Footprint asked a group of experts to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the issues and innovations that will shape next year’s CSR and sustainability agenda. By Nick Hughes.
Dan Crossley (DC), executive director, Food Ethics Council
Andy Wood (AW), CEO, Adnams
Lorraine Copes (LC), founder, Be Inclusive Hospitality
Celena Fernandez (CF), head of sustainability, KFC UK & Ireland
Sean Haley (SH), region CEO, Sodexo UK & Ireland
Carolyn Ball (CB), director for delivery of net-zero, Compass Group UK & Ireland
Christopher Ross (CR), chair, Assist FM
What gives you cause for optimism in 2023?
DC - Leaders prepared to take bold steps to change the sector for the better, in spite of a lack of government support.
AW - The Great British public. I believe that now more than ever customers will make decisions to purchase from businesses that have real purpose and do the right things. Independent, local, sustainable and great flavour/taste matters.
CF - I’m optimistic that the rising energy and fuel prices will accelerate investment in more efficient technologies (i.e. equipment, electric vehicles, renewable energy) – for businesses and individuals that can afford it. I think it’s already playing a part in encouraging better energy/fuel conservation behaviours.
SH - Our great people and our industry. We have been tested many times in recent years – Brexit, the pandemic, Ukraine, inflation, cost of living – but as an industry we continually find ways to step up and provide the support and services required.
CB - It has been rightly said that our food system can be likened to Cinderella; last to the climate action ball. But, as evidenced by COP27, it is now – slowly but surely, increasingly and publicly - being seen for its place at the centre of the world’s greatest crises. As this rising national consciousness continues to grow throughout 2023, so too will the positive pressure to act.
CR - We see our members undertaking a huge amount of preparatory work (costings, demand analysis and capital planning) in preparation for further updates from the Scottish Government around universal free school meal (UFSM) expansion. Our members welcome the expansion of UFSM to all primary pupils and the adequate funding to ensure this is delivered sustainably and universally so all school pupils have access to a fresh, nutritionally balanced lunch.
What is your greatest concern?
DC - That the cost of living crisis will be used as an excuse to put off urgent action needed on sustainable sourcing, healthy diets and to address the climate emergency.
AW - The three Cs: cost of living, climate and conflict. We are focused on what we can control by creating value for our stakeholders and great moments for our customers. Dealing with the impact of the three Cs means we will have to think more carefully about every aspect of our business and take the right decisions and play our part in helping our whole industry to navigate its way through these most difficult of times.
LC - The business debts of 2020 remain, along with soaring costs of fuel, fertiliser and feed which is set to cause a food supply crisis […] resulting in more gaps on menus than we have ever experienced before. The effect of labour shortages, limiting trading hours and the high demand resulting in higher labour costs, might result in us all adjusting to more condensed trading hours than we have experienced before. A four-day week might be on the cards.
CF - The cost of living crisis will continue to take its toll on individuals – rising poverty and food poverty is a real threat, and it could have long-lasting physical and mental health impacts. This is going to continue to put pressure on businesses, supply chains and government, as well as make it a challenging environment to make the progress at the rate at which we wish to.
SH - With all the issues we are facing at the moment there remains a risk of distraction from sustainability and net-zero commitments and plans. But we must stand strong and we must collectively deliver on our promises; we owe it to future generations.
CB - Pace in getting to the position of transparency we need if the industry is truly going to achieve a just transition to a low carbon economy.
CR - A prime concern is funding and the pressure on local authority (LA) budgets. We are seeing double digit increases in food costs (worse in more remote areas). This, combined with a squeeze on LA budgets, is leading caterers to make some tough decisions and be as creative as possible within budgets.
What CSR/sustainability issue do you expect to be most prominent on the industry’s agenda in 2023?
DC - Fair treatment of workers and suppliers, as businesses ask the question ‘affordable for whom’ and with so many people working in the sector themselves struggling from food insecurity.
AW - Creating credible, evidence-based route maps to net-zero will increasingly become a priority for businesses in our sector.
CF - Regulation is going to have to be a real focus for businesses in 2023, with increased carbon reporting coming in (TCFD) and reaching the four-yearly cycle for ESOS (energy savings opportunity scheme) phase 3. Industry is going to be under more intense scrutiny too, as greenwashing gets called out more frequently. Businesses are also going to be busy putting new processes in place to prepare for EPR and DRS.
SH - Food and food systems will feature prominently on the industry’s agenda in 2023. As an industry we need to move the narrative on from electric vehicles and renewable energy (which are important focus areas) and be holistic across all net-zero emissions; we know that food and food systems have a large impact [and] that we as an industry can drive change.
CB - Agriculture alone threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction so I pray that we can elevate biodiversity to the level of prominence it deserves. When we think that the world’s food system – which has continuously innovated since the industrial revolution to produce more food, for less cost – is now the primary driver of biodiversity loss, it is illogical that carbon tunnel vision still exists, almost to the total, mainstream exclusion of every other environmental indicator.
CR – Single-use plastic and the deposit return scheme in Scotland. It’s my opinion this will be a key challenge for many LAs and there is still a great deal of detail to be worked through about how this will be applied to school catering establishments.
What currently under-the-radar issue will become more prominent in 2023?
DC - The wild-west of environmental and health claims – on-pack and organisational.
AW - It is not exactly under the radar but the gross inequality that exists in society will become more prominent in 2023 as we head towards a general election in the next two years. Businesses in our sector have many opportunities to support the most vulnerable and to work with the third sector to help them scale the great work they do. We have done this by encouraging some of our leased and tenanted business partners to open their premises for ‘meet up Mondays’ and ‘warm Wednesdays’ during the winter months.
CF - Biodiversity and preservation of landscapes is rising in consumer awareness and I think consumers (and investors) are going to start asking more questions about our supply chains, demanding more transparency.
SH - Less of an issue but more of a behaviour – green hushing – where businesses are reticent to disclose their sustainability commitments, performance and data for fear of scrutiny and challenge. Businesses should be transparent in their progress and be held accountable. Stakeholders are expecting transparency and authenticity. Reaching net-zero is difficult, it requires businesses to adapt from their current business models which takes time.
CB - Deforestation remains one of the least requested areas of information asked of us, or of our clients. This is something we agree needs to change to increase positive pressure on the industry as a whole.
CR - There is a great deal of work going on (quietly) to make kitchens as energy efficient as possible. New technology [and] the removal of gas in kitchens will also be a factor in the coming year.
What do you want to hear from government(s) in 2023?
DC - I want to hear that governments take food seriously and that they are prepared to intervene to address market failures. I also want them to rail back on plans to scrap lots of important regulation relating to food as part of a post-Brexit deregulation push.
AW - Initially, it must be for our industry to benefit from an extended energy relief scheme throughout 2023. Longer term, government needs to address the anomalies around business rates and enact more legislation to ensure the polluter pays.
CF - I would like to see an acceleration in leadership, commitment and action from the UK government (and all governments of the highest emitting countries) to cut carbon emissions and provide better support for the countries that are going to suffer the most from climate change effects.
SH - With food and drink contributing 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions we want to hear that the government will mandate the measurement and reporting of food waste. This is something that must be addressed, and the sooner the better.
CB - Explicit understanding of the fact that creating a better food system requires buy-in and action from the private sector, supported by an enabling regulatory framework.
CR - For LA caterers in Scotland we are looking for a clear timescale and funding indication for the roll out of UFSM.
What technology or innovation do you consider to have the most game-changing potential in 2023?
DC - Not an innovation, but I expect to see a return to simplicity and to ‘real food’, rather than a rush for new ultra-processed products that are part of an innovation system built on novelty for novelty’s sake.
AW - We are not immune from the tech revolution that is going on and artificial intelligence, machine learning and the metaverse will throw up opportunities and challenges in equal measure. I am hopeful increased intelligence in the use of data will help us to serve our customers better whilst simultaneously helping us to lower our impacts.
CF - Electric multi-temperature trucks will be a game-changer if they become available in 2023.
SH - The ability to manage and measure food waste in an intuitive and easy way. We continue to deploy our WasteWatch Leanpath technology to enable this as we know that this is a huge contributor to reducing greenhouse emissions and achieving net-zero.
CB - Distributed ledger technology [also known as blockchain] has the potential to help tackle our siloed supply chains.
CR - I think we will see a move towards more digital systems to aid caterers – that may be tracking food waste, controlling connected kitchens, monitoring energy consumption, stock ordering or control.