Other stakeholders, such as financial institutions and public players will also be involved.
Food production already has the largest environmental impact globally of any human activity, but growing net demand means this will need to double by 2015. If this is to happen sustainably, more will have to be grown on less land and using less water, says the NGO.
"These problems that are so large that no company can address them alone,” said senior vice president at WWF and executive director of Markets Institute, Jason Clay.
What are the priority issues?
1. Closing the $200 Billion Gap: Companies have committed to buying $450 billion of more sustainably produced raw materials by 2020 - but currently producers can only meet €200bn of that demand.
2. Ending Illegality: Addressing illegality in food production that stems from five sources: access to the resource, labour rights, fraud, corruption and issues such as deforestation.
3. Tackling Food Waste: Building science-based consensus on food waste to reduce it across the value chain.
4. Encouraging Precompetitive Collaboration: Bringing together companies in a precompetitive manner to address problems that none of them is large enough to address individually.
Not your typical NGO
Markets Institute will analyse publically available information for over 1000 companies and qualitative research on the issues affecting food companies now and in the near future.
“We will run this data through different filters to identify how issues are trending globally, not just in the US or EU. Our goal is to compare India with China and Indonesia with Brazil. In this sense we are more of a think tank than a typical NGO,” Clay told FoodNavigator.
“These [issues] could range from illegality and the lack of transparency in supply chains, to the impact of weather variability on supply chain management, the role long-term contracts could play to build partnerships along the value chain, and the importance of open source data bases and precompetitive approaches to address problems," he said.
Chief agricultural officer at Mars and TLG member, Howard-Yana Shapiro, welcomed the novel approach of the institute. “The use of this venture capital model, nixing unrealistic approaches and focusing on those where you have consensus among serious people who can actually move the needle, is key to accelerating credible scalable responses in the face of change.”
Past participants include Mars and Unilever
The World Wildlife Fund currently works with more than 70 of the top 100 global food companies, and the Washington DC-based Market Institute will build on this, by working with both large companies that have the ability to make change happen at scale quickly, but also SMEs and “more nimble companies” that can bring innovative ways of thinking and problem-solving to the table.
Clay could not disclose which food companies have so far signed up to the initiative – information that will be released later in the year – but said that early members of its Thought Leader Group (TLG) include Mars and Unilever.
"Our goal [is] to influence the actions of others rather than do things ourselves. NGOs don’t buy or sell anything and they don’t make laws or regulations. We need to influence those who do," said Clay.