Carbon labels for food businesses and restaurants launched in ‘world first’

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Foodsteps
Image: Foodsteps

Related tags eco-labels carbon labeling Carbon label

A company claims it is the first to make eco-labels widely available to all food businesses.

Foodsteps, a food technology startup that allows businesses to calculate, reduce, and label the environmental impact of their food, has formally launched in the UK. The company said is the first UK-based tech firm to provide carbon tracking and impact labelling to restaurants and caterers as well as food businesses. 

Founded by Cambridge University alumni Anya Doherty, the firm said it was created in response to the challenges facing food businesses looking to improve their sustainability and reach net zero.

“Historically, food companies have lacked access to a standard database where they can easily find out the environmental impact of their recipes and ingredients,”​ it said in a statement. “This was one reason why Tesco’s ambition to introduce carbon labelling across the food sector failed in 2012.”

In response, Foodsteps has developed what it described as a British-specific impact database for food, covering over 1,000 ingredients and incorporating carbon footprint, pollution, water use, and land use impacts. 

Developed alongside world-leading scientists and academics at Cambridge University, Foodsteps claimed its database provides the “breakthrough knowledge that could allow for widespread carbon labelling adoption across the industry”.

The firm said it is more than just a carbon labelling company, offering three technology solutions to help businesses become leaders in sustainability – a cloud-based platform, labelling capability, and QR code scanning.

On the platform, food providers can upload recipes and view the sustainability impact of each ingredient. The platform can be used to monitor targets, develop new recipes, and improve a menu or product’s sustainability. 

From there, companies can choose to print their own labels to clearly communicate the environmental impact of a product. These labels provide a traffic light rating from A-E (A meaning low environmental impact, E meaning high environmental impact) and have been deemed by the company the most effective in influencing consumer decision making. The labels were developed following the world’s largest study into carbon labelling conducted by Cambridge University, and co-led by Foodsteps founder Doherty, that tested labels on 85,000 consumers.

Foodsteps mock up
The labels provide a traffic light rating to score a products environmental impact and a QR code for transparency. Image: Foodsteps

How will the eco-labels be calculated?

Asked if its eco-labels will separate figures for water, emissions, pesticide and impact on biodiversity or will be amalgamated into one score, we were told: While the platform contains details about emissions, water etc the labels themselves only relate carbon footprint because it's the metric with the most robust data. We are actively considering plans to bring out other metrics amalgamated into one score later, but we think there's a lot more testing to do to make sure the other scores can be as accurate as carbon.”

Clients so far include leading universities and caterers, such as UCL caterers CH&Co, recipe box delivery services Gousto​ and Detox Kitchen as well as healthcare company BUPA. It has 28 active clients and said it is “speaking with major retailers about piloting”.

The company said food companies can also make use of Foodsteps’ virtual education tools, with each label containing a QR code that buyers can scan to learn more about the products’ impact and what the company is doing on sustainability.  

As the UK’s first cloud-based food sustainability platform, it claimed “businesses no longer need to pay expensive one-off consultancy fees traditionally required with carbon assessment and certification projects”.

Doherty said: “Restaurants, caterers, and food providers are increasingly looking for ways to review, improve, and demonstrate their action on sustainability. Foodsteps allows them to do that, by giving them access to the latest technology and data, without the commitment and fees associated with traditional carbon assessments. With our platform, consumer tools, and carbon labelling capabilities, brands can differentiate themselves in the market and communicate with customers in ways they never have before.”

The formal launch of the company and its platform follows the completion of its pre-seed funding round backed by Techstars and COREAngels.

Doherty added: “It is my belief that if we can make assessing and communicating environmental information in the food industry more accessible and standardised, there is no reason why it won’t become as widespread as nutritional information.”​ 

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