The global supply chain’s mission of moving food from farm to market, and onto our nightly tables, sounds simple but can be quite complex with government regulations, transportation, communication, and other logistical issues at play.
A call for more transparency and tracking, previously pegged to food safety issues, has been reinforced as the food supply chain is challenged to creatively meet new sustainability goals and initiatives.
“While it comes with its challenges, addressing sustainability measures to limit climate change, resource depletion and labor inequality has made an impact in bolstering the fresh produce industry and the communities it serves,” wrote Deborah Hauss last month in Produce Business. “Global supply chains are continually being pressed not only to report sustainability data but to improve on farm practices where needed.”
The food supply chain is looking for creative ways to:
- Reuse the use of plastics
- Decrease fresh food waste
- Add consumer-friendly recycling language on packaging
“As retailers raise the bar on their own sustainability procedures, they also have upped the ante with their supply chain partners to scale their effect,” says Hauss.
Consumers Willing to Pay More for Sustainability
Consumers are increasingly calling for, and showing a willingness to pay extra, for sustainable practices in the food supply chain.
FMI, the food industry association, reported in August in their “Top Trends in Fresh: Opportunities with Sustainability-Minded Consumer” that:
- Shoppers who are willing to make trade-offs for the environment represented 27 percent of fresh food spending in Q2 2021
- These shoppers also spend 30 percent more than other shoppers on fresh foods
- Theses valuable shoppers expect recyclable packaging and biodegradable ingredients and see organic, grass-fed and all-natural claims in the fresh aisles as givens
“They are starting to prioritize sustainability claims around food waste, animal welfare and nitrate-free products too,” says the FMI.
Walmart Leads the Way on Sustainability Initiatives
Walmart, still the largest retailer in the United States despite Amazon and other ecommerce companies eating into their market share, is leading the way on sustainability initiatives.
“Walmart’s sustainability efforts prioritize people and the planet by aiming to source responsibly, eliminate waste and emissions, sell sustainable products and protect and restore nature,” Laura Himes, Walmart’s senior merchandising director of produce, told Produce Business. “Specifically, we focus on four key areas: climate, nature, waste and people in supply chains.”
- emissions across global operations by 2040 by harvesting enough wind, solar, and other energy sources to power facilities with 100 percent renewable energy; zeroing out emissions from all its vehicles; and transitioning to low-impact refrigerants for cooling and electrified equipment for heating.
- Working with supplies to avoid 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
- Protecting, managing, or restoring at least 50 million acres of land, and 1 million square miles of ocean by 2030
- Working towards 0 waste in operations in key markets
- Aiming to reach 100 percent recyclable reusable or industrially compostable private-brand packaging by 2025
- Achieve 15 percent in absolute reduction in total virgin plastic use by 2025
“Our vision at Walmart is to help transform food and product supply chains to be regenerative, working in harmony with nature - to protect, restore and sustainably use our natural resources,” says Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart’s executive vice president and chief sustainability officer.
Alphabet Soup? Audit Requests Overload Supply Chain
While the sustainability initiatives and goals aim to make the world a better place, the executive for the food supply chain can lead an alphabet soup of information and audit requests.
“And with each retailer sending its own individual request, a ripple effect results in an overload of paperwork some supplies are hard-pressed to provide in a timely manner,” writes Hauss.
Ed Treacy, vice president, supply chain and sustainability for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) says that there are “more than 150 different sustainability audit schemes produced and distributed by buyers nationwide.”
The PMA has a Sustainability Assessment Tool and Communication Guide to help those in the food chain navigate the sustainable demands.
“Sustainability is inherent in much of what we do, and as the original stewards of the land – we are uniquely positioned to provide leadership across many industries over the globe,” says the PMA. “One of the most direct ways to immediately make this impact is to recognize the transformative efforts happening in the industry and communicate it to various audiences.”
A great ally to meet sustainability initiatives is traceability software such as FreshByte Software, which offers state-of-the-art traceability, backwards and forwards.
Contact FreshByte Software today to learn more about how software can help the global food supply chain trace and track product from the originating vendor to the end-user.