational efficiency)?
  • Could it negatively affect business results (e.g. by imposing costs, harming sales)?
  • Could it affect Smithfield’s reputation positively or negatively?
  • Could it affect Smithfield’s standing in its local communities positively or negatively?
  • Could it affect employee productivity or turnover?
  • For each challenge, risk, or opportunity, how much control does Smithfield have over it?

Smithfield interviewees only:

  • What issues do you perceive are most important to stakeholders and why?
  • Which stakeholders are most important to Smithfield?

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