Manufacturers and retailers need to take greater responsibility in managing their supply chains in a sustainable way, rather than 'passing the buck' to suppliers, said Chris Stanley, CEO of UK-based sustainability consultancy Best Food Forward.
"If you're the brand owner - whether that's retail or manufacturing - you have responsibility for your supply chain," said Stanley. "You can't say 'that's a problem for my suppliers'."
More focus on supply
"If you're putting sugar or fruit in your product, or using a lot of packaging, then that's your responsibility," he said, noting that while it is 'great' that many firms are placing a big focus on the sustainability of packaging, there are many more areas of production that need to be better considered.
"For example, on the fruit side, that's something that the manufacturers have not looked at. They have relied on finding suppliers who can provide them with the right sort of fruit at the right price, but they have not done much work with those suppliers to help them reduce their footprint," said Stanley - who noted that in particular, manufacturers of soft drinks and fruit-based beverages could do more in this area.
"They put it in the 'too difficult' box because the question how they can influence Brazilian fruit growers - but the coffee industry manage to do it and the chocolate industry manage it."
The UK-based consultant added that while there is 'some' Fair Trade fruit available on the market, very little finds its way into food or drinks.
Distribution and supply
Speaking to FoodNavigator at the Zenith International's UK Soft Drinks Conference, Stanley suggested that one area many firms could improve on is managing the supply and distribution chain to ensure energy and products are not wasted.
One key example, he noted, is refrigeration - which is often used for storage and transport when it is not always needed.
"We're not really understanding why people are refrigerating, or when they are doing it," he said. "There might be situations where you can store or transport a product not using refrigeration, or maybe using different temperatures, without compromising taste, quality or shelf life."
"That's another area that needs more focus right across the food industry."