ISSUE 05/21

LATEST EDITORIAL

Mitigate to accumulate      17/12/2021 by Sarah Pursey

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The connections are becoming ever more clear between the food we eat and the impacts those food systems that produce it are having on our planet. Encouragingly, practical steps exist that F&B industry players can take today towards being part of the solution.

The F&B industry today employs 4.3 million people in the UK alone, and contributes £120bn to the national economy – making it larger than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined. It is also a major consumer of energy, with such consumption often inefficient – utilising outmoded, power-draining electrical infrastructure. The sector’s insatiable hunger

for power is driven by high heat demand in all manner of processes – from drying, evaporation and baking, to pasteurisation, kilning and steam production – not to mention refrigeration. Meat and poultry, and baking and biscuits are the biggest energy users – although inefficiencies invariably run throughout the sector.

Of course, energy inefficiency translates directly into needlessly high overheads for F&B players, with a Pan European survey recently concluding that annual losses attributed to power quality issues could amount to a far-from-insubstantial 4% of business turnover (p6). The world’s most progressive manufacturers now equate improved climate change mitigation measures with improved financial performance, yet an industry-wide recognition of – and proactive response to – this win-win scenario will be crucial to see a meaningful reduction in the sector’s emissions.

 

Beyond electrification and the much-needed switch to renewables for powering future manufacturing processes, a more fundamental rethink of the value chain at the front end will undoubtedly be required, given the inevitable food security challenges presented by a world population set to far exceed 10 billion by the century’s mid-point. For many cultivars worldwide, scarcity of available fertile land is a challenge only compounded by accelerating climatic instability. Such dynamics demand a new farming paradigm – one that allows greater productivity yet requires fewer resources, and brings food sources closer to home. One fast emerging solution is the much-vaunted vertical farming, which offers a means of achieving voluminous crop outputs in limited space (p10). Another is the unstoppable rise in plant-based foods, driven by consumer demand for products that promote health and reduce environmental impact, with innovators like Ingredion advancing formulations to drive this dietary evolution (p20).

  

While tightening rules on the energy efficiency of equipment, or greater transparency on the energy emissions associated with products may be new areas for legislation in the decades to come, scrutiny of corporate sustainability performance is already moving up the agenda for consumers who want to see meaningful metrics from their F&B brands: “Sustainability is more and more a consumer issue,” notes Lu Ann Williams, Global Insights Director at Innova (p8). “Instead of making some big general proclamation about their credentials, brands now have to [do] something more understandable in terms of measurements or the social impact.”

 

Inevitably, in tandem with the rise of the educated and connected consumer, communicating a brand’s sustainability message effectively and accurately becomes increasingly crucial. It can also create a space for conversation around complex CSR issues. The ‘missing treat’ in one of the windows in ethical chocolate-maker Tony’s advent calendar recently caused outrage amongst some consumers, yet the ensuing commotion could be seen as a positive PR opportunity for the company to communicate its ethical stance (p8). Elsewhere, Nestlé’s ‘Beneath the Surface’ initiative has been praised for turning the controversy around palm oil into a short educational film and questionnaire to help consumers understand just how complicated that subject is.

 

Clearly, with the recent COP26 shining a spotlight on the environmental impacts of our current food systems, companies across the F&B industry spectrum can no longer afford to shy away from sustainability issues. On the contrary, their collective entrepreneurial, innovative and collaborative spirit will be pivotal to creating the meaningful, measurable change that will help protect both profit and planet in the decades ahead.

 

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