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Sustainable development a top topic at Sustainable Foods Summit

Soil fertility, carbon management, regulatory framework and sustainable food production were major areas of concern at June's Sustainable Food Summit in Amsterdam.

That the food industry needs to take greater steps towards sustainable development was one of the key messages from the Sustainable Foods Summit on June 4 and 5 in Amsterdam. Soil fertility, carbon management, regulatory framework and sustainable food production are major areas of concern.

Professor Pablo Tittonell of Wageningen University emphasized the importance of soil fertility for sustainability, as soil fertility has a direct impact on plant and animal health. He called for sustainable farming practices to improve nutrient quality in soil. Tobias Bandel from Soil & More offered a similar message: Improved soil structure produces lower water footprint, greater nutrient quality and as carbon sequestration.

In a keynote address, Craig Sams, founder and president of Green & Black’s, said the food industry needs to act if it is to avert a carbon crisis. Each year, 125 million hectares of fertile soil is lost, he said. Carbon pricing is inevitable if we are to maintain agricultural land, he explained. During a seminar on mainstream distribution, Sams shared his experiences in developing the Whole Earth and Green & Black’s brands. He called the Whole Earth a ‘campaigning brand’ that appealed to green consumers, while Green & Black’s is positioned as an ethical chocolate.

According to a representative from Wessanen — a 250-year-old, Amsterdam-based, healthy food company — the future of the food industry lies with sustainable foods. Using food pyramids, Wessanen's director of organic expertise Laurence Beck showed how the healthiest food has the lowest environmental impact. As part of the company's strategy on organic and health foods, it acquired Clipper, Alter Eco and Isola Bio in recent years, and is looking for similar such companies.

In another paper, Coop Denmark showed how private labels can be successful with sustainable products; its Anglamark private label is recognized by 70 percent of Danish consumers. In addition to organic foods, it represents natural baby care, personal care and home care products.

The complexities of sustainable packaging were also debated. Professor Roland Ten Klooster from University of Twente stated the difficulties in coming up with the ideal ‘green packaging.’ He encouraged brands to put design at the heart of packaging decisions. Andy Sweetman from Innovia gave an overview of the growing range of bioplastic options for food and beverage products. The raw chocolate brand LoveChock shared its experiences in adopting sustainable packaging solutions. It is using cellulose films and origami-style packaging for its chocolates.

This seventh European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit brought together more than 130 senior executives from the food industry. Its proceedings are available for a professional fee. More information is available here.

Sustainability discussions will continue in San Francisco, California, on Jan. 20-21; and in June in Amsterdam and in São Paulo.

Organic Monitor is a specialist research, consulting and training company that focuses on the global organic and related product industries. Since 2001, it has been providing a range of business services to operators in high-growth ethical and sustainable industries. Its services include market research publications, business and technical consulting, seminars and workshops, and sustainability summits.

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