Making food sector resilient to consumer demands for a sustainable ecosystem

Crisis creates a moment of reckoning

The rhythm of our life that got shaken last year is slowly inching towards normalcy although the normal may look very different from the one that we left behind in the spring of 2020. There is a renewed focus on Health and wellness and food habits that we must change and adopt in the new normal. Consumers are keenly observing where their food comes from and how it is sourced, they are focusing more on holistic healthy diets, and the impact food has on the planet, mainly through waste. Climate change and how this slow-moving disaster needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders across industries to prevent further damage is also a much-debated agenda. The pandemic has accelerated the convergence of the two most pressing issues and rightly so, as the health of the planet and people are interconnected. As a leading food company with 900 million consumers, we have a responsibility to be a catalyst, and inspire healthier eating and drinking choices with a focus on sustainability. The same goes for other food companies that have the power to make an impact.

Our food production system needs an overhaul

The rise in population has created an exponential pressure to enhance food production. The burden on the food system to commensurate with the demand for food is not only colossal in its scope but also a challenge given the volatile environmental conditions. Globally, the contribution of food production to the total greenhouse gases is 30% although it is difficult to pencil the specific geographical contribution. The pain is acute in the supply chain with so much diversification preventing the task to approx. the total environmental footprint.

Many a time food production is a complex problem encompassing interactions across different stakeholders at different scales and levels. To implement a change requires an integrated action taken by all stakeholders at local, national, regional, and global levels, by both public and private sectors, and across areas beyond the ambit of agriculture and manufacturing.

Consumers are Rewriting the rules of engagement

Sustainability has become centerstage for millennials who are increasingly becoming aware of how their purchase decision impact the environment. This cohort supports the brands who have demonstrated their green credentials. This trend is visible in Indian millennials as well. A survey of 7,500 consumers in India indicated that 79 per cent of consumers decision to buy is predicated on sustainability .  (CII-AT Kearney report)

More consumers now understand that the mechanisms underlying the modern food production as “the broken system”. They want to engage with brands that espouse environmental-friendly farming techniques, they also have predilection for brands with organic or regenerative roots. Agriculture practices that not only helps to rebalance biodiversity and improve soil health allowing room to save resources that help to counterbalance food’s climate impact. The topic of food waste is also of interest to this cohort as it generates lot of carbon emission.

Food companies must respond to the consumer’s positive attitude towards food brands that have ecofriendly bearings. The collective power of food sector can help make a tangible impact. Embracing sustainable business approach and enforcing the same standards from supply chain stakeholders exemplifies the ripple effect which stimulates an expansive improvement in sustainable business practices across stakeholders in the food chain.

Steps like conserving water at manufacturing sites, managing food waste, creating a transparent supply chain, and circular packaging are some of the measures food companies can adopt to promote sustainability.

The bright spot is there has never been a more opportune time for brands to ramp up their sustainable offering as now. Consumers— especially millennials are all primed up for brands that hold on to purpose and sustainability. Food companies not only will have to adopt sustainability in business practices but also endeavor to communicate their brands’ sustainability to consumers so that it can drive brand relevance and help consumer’s embrace the trend of sustainable living.

At Danone, we share the belief that we can change the world through food. Our mission is to bring health through food to as many people as possible. And our ‘OnePlanetOneHealth’ vision is a call to all consumers and everyone who has a stake in food to join the on-going food revolution and create a movement aimed at nurturing the adoption of healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking habits.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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