January 29, 2019

Envisioning a Sustainable Food Future: Insights from the Sustainable Foods Summit

Eco-labeling, side-stream ingredients and plant-powered retailing. All these topics were up for discussion at the Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco on January 16-17, 2019. Ecovia Intelligence’s annual summit, with around 100 attendees, featured prominent voices from food and beverage companies, ingredient suppliers, retailers, packaging companies, certification agencies, industry organizations, non-profits and more. The summit was broken into two days, with the first day focused on the general food sustainability outlook from the perspective of companies and organizations; the second day focused on plant-based products and strategies for marketing. Here are my top takeaways from the meeting.


Please note: the key themes and takeaways noted below were focus points of discussions/presentations; they do not necessarily reflect FoodMinds’ point of view.


1.Sustainable agriculture is now mainstream. There are ambitious commitments by large food and beverage companies and an increased reliance on sustainable suppliers. Many speakers and attendees discussed the progression from sustainable to regenerative agriculture, and what that means for supply chains and brands.


2.As the human population continues to grow, the demand for protein will increase and brands are seizing on the alternative protein opportunity. Many plant-based brands at the summit noted the investments in plant-and cell-based alternative proteins made by traditional meat industry players. This includes General Mills investing in Kite Hill & Beyond Meat, Tyson investing in Memphis Meats and Cargill investing in PURIS Pea.


3.More and more eco-labeling schemes are coming up around the world (e.g. Regenerative Organic, certified sustainable palm oil, Bonsucro, ProTerra). But certification is shifting towards new proprietary options as there becomes a saturation of 3rd party verifications. The organic sector is continuing to grow, with many at the summit stating that this certification/labeling scheme is still the most meaningful option available for suppliers and brands. The global market value of ethically labeled package foods is projected to grow substantially in the next few years.


4.Food byproducts offer many benefits for companies and can be a key component in building a new circular economy of food. Food waste can be reframed into an opportunity, since manufacturers generate billions of pounds of clean byproducts annually and they often receive $0 for these nutritious byproducts they produce.


5.There was strong sentiment that plant-based is not a trend, it’s a disruptive change in the future of diets. This was a prediction made by several speakers at the event, but they stressed the importance of improving nutrition, taste, functionality and accessibility of these products.


6.Consumers are increasingly less accepting of chemicals used in agricultural practices and are seeking foods with a short list of ingredients and less processing. Over the last ten years, food attributes which display the highest growth potential center on fewer (or removal of) toxins and more sustainable, humane practices.


7.Keep the story as simple as possible when communicating sustainability messages to consumers. Speakers recommended relating a product’s sustainability attributes to health benefits to fully resonate with consumers.


Consumer demand for sustainably and ethically produced food is only predicted to increase. Given the evolving food and nutrition affairs environment and ongoing consumer interest in understanding where their food comes from, all sectors of society can play a role in the sustainable food future.


Contact us at [email protected] for more information on our food values work, or how we can help your brand or organization connect with purpose and navigate the sustainable nutrition space.


Carla Curle, MS is an assistant account executive at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, in San Francisco.

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