You’re probably aware that choosing sustainable, planet-friendly and/or ethical products are important factors for many consumers. For food producers, this is an opportunity to make a difference if they can formulate and source their products right.
A growing number of consumers are looking at the bigger picture when it comes to their choices about food. Veganism continues to increase in popularity but it’s just about the diets that people are choosing. There are also concerns about the supply chain and how those involved in production are treated. So how can producers make the best choices for their products?
Ethical: a question of values
While values are subjective, what can be said about ethical food claims and ethical production is that it takes into account the welfare of the living beings involved (farmers, growers and animals). It raises the bar in terms of trade and treatment and seeks to take a wider view of the product that just pure profitability.
“Fairtrade is a simple way to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow the things we love. We do this by changing the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fair deal for farmers and workers in developing countries.” says the Fairtrade Foundation.
The now-familiar Fairtrade logo serves to reassure consumers that a product, or all of the ingredients in that product, are certified as Fairtrade. Food producers can also choose to source only one ingredient on Fairtrade terms.
While vegan and vegetarian foods are the most ethical choice, free-range and higher welfare meats count too.
Factory farming is widely considered cruel to animals but there are additional factors to consider such as the detrimental impact on livestock health which in turn diminishes the quality of the meat produced.
Sustainable: seasonal sourcing and meat alternatives
Sustainable food is all about using our available resources most effectively, such as choosing local, seasonal food and minimising meat consumption.
The problem with meat
Meat production uses huge amounts of resources. What’s more, demand has led to vast super farms which simply aren’t sustainable long-term.
“The crops fed to industrially reared animals worldwide could feed an extra four billion [people] on the planet,” says Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
Sustainable alternatives include algae-based foods (such as spirulina and chlorella), lab-grown meat and insects (read our blog on alternative proteins).
Shop with the seasons
More consumers are choosing fresh, seasonal and local produce to reduce their carbon footprint, but there’s also an ethical issue as developing countries often dedicate more water to crops than they have available for the local people.
Furthermore, food producers must take seasonal variation of their ingredients into account as they will have an impact on nutritional profile and how the ingredients behave in the product. To solve this, it’s important to specify any important characteristics of an ingredient in the specification that you use with the supplier, or having a certificate of analysis with each batch supplied to you to ensure the product will be made as you expect.
Planet-friendly: making greener choices
Planet-friendly, also known as eco- or environmentally friendly, applies to the wider issues that affect our world. For the food industry, this means carbon, water and waste.
In the UK we throw away a staggering 16 million plastic bottles every day. Add that number to the countless plastic straws, stirrers and other non-recyclable “problem plastic” food containers such as yogurt pots, ready meal trays and salad bags. The government has committed over £60m to deal with plastic waste and it’s clear that food producers can contribute to the cause of (and solution to) this issue. Packaging foods in paper, card, glass or recyclable metal is a great start.
Keeping it local for carbon
While ingredients produced further afield are often cheaper, their distance makes them problematic. Consumers scrutinise product credentials and provenance and large companies are adapting to suit, such as Quorn which achieved third-party certification of their footprint data and have carbon labels on their packaging.
The Carbon Trust developed its Standard for Carbon, Water and Waste (the Triple Standard), to recognise organisations that measure and manage these three environmental pillars, and work to achieve reductions year-on-year. Companies that certify benefit from lower costs in their value chains and tap into niche markets – which may well become more mainstream over time.
Another big issue in the food sector is waste. According to WRAP, around 10 million tonnes of post-farm gate food waste is thrown out across the UK every year, but only 1.8 million tonnes is currently recycled.
“All of those involved in recycling food waste, from producers to collectors and processors, have an important role to play in making sure that the maximum value possible is extracted from food that would otherwise be wasted.”