The dawn of a new decade is set to mark another step change in the importance food businesses place on operating responsibly. Here, three experts offer their take on the issues that will dominate the sustainability agenda in 2020.
Looking back on 2019, what would you identify as the single issue that most dominated the foodservice sustainability agenda?
David Read (DR), chairman, Prestige Purchasing: Plastics. “Single-use” has become a part of our everyday language, and most organisations serving food out of home have taken steps to review their usage. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II spurred a passionate global debate and generated real behavioural and policy change.
Simon Billing (SB), executive director, Eating Better: Conversations about the environment, climate change and meat became more mainstream in 2019. But action for the foodservice industry was dominated by plastic waste reduction rather than any widescale focus on supporting a move towards more sustainable diets.
Celena Fernandez (CF), head of environment, Compass Group UK & Ireland: Single-use plastics dominated the headlines in 2019 and as the UK’s largest foodservice provider, we have an important role to play to help our customers and our clients understand how we can make a difference to change the world. Our strategy around single-use plastics is based around five action areas: to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Review and Educate. This approach is about looking at plastics being used at each site, driving our actions up the waste hierarchy and empowering customers to reduce plastic waste and recycle.
What do you predict will be the number one sustainability issue in 2020?
DR: In foodservice it will be plastics again. There has been lots of action, but there is still so much to be fixed. The ideal scenario is encompassed by WRAP’s Plastics Pact model – Rethink-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle – but product design and waste chains need more investment and refinement to work well if we are to ensure that the wrong products don’t still end up in landfill or incinerators.
SB: Realistically, Brexit will dominate all policy development in 2020. Future trade deals will be central to the thinking of farmers, processors, retailers and the wider food service industry. One of our hopes for 2020 is for any future trade deals to be assessed on their impact on UK farming communities, health and the environment.
CF: Single-use plastics will continue to be a hot topic for the industry to deal with in 2020. The common goal is working towards a circular system keeping plastic in the economy and out of the natural environment.
As part of efforts to limit irreversible climate impacts, 2020 must be the year for coordinated, comprehensive climate action.
What will be the new or emerging issue that moves up the agenda in 2020?
DR: Deforestation. We cut down 8.9 million acres of virgin tropical rainforest in 2018, and 2019 looks set to be higher. The climate emergency will continue to increasingly hit the headlines in 2020, and consumers will become better informed about the link between their diet and climate change. Beef, soy, palm oil and coffee will all come under the spotlight for their greenhouse gas impacts; diners will ask difficult questions about the sustainability of their food, which will require much more due diligence than most foodservice operators currently carry out.
SB: In the UK we have many farmers who are leading the way in terms of farming in a more nature friendly and sustainable way. As we leave the EU common agricultural policy we want to see farmers being incentivised and supported to transition to better farming practices, which will deliver public benefits for health, environment, biodiversity, animal welfare, pollution control and climate resilience. We think the importance of and public support for this issue will become increasingly understood as 2020 progresses.
CF: Food waste is growing in importance and as reported by the UN would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter if it was represented as its own country. Again, as the largest food and support services provider we have both a responsibility and an opportunity to make a real difference in the fight against food waste. The focus is on driving behavioural change whether that is in the kitchen raising awareness of using the whole of an ingredient; through technology measuring food waste and being able to plan, forecast and purchase more effectively; working with food redistribution organisations to ensure any surplus food goes to people in need; or recycling food waste.
What will be the next big food or ingredient trend?
DR: Meat alternatives. With the outbreak of African swine flu in 2019 all protein markets (and particularly pork) will be under supply pressure in 2020, which will see significant price increases at a time when the technology used in both lab-grown meat and plant-based meats is reaching maturity. I expect the trend towards plant-based consumption to continue, and as demand rises/prices fall we will see a further rebalancing away from traditional proteins.
SB: Demand has grown for vegan and vegetarian options since 2018. 2019 brought a series of high-profile options that seem to be working commercially for retailers; however, we hear that it’s not leading to any reductions in meat sales…yet. We hope to see reductions in sales of meat and dairy generally, but a move to better meat and dairy for the remainder.
CF: 2020 will again see an increased consumption of plant-based protein, including a lot more innovation using versatile protein alternatives which can be crafted into creative fillings for Bao Buns or Tacos, as well as using more vegetables, pulses and wholegrains to reduce the meat quantity and increase the plant-based proteins in traditional dishes such as Shepherd’s Pie and Spaghetti Bolognese. We have already started to see innovation from high-street chains who traditionally sell meat and poultry products, but who want to stake a claim and enjoy a slice of the plant-based market.
What will be the key external factors that influence how foodservice businesses approach sustainability in 2020?
DR: Consumer demand (driven by media influences), and legislation. Statistically, the UK’s most commercially successful retail organisations are also the UK’s most trusted brands, and there is a growing swell of opinion amongst consumers (particularly the young) that voting with their wallets is the most effective way of creating their desired sustainability improvements. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy created a revolution in this market, with reformulation and premiumisation being the dominant trends delivered as a result, which may tempt the government to set out further market intervention on a wider agenda.
SB: Brexit and subsequent trade deals are going to be the issues that dominate foodservice progress towards sustainability in 2020 in the UK. But there are opportunities outside of this to accelerate action. One of the big things we would like to see in 2020 is foodservice businesses putting sustainable diets at the heart of their commercial strategies and accepting that continuing to grow meat and dairy sales is not a strategy fit for the future. We will keep working with our alliance organisations to communicate with retailers the need and commercial benefit.