SIAL Talks 2022: Sustainability in the food chain and the challenges facing the industry

October 24, 2023

In this SIAL Talks from December 2022, Rémi Valençot, Senior Consultant at strategic consulting and market research specialist, Gira Food, highlights the challenges around sustainability, and a greater demand for sustainability in the food chain

Mr Valençot’s talk covered several issues surrounding the topic, including changing lifestyles and attitudes of consumers and a need to improve animal welfare to meet consumers’ expectations, as well as a need to reduce food waste, reduce emissions and generally improve sustainability in the supply chains involved in the production and delivery of dairy, meat, and other goods.

Gira Food, in its research with consumers found that sustainability and eco-concerns are now at the top of the agenda for many consumers, particularly younger consumers, who want to put the planet first, and who also potentially see plant-based options as healthier.

They are also increasingly concerned with animal welfare and want to know that the cows that produce dairy products and the animals that provide meat are treated humanely. Moreover, they want to be assured that the suppliers they buy from take corporate responsibility seriously.

Valençot explained that the key drivers for dairy alternatives and meat alternatives, as well the changing landscape, revolve around three pillars – planet, people, and profit. He added that while these might be prioritised in this order by consumers, for manufacturers and suppliers, the order is more likely to be “profit, planet, and then people”.

“Sustainability is a big theme, with a lot to tackle all at once, and it is something that needs to be tackled over the long term,” Valençot said.

The senior consultant mentioned reducing food waste and reducing emissions, and talked about some of the measures and actions that producers are taking, or should consider taking with respect to these issues.

On food waste, he said: “We have a responsibility to be better educated to not waste food. If it’s still good, you have innovations like ‘Too Good To Go'”‘ that delivers products that are still okay.”

“Food waste amounts to 17% of a total world level for dairy products and 12% at a European level. 5.5% of that is the responsibility of the final consumer. So, what I’m saying, is that there’s a serious possibility that with education to not create this waste, there will be much less waste further up the supply chain – the product itself, but also the energy in transporting and making the product and all the raw materials, and other added value. So, this is the global picture.”

On methane emissions Valençot said: “a lot has to be done regarding methane emissions from cows. We could always think about reducing the number of animals – that’s the obvious thing to do and that is going to happen … but we can also think about feed additives, about cultures, about seaweed, about vaccines.”

“There are many things happening, and we can use an example of a company from New Zealand who are using seaweed in the cows’ feed to help reduce emissions, while others are using special bacterial cultures, which can modify the digestive system and in fact reduce the enteric emission of the cow.”

One of the key takeaways was that if producers and suppliers do not take action “you’re going to be late on this thing, and you will be left behind”.

Finishing up his talk, Valençot reiterated that sustainability is a core issue to tackle in the long term. “Farms are more at the centre of attention because of the carbon footprint and animal welfare and other issues of course.”

He went on: “Who will pay for these changes? I don’t have the definite answer because it’s up to the supply chain to agree. There are different paths available, with carbon credit and other things like that. And typically, I must ask you now are you ready for this change that concerns the entire food chain?”

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