At COP21 last year, the food industry was deemed to be both a victim and villain of climate change - but 2016 may be the year where increasing scrutiny on industry practices means it needs to seriously address these issues according to a Euromonitor white paper on 2016's top consumer trends.
Striving to eat locally-produced foods, or locavorism, is one crucial element to the green food trend. But how can global food companies with ever complex international supply chains be part of this too? The answer lies in one word: glocal. Consumer trends consultant for Euromonitor, Daphne Kasriel-Alexander, told FoodNavigator: “The most successful retailers, producers and fast food chains will make an effort to go ‘glocal’ – to adapt their offerings to local food preferences while retaining their more global allure.”
“Today, we’re talking about our food—as in what’s in it, where it comes from and what impact it has on the environment” - rather than sales volumes.
Campbell CEO, Denise Morrison, November 2015.
And these are not merely consumer trends being popularised by instagramming Millennials but movements becoming enshrined by public policy makers. Earlier this month French MEPs adopted a draft legislation aimed at promoting local food and short supply chains: article four of the text would require large companies to integrate sustainable food systems, such as choosing local and organic products, into their CSR agendas.
Can sustainability be acquired?
But research suggests the bigger the company, the less consumers trust it, and global food corporation claiming to put sustainability above profit is jarring to some - an idea that may be costing big packaged food companies in sales.
According to Thilo Wrede, author of a Jefferies report called Food: The Curse of the Large Brand: ”Large brands across most relevant packaged food categories are declining in scanner data while small, nichey brands grow,” which he attributes to a growing disinterest in mainstream processed food brands, especially among younger consumers.
One way for large companies to tap into this preference for small and niche brands, which appear to be more aligned with sustainable values – is by acquiring them. But when Big Food buying up small, companies perceived as being ethical, such as Coca-Cola buying Innocent, does it affect consumer’s perception – and purchasing – of that brand?
While many consumers are simply not aware of which parent companies own smaller brands, Kasriel-Alexander says those who do may not necessarily view it negatively.
“As green causes genuinely matter to more consumers, particularly Millennials, and as consumers want to see genuine green gestures throughout the production process and more broadly, most will be pleased that ‘ethical’ brands are becoming more mainstream.
“What’s more, ‘Big Food’ brands like McDonald’s are transforming themselves from within, and not just by acquiring more ethical brands, in a bid to appeal to greener food interests among consumers.”
Food waste: Trash and treasure
Food waste is another area that some companies and governments alike are tackling head on, and the public is interested in hearing about companies’ efforts. When British newspaper The Daily Mail reported on Morrisons becoming the first UK retailer to donate its unsold food to charity, the story got more than 1600 shares in a matter of hours. France’s food waste bill, which requires supermarkets to give unsold but edible food to charities for either human or animal consumption, also sparked international interest.
But the idea that excess, unsold food must end up in the bin has been challenged by a Dutch manufacturer which takes vegetables too ‘ugly’ to be sold by retailers and turns them into soup, which is then sold at
While some retailers, such as French supermarket Intermarché, sell ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables with a 30% discount, Kromkommer’s premise is that these products should be sold for the same price, and it has called upon Intermarché to raise the prices and stop underselling them.
“Our ultimate goal is to see wonky veggies on the shelves, for the same price as their “perfect” brothers and sisters,” says the company, whose name is a play on the Dutch words for wonky and cucumber.
Kasriel-Alexander says we can expect more companies like Kronkommer in 2016 as these kind of efforts become common currency. “By doing something genuine to combat food waste that’s part and parcel of their production process, brands will earn ‘brownie points’ in the eyes of the growing band of consumers who care about the environment and are looking to demonstrate this via their spending choices.”
Moving to the middle of the food chain: Is my starch sustainable?
We already have sustainable commodities, such as Fairtrade bananas and cocoa, and ethically-positioned finished products bearing logos that boast of their sustainable credentials.
But 2016 will also see the notion of sustainable ingredients rise in prominence. Exandal Corp is a hydrocolloid company whose line of Peruvian tara gum is certified Fairtrade and organic.
Kasriel-Alexander said: “Consumer sustainability concerns, well documented in a bevy of international and local surveys, show that consumers will be scrutinising brands' green credentials across the whole production process and openly discussing this on social networking, talkbacks and on blogs,”
A global consumer study, commissioned by Dutch natural colour manufacturer GNT that involved 5000 individuals, found that 70% of parents eschew synthetic additives when buying foods for their kids.