Companies failing to set dietary targets

Food companies are failing to set targets that support a shift to more sustainable diets, new research has found.

None of the UK’s largest retailers, caterers or restaurants have clearly defined targets that align with the need to shift away from animal products, according to a report from the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford and independent think tank the Food Foundation.

The Plating Up Progress report uses UK food retailers, caterers and restaurant chains as a test case to assess the level of corporate disclosure relating to key food sustainability issues, and consider where future investment returns will be strongest. It concluded that food businesses with strong supply chain management and revenues which are aligned with healthy and sustainable food are likely to thrive, while those dependent on business models rooted in the current system are at risk.

The report found that, while information is more widely available on supply chain sustainability, corporate disclosure relating to dietary shifts is “lacking or, at best, highly inconsistent”.

Researchers found companies often referring to the importance of healthy and sustainable food in their corporate reports, but little concrete evidence that they were shifting their business models away from dependence on animal products.

Greater consistency was found for disclosure on sustainable supply chains and for animal welfare and food waste; however disclosure around improving the nutritional quality of food was also described as “highly inconsistent”.

The analysis found more information available to investors regarding food retailers than for caterers and restaurants, with the largest contract caterers and global restaurant chains providing more information than smaller restaurant chains.

The report warns that a current lack of disclosure on key health and sustainability issues means some companies could be exposed to regulatory and consumer-driven risks, including sugar taxes, regulation on food waste, policy interventions that could change the cost of animal products, failing to meet consumer demand for 'flexitarian diets', and reputational damage.

The Plating up Progress project aims to build a consensus on metrics and reporting mechanisms that can help stakeholders, including investors, assess food industry progress in supporting the shift to sustainable diets. Suggested metrics include targets for reducing the proportion of animal products purchased by volume and increasing procurement of “sustainable protein-based” foods and fruit and vegetables.

“There has been a lot of talk about the need for change in our food systems, but we currently lack consistent metrics to assess progress,” said Will Nicholson, Plating Up Progress project lead. “The window of opportunity for that change is closing fast. We urgently need agreement on the corporate reporting metrics that matter most, increased expectations for change from investors, and multi-stakeholder engagement to strengthen the business case for an accelerated transition to healthy and sustainable food systems.”

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