Sugar leapfrogged salt and saturated fat as public (health) enemy number B one in 2015, with more evidence emerging of its links with obesity. A report by Public Health England, published in October, listed a tax on sugar and further curbs on marketing among its recommendations to reduce intake. The much-vaunted Public Health Responsibility Deal, meanwhile, appears defunct, having failed to deliver a measurable improvement in health outcomes. Yet voluntary action by industry to tackle the obesity crisis looks likely to remain a key pillar of the government’s long-awaited (and much-delayed) childhood obesity strategy slated for early in the new year. And with Jamie Oliver having taken up the cause, sugar is certain to remain in the firing line as we enter 2016.
2 Life’s OK following wage increases
Those hoping that the “national living wage” turns out to be an April fool will be disappointed. From the first of the month the £6.70 minimum wage will be replaced by the new baseline of £7.20 for workers over the age of 25. It will rise steadily to £9 by 2020. The chancellor’s move took many by surprise – the policy will certainly hit those in hospitality hard, adding 2.8% to the sector’s wage bill by 2020. For foodservice it’ll be 3.6%. The debate over whether the wage “bonus” is undermined by the tax credits cuts will rage on, but the new baseline looks set in stone. Talk of redundancies and pub closures may have been overplayed, though – employers will adapt with higher prices and supply chain efficiencies (and energy is a great place to start).
3 Collaboration is the new isolation
The International Food Waste Coalition; Bidvest’s Plate2Planet website; Alpro’s plant-based coalition: gone are the days when companies’ attempts to solve the sustainability challenges of the era were formulated behind closed doors, shrouded in secrecy until the big reveal. Yes, it remains open to debate to what extent such collaborations are genuinely pre-competitive and game-changing but the hope must be that once trust is established such relationships will evolve to the point where, by working together and pooling their knowledge, businesses are delivering genuine societal benefits in areas such as food waste and carbon reduction. In this brave new world of collaboration any company seen to be putting up the shutters risks being branded a laggard.
4 No more target practice
Remember a few years ago when everyone was producing sustainability plans and setting targets on everything from recycling to the procurement of sustainable palm oil? Well, a fair proportion of these are up for review in 2015. That means next year, once the data’s been crunched, we’ll know whether the targets have been met. The same goes for industry-wide targets. The Hospitality and Food Service Agreement on waste, for instance, set a 5% reduction in food and packaging waste and a 70% recycling target for the end of this year. This will bring some challenges for foodservice firms: critics will often argue that targets met are too easy, while targets missed are the result of inaction. Firms may feel they are damned if they do or damned if they don’t, but ambition must prevail over ambivalence.
5 Direct line to the supplier
The Rainforest Alliance took a bit of a battering recently thanks to an investigation by the BBC into the working conditions on some of its certified tea plantations. Big questions are being asked of an auditing system the alliance noted as not perfect. Fairtrade hasn’t escaped criticism either. Palm oil is the other biggie – the certification scheme run by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is far from perfect with recent reports highlighting some rather dodgy auditing approaches. It’s hard to move a whole supply chain as one, but these schemes are well-established now and the clock is ticking. It won’t be surprising to see more companies set up their own direct sourcing programmes. Proving that the schemes are “fair” without the backing of a Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade is the challenge.
6 Meat remains the elephant in the room
The evidence for reducing meat consumption to make diets more sustainable is compelling, yet there remains at best confusion and at worst ambivalence about how to translate this into the foodservice environment. Sure, some high-end restaurants like London’s Grain Store are putting plants at the centre of the meal, but short of Ikea’s vegan meatball there’s little indication that mainstream businesses are actively engaging with the meat issue. It’s hard to see this changing while the UK government persists in promoting livestock as a key growth industry, but as the evidence of meat’s environmental impact continues to grow the pressure from civil society to tackle the consumption conundrum will only heighten.
7 Supply chain complacency is not worth the risk
The horse-meat scandal brutally exposed a lack of oversight of supply chain networks and ushered in a new focus by businesses on understanding where their vulnerabilities lie. That task could be about to get a lot tougher as continued political instability in key oil-producing nations, coupled with volatile supply of crops such as olive oil, cocoa and grapes – the latter threatening a Prosecco shortage – are set to send commodity prices oscillating wildly over the coming 12 months. Not only will this affect input costs, it will also heighten the risk of fraud in commodities that are suddenly attracting a far higher premium than before. With consumers demanding nothing less than full traceability and transparency in this post-horsegate world, businesses require complete oversight of every nook and cranny of their supply chain network.
8 ‘Small’ government just got smaller
If you think cuts to government spending have been brutal to date you ain’t seen nothing yet. With 30% savings to find over the next four years DEFRA will move ever closer to becoming a mere firefighting department responding on the hoof to issues such as floods and bovine TB, putting the onus on local authorities, civil society and, in particular, industry to step in and fill the policy void. The National Farmers Union is already the driving force behind a 25-year food and farming plan, while pressure on businesses to take voluntary steps to reverse the tide of obesity is certain to ramp up.
9 What next for celebrity chefs?
In 2008, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver teamed up for the Chicken Out campaign. The programmes have certainly boosted the appeal of free-range poultry but seven years on and with a horse-meat scandal to help things along, the lion’s share of chicken sold is still not free-range (6% is free- range or organic). But that was only the warm-up – Hugh’s Fish Fight brought change at an EU level in relation to sustainable fishing, for example, while his latest battle – with food waste – has captured the zeitgeist. Jamie is busy with sugar, of course. But what’s next? Animal welfare may well come back on the radar, but the living wage (the “true” one rather than the government’s April 2016 rise) is something that foodservice is steering well clear of. It’ll be a brave man or woman who fronts that campaign, but how long can it be ignored?
10 Marketing madness
More and more customers expect the retail and foodservice sectors to treat suppliers and staff fairly, waste as little as possible, offer healthier options, cut their emissions and so on. This has left a marketing void which the “Mad Men” are finding hard to fill: largely gone are the big campaigns to highlight fair trade or recycled packaging. To make any noise it requires industry- leading initiatives – Tesco’s waste audit and Sodexo’s sustainable diets to name two (there aren’t that many). These force the whole sector to stop and think and put the emphasis on the company to bring solutions rather than on the customer to make the right choices.