Sustainable food is key to economic recovery

The Covid-19 pandemic could accelerate sustainable food trends, according to a consultant at SAC Consulting – part of SRUC.

Alistair Trail, of SAC Consulting’s Food & Drink team, said recent reports show food transparency, local sourcing and ‘immunity’ eating are key drivers for consumer purchasing decisions, providing the opportunity for both the wider industry, and food and drink producers, to help rebuild the economy on green credentials.

In March, analysis and research company GlobalData reported that 45 per cent of consumers actively buy products that are better for the environment, while Head of Sustainability at Kerry Group, Juan Aguiriano, said Covid-19 had accelerated a trend among consumers to be more responsible when it comes to the food on their plate.

Alistair said: “Given the sweeping change and extraordinary circumstances created by Covid-19, it would be easy for consumers to cast aside concerns for the environment and sustainability, but the pandemic has in fact highlighted the value of sustainable food systems, our natural economy and of green technologies.

“We are seeing rising consumer interest in buying healthy, nutritious food produced with minimal impact on the environment.

“There is an opportunity here to channel the significant resources needed to get the economy back on track in a way that is consistent with the transition to a more sustainable future.”

Food producers and manufacturers are investing in clear labelling as well as reformulating with locally sourced natural ingredients, rather than using artificial ingredients and chemicals.

Larger brands are using this extra consumer understanding to market their products using Life Cycle Analysis – which calculates the environmental impact of a product during its use and compares products against high energy and high water usage alternatives.

A new trend, established since the Covid-19 outbreak, is the rise of the ‘immunity consumer’ who is looking for food that offers benefits to their immune system.

While previously people turned to vitamin tablets, pills, nutritional bars or health shots, a third of UK consumers are now proactively looking for ingredients that can help their immunity, including traditional unfashionable ingredients eaten in a modern way.

The key challenge for the industry is to balance this rising interest with affordability and cost.

“We have worked with companies creating drinks from the very nutritious coastal plant, sea buckthorn, or introducing vitamin-packed seaweed into savoury biscuits,” said Alistair.

“The Covid-19 emergency is causing an economic crisis, so it is important that these products are no longer niche and are affordable to the general population.

“Manufacturers can make great-tasting healthy food economical by using a different distribution model to the one traditionally used by the health food market.”

He said there was also an opportunity for the Government to re-set how disadvantaged people are supported in their local communities, with access to nutritious, sustainably produced food.

“As job losses increase and food banks report rising demand, we’ve seen an admirable surge in effort from the agriculture sector, food and drink businesses, voluntary organisations and communities to prevent hunger, but these groups need more support,” he said.

“With several charities facing cash shortfalls, there is a huge opportunity to reduce the bureaucratic barriers that prevent them from accessing surplus food. Investing in community organisations and food cooperatives will be crucial to people’s health and wellbeing and sustainability in general as we recover from this crisis.”

There is also scope for public sector procurement to more fully support local producers and rebuild the nation’s health and wealth, with schools, hospitals and public buildings serving nutritious meals based on local, seasonal and sustainable raw ingredients.

“This kind of joined-up approach should lay the foundations for a fundamental rethink of our food system,” said Alistair. “If we are to build a truly sustainable food future, the best evidence shows we must shift to a more sustainable and circular economy.”

Posted by SRUC on 18/08/2020

Tags: Sustainability, Food and Drink, Circular Economy
Categories: Sustainability | Natural Economy | Consulting and Commercial