From field to table, the sustainability of the modern food industry is a topic of growing concern across the world. Though things were already moving in that direction, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that Canadian consumers are increasingly demanding that food companies take action to reduce the impact of the sector on climate change and waste.
Some of Canada’s largest food processors and retailers are already actively working to improve the sustainability of every point along the supply chain, blazing a trail for the rest of the country’s food industry to follow.
Deloitte Canada recently released a report called “The Future of Food: A Canadian Perspective” in which it assessed the Canadian industry’s sustainability efforts and where things may go in the next few years.
It noted that Canadians are resolved to make better food choices based on health, environmental, and ethical grounds, and that they are looking for brands and companies that share those values.
Online ordering causes more concern
In particular, 72 per cent of consumers say they prefer to shop at food retailers with strong sustainability or ethical practices, and 71 per cent say it’s important they understand where their food comes from.
61 per cent are concerned about the amount of packaging used for food they order online. That is particularly notable, as 35 per cent of survey respondents say they are now ordering more takeout as a direct result of the pandemic.
As the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, demand for food is anticipated to rise by 50 per cent. The environmental impact of that soaring demand will severely test the planet when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, and use of other resources.
Food sustainability trends
Based on Deloitte Canada’s recent conversations with industry leaders and its own assessment of the food sector, it noted it expects to see food companies focus their sustainability efforts on some key areas over the next few years:
Reducing not only plastic waste but food waste is a key priority with many food company leaders, according to the report.
Potential solutions could include digital food waste management systems, donations of unsold food, upcycling or recycling unsold produce.
Reducing carbon emissions, responding to climate change
Some food companies are already encountering climate change-driven disruptions to the plants and crops they depend on, forcing them to retool recipes, invest in new technology, and find new locations to grow.
Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as mandated by the Paris Agreement, will require significant changes within the food industry.
Potential solutions could include encouraging regenerative agricultural practices, exploring vertical farming, embracing sustainable seafood production, and challenging suppliers to cut emissions.
Building a more sustainable supply chain
COVID-19 has illustrated that the supply chains that the food industry rely on can be quickly broken. As a result, food companies are being pushed to ensure their suppliers respect human rights standards and meet safety and sustainability requirements.
Some companies are also looking to “repatriate” their network of food suppliers to meet consumer demand and ensure supply chain sustainability. This can be done either by switching to a domestic supplier or educating farmers and suppliers or adopting new technology.
Advancing the agenda
Not only must food companies and everyone within the supply chain need to work together to achieve the common goals of increased sustainability and reduce the toll on the planet, but consistency and transparency will be key. Companies must be prepared to critically evaluate their entire business.
Alternative sources of supply must be established to ensure contingency plans are in place, and transparent disclosure of the work being done must be guaranteed. This evidence will certainly be increasingly demanded by consumers and stakeholders.
Read the full report here.