Oct 16, 2019

What Does “Sustainable” Really Mean for Food Manufacturers?

(Among other food manufacturing trends)

Sustainability is among one of the major trends currently impacting the food industry but what does it mean for you as a food manufacturer?

Here’s the thing, sustainable food isn’t only about the food it also pertains to how the food is produced, distributed, packaged and consumed. That means, for food to be “sustainable,” it must come from a supply chain with sustainable farming practices, with a low environmental impact, where animal welfare was upheld, that protects public health and that involves good employment practices and community support.

Where This Trend Is Coming From

With 66% of consumers happy to spend more money on products and brands that are committed to environmentally friendly practices and 73% of global Millennials willing to pay more for sustainable products, consumer demand for sustainable food is continuing to rise. Just as every trend starts somewhere and builds momentum with more and more buy-in from various key players, the sustainable food trend was born out of necessity and has grown with the commitment of governments and various organizations.

The world population is currently around 7.6 billion and is expected to grow to about 9.8 billion by 2050, meaning that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 60% more food production will be needed by then to feed the population. As such, the carbon impact of the agri-food industry will only get bigger. Simultaneously, according to the Ocean Conservancy, there are more than 150 million tons of plastic filling the world’s oceans today. The result? Along with consumers, numerous governments, organizations and companies have committed themselves to more sustainable practices to curb these impacts.

As such, governments are banning plastic while also mandating recycling and reusable materials. For example, Seattle banned Styrofoam in 2009 and, in 2010, required food service items to be recyclable or compostable and required restaurants to have bins for composting and recycling. Similarly, the World Health Organization has set a goal of removing industrially produced trans fats from the food supply globally by 2023.

And it’s not just governments and organizations that have made efforts towards sustainability, companies have, too, and not just in the food world. Numerous companies have eliminated plastic straws, such as Starbucks, Hyatt, Hilton, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Royal Caribbean. In the food world, corporate leaders are embracing sustainable food and beverage packaging. For example, Nestlé has committed to phasing out all non-recyclable or hard to recycle plastics for all its products worldwide between 2020 and 2025 while Coca-Cola has set a 2020 sustainability goal for 56% of its bottles and cans to be refilled or recovered equivalent to what they introduced into the market and “Kellogg has pledged to support a million farmers and smallholders to deliver climate-smart farming, continue its work to reduce food waste, responsibly source ingredients and switch to sustainable packaging” by 2030. And these are only a few examples, according to Lumina Intelligence’s investigation on how the food and drink industry is responding to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, food and drink companies have pledged $5.2 billion towards sustainability up to 2050.

What You Can Do

The sustainable food trend is clearly here to stay, so how can you be a part of the movement? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Conserve Water: Did you know about 39% of fresh water used in the U.S. is used for irrigating crops? Switching to drip irrigation and wastewater reuse are two ways you can conserve water in food production process.
  • Distribute Sustainably: Two ways you can support the sustainability cause with food distribution are by reducing the distance your food product has to travel, since about 70% of the products in the U.S. are transported by trucks that generate carbon dioxide, and by upgrading the trucks you do use for distribution to use more environmentally friendly fuel.
  • Invest in Sustainable Food Packaging: From paper bottles made from recycled corrugated cardboard and newspapers to insulated packaging made from jute and material recycled from burlap bags to an edible, biodegradable packaging film made of casein developed by USDA researchers, there are tons of sustainable food packaging options already available for you to use. Learn more about these sustainable food packaging options for food manufacturers.
  • Control Food Waste: You can better control food waste by having regular maintenance checks of your equipment, having processes in place to maximize viable food product, choosing environmentally friendly and effective cleaners and sanitizers for cleaning food contact surfaces.
  • Create an Empowered Work Environment: To effectively be a part of this sustainability movement, food manufacturers must also have operational sustainability as it provides the foundation for being able to respond to consumer demands efficiently and effectively – and that starts with an empowered work environment. According to Food Dive, “to stay productive and relevant in such a competitive industry, companies thrive when they are adaptable” and “meeting the challenges of environmental sustainability are vastly easier when operational processes provide time and a framework to think and act strategically.” (Hey! NorthScope can help with that!)

What Other Major Trends Are Impacting The Food Industry And What Do They Mean For You?

In addition to sustainability, functional foods, “better-for-you,” and plant-based meat are trends currently impacting the food industry. What are they, you ask?