Food sustainability may be the hottest topic in the food and beverage industry right now with public expectations growing daily to “get it right” for the future of the planet.
“Branded food companies – retailers, restaurants, and food manufacturers – face unprecedented pressure to navigate increasing public expectations for a sustainable food supply,” says The Center for Food Integrity. “Interest in sustainability continues to grow, with aggressive global sustainability goals looming, changing consumer preferences and a variety of advocacy groups promoting specific agendas.”
The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture
Maryville University says that sustainable agriculture has a significant role to play in feeding the growing worldwide population and reducing the impact of climate change, with the World Bank estimating that agriculture accounts for up to 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“Clearly, there’s a need to reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment, but at the same time, increase productivity to feed a growing world population,” says Maryville University. “
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines the desired outcomes of sustainable agriculture as:
- Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
- Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
- Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
- Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
- Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
Public Interest in Food Sustainability is Here to Stay
The Center for Food Integrity says that the increased interest in food sustainably is well-documented:
- The Consumer Brands Association CPG Outlook 2022 Report found that among 50 top CPG companies, all had clear commitments to address climate change, improve packaging sustainability and reduce water usage. When the organization first polled consumers in April 2019, 74 percent expressed concern over the environment. By November 2021, that number had jumped to 80 percent.
- More than half (55 percent) of global consumers are more likely to purchase a packaged food item that is labeled with a sustainability claim, according to a 2021 Cargill survey. That’s a four-point jump from the 2019 study. Among the U.S. survey participants, 37 percent said that a sustainability claim would influence what they buy, marking a six-point increase from 2019.
- In a recent survey, First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that fully three-quarters of Gen Z consumers, the influential “Tik Tok” generation, say sustainability is more important to them than brand name when making purchase decisions.
“Sustainability, and its evolving definitions and complexities, are here to stay,” says The Center for Food Integrity.
4 Ways Food Companies are Meeting Food Sustainability Demands
Industry Studies Manager Jennifer Mapes Christ told The Freedonia Group’s Research Analyst Peter Kusnic that the food industry is working to reduce its environmental impact in four distinct ways:
- Sourcing: Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, wanting to know if it's local, organic, fair trade, and/or being produced via sustainable methods. Consumers are on the lookout for “clean label” products – those that list ingredients they recognize with no preservatives. A whole food, farm-to-table approach is a priority.
- Packaging: Consumers want packaging that is sustainable such as recyclable, compostable, lighter weight and/or reusable. Food companies are being encouraged to use less packaging where possible.
- Producing More Plant-Forward Products: Consumers are turning more towards vegan and vegetarian diet habits and food companies are responding by producing more plant-forward products. Even those that continue to eat meat in their diets, are consuming more plant-based foods.
- Reducing Food Wasted in the Supply Chain: Companies are exploring ways to eliminate waste across all phases from manufacturing to shipping to retail. Some food companies are searching for methods to reuse food waste in their products such as ice cream makers utilizing food waste from breweries as ingredients in their products.
United Soybean Board Partners with The Center for Food Integrity
Farm and food collaboration may be key to food sustainability.
“Farmers and food companies are often working toward the same end goal, and open communication and collaboration is necessary to truly advance sustainability,” says The Center for Food Integrity which has partnered with the United Soybean Board to get the ball rolling.
The collaboration is bringing soybean farmers, food sustainability experts, NGOs, academia, and others around the table this summer in a series of virtual round tables and public webinars for broader understanding of how sustainability can be achieved, the challenges faced and how tradeoffs should be carefully weighed.
“The stakes to “get it right” are high as one well-meaning decision can have unintended consequences that actually undermine sustainability on the farm,” says The Center for Food Integrity. “Through our conversations, both sides will come to a much better understanding of the other and build long-term relationships to keep the dialogue going as the sustainability landscape evolves.”
The collaboration hopes to:
- Ensure the benefits of modern production practices are understood and considered in food sourcing decisions.
- Protects the social license of agriculture so farmers can continue to sue proven practices and technologies, and continue to innovate and improve.
- Tell the impressive story of farmers when it comes to producing enough nutritious food for all while caring for the planet.
“We’re moving forward with a platform for farmers to share their work – and better understand the food industry it serves,” said The Center for Food Integrity.