Navigating the complexities of sustainability in the food sector

12 April 2022 5 min. read

For any business in the food sector, unlocking sustainability to deliver long-term growth is essential to compete in today’s landscape. We sat down with Mark Field and Sarah Blanchard from Prof. Consulting Group to discuss how brands can navigate the complexities of sustainability.

In today’s rapidly changing world, delaying action can be as devastating to a business as failing to engage. It is essential to understand how the critical areas of sustainability – carbon emissions reduction, social impact, animal welfare, packaging and supply chain – bring both risk and opportunity, and to have an effective system for monitoring, reporting and demonstrating improvement.

Navigating and adapting to rapidly changing customer demands requires robust leadership, especially during these uncertain times.

Responding to enquiries from retailers, brand owners and investors, Melbourne-based food and grocery consultancy Prof. Consulting Group sensed the demand for a service that helps businesses rapidly respond to the global sustainability agenda. Local leadership teams need support to integrate sustainability throughout their organisation, and to develop an impactful ESG strategy which sets the building blocks for the future.

This is where Prof. Consulting Group step in. “By maximising the remote working trend and reliance on video calls, we created a responsive and industry-leading team. Our associates are highly skilled across the ESG agenda with a presence in major international markets” says Field, the founder and CEO of the Melbourne-headquartered consultancy.

As governments around the world commit to net zero targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and consumers, employees, and investors demand the same from their corporations, the course is already charted: sustainability is the only pathway to protecting people and our planet for future generations.

Field believes businesses who integrate ESG will lead: “Often forgotten, a clear and easily communicated ESG strategy helps to retain and attract employees,” he explains, as ultimately, we are all end-users wanting sustainable solutions. And there are other benefits to integrating ESG.

Lasting change from long-term partnerships

Effective ESG strategies rely on engaging with people across diverse supply chains to understand the impact at each step of the sourcing or manufacturing process. “It is essential to capture and analyse the right data, which then enables fact-based targets to be set and progress tracked,” says Field.

“We collaborate closely with key partners such as Telus Agriculture, S4RB and My Emissions to deliver industry-leading solutions and tools to their customers. Sourcing strategies are cyclical as the need for value, volume or new capability dictates.”

The company believes that the renewed focus on sustainability will bring an increase in demand for strategic partnerships which deliver change together.

Sharing commitments builds trust

Regular and transparent reporting is essential, as is celebrating a brand’s achievements. When customers can choose products based on clear information, they trust brands more. Prof. Consulting Group welcomes efforts to unify reporting, labelling and communication standards to ensure transparency because ultimately this helps consumers make better choices and encourages brands to improve.

“Shoppers expect brands to tell them what’s in their products. Brands who don’t give sustainability information will find that shoppers do it on their behalf – the way that initiatives like Open Food Facts are enabling” says Sarah Blanchard, the Head of ESG at Prof. Consulting Group.

“Supporting businesses with fully integrated reporting is a step towards this, as are sustainability commitments such as joining the RE100, the Science Based Targets initiative, or going through B Corp certification.”

Further reading: What organisations can do to reach sustainability-led consumers.

ESG drives innovation

Field and Blanchard are optimistic that the shift in mindset driven by retail around fast-moving consumer goods will deliver impactful innovation. Continued alignment between academia, investors and manufacturers who are all customer-focussed will accelerate the adoption of new solutions to complement traditional practices.

The following is what the two experts expect when ESG melds into business strategy:

The food industry adapts to more sustainable practices with new methods of production – for example, vertical salad farming, repurposing food surplus and waste, and creating meat substitutes. “These technical innovations alongside the adoption of regenerative techniques and agroecology are a clear signal that companies recognise that natural resources are limited and waste is not inevitable,” says Blanchard.

Blanchard continues, “the changing dynamics in and around our communities, the diversity of our work force and how we work, continue to be an area of focus and accountability. Renewed awareness of the importance of inclusion and equity in the workplace, as well as physical and mental health, emphasise how we must look after employees.”

The food industry is moving towards clean ingredients, high standards of traceability and product labelling. Transparency and education will be essential to prevent food fraud as new technologies are adopted. “The ability to audit and underpin claims will be critical to achieve meaningful sustainable outcomes and most importantly consumer trust. Corporate integrity will become an increasingly valuable commodity,” says Blanchard.

Field concludes: “Transformation is exhilarating, especially in business. Leaders must embrace the opportunity to exceed customer expectations by embedding new ways of producing food to compliment traditional practices combining the best of each world to protect the one world we share.”