Sustainability: A long-term investment and driver of innovation?

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

A report by Harvard Business Review hailed sustainability as ‘a touchstone for innovation.’(©
A report by Harvard Business Review hailed sustainability as ‘a touchstone for innovation.’(©

Related tags Sustainability Food

The food industry has taken notable steps to address the issue of sustainable sourcing, compelled by a corporate and social responsibility that ensures products that are produced in a safe, supportive and environmentally responsible manner. 

But are there other reasons why food makers want to go down the sustainability route? Presumably the task to remould an existing business model to include sustainability is somewhat of a time-consuming burden.

There is also the expense in sourcing sustainable raw materials, ensuring its complete traceability as well as safeguarding the livelihood of the people involved in the product’s lifecycle.  

According to a report​ by Harvard Business Review, businesses cannot afford to dismiss the concept of sustainability as a drain on an organisation’s bottom line.  In fact, the report hailed sustainability as ‘a touchstone for innovation.’

‘In the future, only companies that make sustainability a goal will achieve competitive advantage,’ ​the authors said. ‘That means rethinking business models as well as products, technologies, and processes.’

That was back in 2009. Since then the food industry has come on leaps and bounds, embracing this ecological and socio-economic concept to not only innovate but form a backbone to which company philosophies and products abide by.

Market advantage

glyphosate, pesticide, herbicide, farm, field, Copyright narongcp
AlgaTechnologies' astaxanthin is produced without the need for pesticides. (©

“Brands that recognise the importance of launching eco-friendly products can also gain a first-mover advantage over their competitors,”​ said Efrat Kat, vice president of marketing & sales at Algatechnologies.

Its main product AstaPure natural astaxanthin, originates from the microalgae strain Haematococcus pluvialis​. Manufacturers can combine this product with other nutrients in product formulations to produce dry blended beverages and health bars.

“Sustainability is very much an issue related to the food and beverage industry,”​ added Karina Bedrack, sales and marcom manager at Algatechnolgies. “Because you have so many different suppliers today, everyone wants to differentiate themselves from the others.”

“Our astaxanthin is produced in the desert so it’s free from industrial area pollutants. It’s a product that doesn’t need pesticides so is completely grown naturally. We only use water and nutrients to feed the microalgae. In addition, the extraction process is done using supercritical carbon dioxide, which doesn’t use solvents.”

Flexibility in thinking

lycopene tomatoes
Lycored's range of products credit the lycopene content in tomatoes for their efficacy.(©

By no longer using outdated processing methods or raw materials that irreversibly damage the environment, it seems that adopting a sustainable way of working has moved food ingredient makers and suppliers to think differently in how their product is produced and even perceived. In essence companies have had to innovate.

“We control the entire process from the soil to seeds that we breed right through to the final supplement,”​ said Dr Karin Linnewiel Hermoni, category specialist, Car-O-Blends at Lycored. “We ensure that we do this in a green and responsible way because that is part of the promise that we are committed to.”

Lycored’s range of tomato-based products have been especially prepared for use in creating popular foods, enhancing its taste or colour to appeal to customers and consumers alike.

It’s Lyc-O-Beta range is used for a variety of applications including colouring foods, beverages, milk, yogurt, fruit preparations, and confectionery, while its SANTE MS range focuses on flavour, often used as a natural tomato concentrate and flavouring agent.

It's other tomato-related product of note is Cardiomato, a nutrient blend that uses the active compounds found in tomatoes (lycopene, phytoene, phytofluene, beta-carotene, phytosterols and tocopherols (vitamin E)) to support cardiovascular health.

Here sustainability has been identified as a way to produce the vegetable's rich intense flavour direct from nature.

“Sustainability makes it easier to innovate,”​ said Lycored’s VP of marketing and communication Zev Ziegler. “Breed selection for example is under our control.”

Sustainability as an investment

fish oil dha epa omega 3 Serquan
Consumers want to know more about the origin of the omega-3 oil and its sustainability.(©

Many ingredient suppliers see sustainability as a form of investment in their product, although maybe not in monetary terms.

A competitive advantage can also mean how a company and its product is perceived. Naturally, if the view is positive, customers will look upon their offerings with approval, safe in the knowledge that ethical concerns have been heard and addressed.

Observers need only look to how Fairtrade bananas, cocoa and ethically-positioned products have entered into the thinking of consumers, who are asking more questions about products' origins.

“Consumers are looking for a product from people that care about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. That’s a trend that we’re seeing,”​ said Ahiflower’s Andrew Hebard, president and CEO of TCI, the holding company for Nature’s Crops.

Ahiflower is a plant-based source of omega-3, which goes on to form a vital ingredient in food products such as protein shakes, milk shakes, and dairy shake products.

Hebard believed that much of the omega-3 market was dominated by fish and krill but he found that there was increasing resistance from consumers, who wanted to know more about the origin of the omega-3 oil and its sustainability.

“Traceability throughout the supply chain is a trend that is increasing all the time. What people are looking for is authenticity,”​ he said.

“Not just authenticity of the product but how authentic is your business when it comes to environmental stewardship, sustainability, traceability, and the livelihood of the people through the supply chain.”

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