Analysis: Stay a step ahead of the green pressure groups

Environment campaigners will focus on deforestation, emissions from meat production, packaging and waste next year. Foodservice and hospitality companies should be prepared, says Robert Blood of Sigwatch.

Plastics (again)

We’re already seeing intense pressure from activists for commitments to reduce plastic use in general and single-use plastics in particular, with campaigning rocketing six-fold since 2015 (and there’s little sign of this abating). Switching to 100% recycled plastic will help to stave off some of the criticism, but without more supply to meet demand, new packaging approaches will still be required.

We can expect to see much more comprehensive plastic waste collection systems in restaurants and stores; these will be extended to other forms of packaging to increase recovery rates. Laminated cartons will be under renewed scrutiny because of the difficulty of recycling, with a possible backlash against non-packaging single-use disposables, and even hygiene products like wet wipes and single-use gloves.


In the past few months Greenpeace, likely to be followed by others, has upped the stakes on plastics by demanding that shops and hospitality businesses cut all types of throw-away packaging. Its new motto is “Reuse, refill”, but how much inconvenience will consumers tolerate in order to deal with packaging guilt?

Modern living is all about making everything easy, with single-serving packs and low-effort preparation and consumption. A shift towards making packaging more obviously functional would help counteract this guilt: packaging that lets products last longer (including longer “don’t use after” dates); on-pack advice on refrigeration and storage; or even smart packaging that tells consumers if a product is not being stored correctly. This is likely to be much more acceptable to consumers than fancy cosmetic packaging or “packaging within packaging”.

Green vegetarianism

“Green vegetarianism” (eschewing meat for environmental reasons) is going mainstream and veganism (no animal products whatsoever) is on the rise, including for non-food products like toiletries. This is a trend driven largely by activism.

Campaigning against meat eating “to save the planet” more than doubled in late 2019 and remains at twice 2017 levels, and five times 2013 levels. Veggie options can no longer be treated as the poor relations of catering. This will likely lead to vegan sections in shops, like the organic sections in food areas we already see. There will also be more vegetarian and vegan options on menus, promoted enthusiastically as “green and clean”, while meat moves from the core of food choices to the fringe.


Any product with ingredients sourced from commodity or intensive tropical agriculture is being called into question by campaigners. They are alarmed by increasing deforestation and biodiversity loss driven by palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and parts of central Africa, and by soya farming and cattle ranching in Brazil, Peru and Argentina. The Amazon fires this summer triggered a spike in campaigning: activist activity more than doubled in just three months. Expect “deforestation-free” products to emerge as a new category for foods and even non-foods, with much more prominence than before, and more demand for third-party proof of thorough audits and certification.

Robert Blood is founder and managing director at Sigwatch, which tracks activist campaigns and measures their impact on more than 15,000 companies and brands.



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