Slow progress on soy

Foodservice firms are lagging way behind when it comes to responsible sourcing, according to WWF. By David Burrows.

That very little difference two years make. WWF has just published its second scorecard assessing the performance of Europe’s biggest retail, foodservice, processing and feed companies in relation to soy. “Foodservice companies are lagging behind,” the authors noted, with only one – Sweden’s Martin & Servera scored 22 out of 24 points – classed as “leading the way”. The rest are either just “starting the journey” towards responsible procurement of soy, or they are not yet in the starting blocks.

If you think this sounds familiar, then you’d be right. In 2014, when the first scorecard was published, Footprint highlighted the “lazy buying practices” of foodservice companies when it comes to soy. They hadn’t been challenged on the issue, said WWF, which gave them an excuse to brush things under the carpet. That laissez faire attitude by-and-large persists, it seems.

Sandra Mulder, WWF’s senior adviser on market change, feels that “many companies take advantage of the lack of consumer awareness about soy in order to do nothing on this issue”. Indeed, does Joe Bloggs in the street know that he chomps through 61 kilos of soy a year? Probably not, given that most of it is embedded in his meat and dairy intake. And that is part of the problem.

Excuses, excuses

Think soy and people think dairy-free, not dairy, beef, chicken or pork. The foodservice sector is doing the same. “I frequently hear excuses from these companies,” explained WWF’s agricultural commodities manager, Emma Keller, in a recent piece for Footprint. “We don’t have any power in the supply chain” and “There is not enough Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certified soy available” are two of the most common, she said. But just half of the RTRS soy grown is currently being sold, which leaves plenty of room for companies to request only responsibly sourced soy from their supply chains.

“It will cost more” is the next excuse, but the difference in price is negligible, according to Keller. The cost to the environment is anything but: in recent years this “wonder crop” has undergone the greatest expansion of any global crop and its popularity threatens tropical forests and other important ecosystems such as savannahs and grasslands.

Foodservice companies don’t generally seem to care, however. The likes of Brakes, Whitbread and Ikea didn’t even respond to WWF’s questionnaire (only half the 133 companies contacted responded). Footprint approached them for a reaction to the findings and each claimed it was looking at the issue (see “Hiding from the hidden ingredient”).

Elior responded but scored a zero, leaving it in the same position it was in 2014. Pret A Manger, which wasn’t in the first assessment, also failed to score a single point. Neither company is part of the RTRS and neither has a responsible soy or “no deforestation” commitment. Elior did not respond to emailed requests from Footprint, but a spokesperson from Pret A Manager said the company has now engaged with WWF on this issue and is “confident we will make significant progress this year”.

Sodexo, Compass and Nando’s have all made baby steps on their journeys towards responsible soy, although none of them scored more than four out of 24. Sodexo admitted that it has more work to do, though it has carried out an extensive inventory of current soy volumes. “Armed with those figures, we are now working on a strategy to increase our use of sustainable soy,” said a company spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Nando’s, despite its poor score, appears to be trying to make good on its commitment of two years ago to take this issue seriously. “The soy used in our products is now all responsibly sourced and certified by either ProTerra or RTRS,” a spokesperson confirmed.

Mind the gap

These examples mark a start, but progress has been sluggish. Placing foodservice companies in the same table as retailers only serves to highlight the gap in performance between the two sectors. Marks & Spencer and Waitrose each scored 18.5, using 52% (25,156 tonnes) and 65% (33,574 tonnes) of responsible soy respectively. Tesco managed only 3% (7,289 tonnes) but still outscored the foodservice companies with a 9.5 out of 24.

Still, there is work to be done. More retailers “should push their suppliers to source responsible soy, and if this fails, at least in the short term, they should cover their use of soy with RTRS certificates”, WWF suggested. The information should be published, too, the NGO urged, to highlight the volumes of soy used both directly and embedded in animal products.

However, WWF is beginning to doubt whether the food industry can be trusted to take action without a nudge. Having assessed 133 companies in its 2016 scorecard, it is calling on the European Commission to step in. “We urgently need clear rules, both to support progressive companies and to push the laggards to improve their performance,” said its senior forest policy officer, Anke Schulmeister. The commission should “develop an EU action plan on deforestation and forest degradation to reduce the EU’s disastrous footprint on unique forests like the Cerrado or the Amazon”, she added.

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