Food industry needs more collaborations to address sustainability issues

Food industry needs more collaborations to address sustainability issues

Collaboration is the key to meeting the challenges that grow with the population, suggest speakers at the Sustainbable Food Summit in Europe.

More collaborative partnerships are required to address the sustainability challenges faced by the food industry. This was one of the major outcomes of the European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit (, which took place on June 6-7th. Over 160 senior executives convened in Amsterdam to discuss sustainability issues in the food industry.

A number of speakers highlighted the challenges ahead: 2 billion more mouths to feed over the next 4 decades, whilst resources become scarce and erratic weather conditions cause food supply swings. Industry collaborations were proposed as part of the solution to meet these challenges. Such partnerships were highlighted in the opening session on Sustainability Best-Practices. FoodCycleshowed how it works with retailers, celebrity chefs and unemployed youth to re-direct food waste from landfill to create nutritious meals for the needy. The London-based organisation has served 60,000 meals from 61 tonnes of surplus food, whilst creating 46,000 hours of voluntary employment. Another paper on Sustainable Food Cities demonstrated how local government can work with NGOs and the private sector to spur social change in urban cities. The Belgian retailerDelhaizestated its partnership with WWF was fundamental to its sustainable seafood policy; this year, the supermarket will have converted all its fresh and frozen seafood to sustainable sources.

The importance of collaborations was also highlighted in the Sustainable Ingredients session. The French ingredient firm Nexira has partnered with SOS Sahel for the sustainable sourcing of acacia gum. By protecting acacia trees, its sourcing projects are preventing desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa whilst creating a positive social impact on local communities. It stated working with a local NGO was vital for it to enter long-term relationships with African growers. Another paper by EcoInvest highlighted the importance of keeping sustainable farming communities. According to Karla Canavan, the urban portion of the global population has increased from below 40% in 1990 to over 50% at present; it is projected to rise above 70% by 2050. She stated ‘we need happy farmers’ to maintain agricultural production and to support rural economies. Similar sentiment was echoed by Bob Quinn, president of Kamut International: ‘monoculture is leading to the intensification of the food industry’, having a detrimental impact on rural communities. His company is encouraging the production of the ancient wheat khorasan in the Montana state of the USA. Marketing issues related to sustainable foods were covered in the second day of the summit.

In the opening keynote, Stephan Ardesch of Ben & Jerry’s encouraged green brands to use ‘fun marketing’ to attract consumers. In the Netherlands, the company has set up a sustainable dairy programme to give a ‘fair price’ to Dutch milk producers. Its research showed that 65 percent of consumers were willing to pay extra for Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream when they learn about its environmental and social responsibility.

Two of the most inspiring presentations were from Coop Switzerland and Bio Plus. The Swiss retailer has put private labels at the heart of its sustainability plan; sales of its private label products have exceeded EUR 1.6 billion. The Naturaplan organic brand is highly successful, comprising almost 10% of total food and drink sales in its stores. In the Netherlands, the Bio Plus brand has also shown rapid growth to become the 39th top consumer brand. According to Henk Gerbers, its positioning as a lifestyle brand in mainstream retailers has been the cornerstone of its success.

Another paper by Ogilvy Earth stated green brands should target ‘middle-greens’ who comprise two-thirds of consumers, rather then dark greens who are already ‘the converted!’. Methods to encourage consumer behavior towards responsible consumption and green purchases were discussed in the Consumer Behavior session.

In an engaging keynote on the psychological barriers, Simran Sethi stated ‘people needed to resonate with the message of sustainability’. She encouraged brands to ‘re-frame the story and make it personal’ to engage consumers for green behavior. Alprogave a case study on encouraging behavior change. The Belgian company has been instrumental in giving European consumers healthy alternatives to meat and dairy products. Although its ‘plant foods’ are marketed on their sustainability credentials, the company states product quality and taste have been the key success factors. Similar views were expressed by Slow Food Netherlands; its president Hans van der Molen said sustainable food brands should never forget taste as this is a fundamental reason people buy foods.

In the closing remarks, the chair summarized the marketing challenge faced by green brands: How do you compete with conventional products on taste and quality, whilst maintaining a premium because of ecological / ethical credentials? The fifth European edition of the summit raised many other such questions about sustainability in the food industry: How can the various stake-holders make a concerted effort to tackle the growing complexity of the sustainability challenge? How can the food industry engage consumers to change their dietary habits and consume more efficiently? What can be done to encourage biodiversity in agricultural production? How can the industry adopt sustainability schemes without adding to the proliferation in eco-labels? Will an eco-label eventually emerge that encompasses various aspects of sustainability? Such questions will be addressed in upcoming editions of the Sustainable FoodsSummit.

Sustainable Foods Summit North America San Francisco, 22-23rd January 2014 Sustainable Foods Summit Latin America São Paulo, 27-28th March 2014 Sustainable Foods Summit Europe Amsterdam, 5-6 June 2014.

More information is available from  The summit in pictures

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