IFSTAL alumnus Angela van den Berg shares observations from the recent Food & Drink Business Conference, which brought together professionals from the food processing, retail and food service industries to share insights on tackling current challenges.
With the UN’s SDG Goal 12 – Responsible production and consumption – high on the agenda, speakers on the sustainability stages presented a diversity of perspectives on the critical issue of waste, showcasing innovations addressing various levels of the waste hierarchy, both in relation to food itself and materials used in the sector.
Relatively small-scale food waste prevention initiatives included Jess Latchford (of Waste Knot)’s work on tackling UK pre-farmgate food waste by re-routing cosmetically inferior produce (rejected by retailers) to diners’ plates through contract catering giant Sodexo’s ‘Wasteful to Tasteful’ project, part of the Peas Please Veg Pledge. Sue MacDonald of www.globalbrightfutures.com meanwhile highlighted fascinating examples of waste as a catalyst for innovation, giving food industry by-products new life in high-end consumer goods – think apple waste to notebooks and vegan leather shoes; orange rind to designer-label silk dresses (for more see www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40946159).
Cutting down on waste
Further down the hierarchy, if the potential for food waste which cannot be redirected for human consumption or use in other products to be used in anaerobic digestion (for conversion into biomethane for electricity and organic fertiliser) is to be realised, significant improvements in segregation will be required. Technical solutions for improving this process and simplifying the tankinq away of waste from high street food service establishments were highlighted by William Heller of Organic Waste Logistics.
The related and particular challenge of plastics use in the food & beverage sector was highlighted by Jessica Cresswell of consultancy Carbon Smart. Her advice to businesses is to take a holistic approach by eliminating unnecessary plastics; increasing the recycled content of packaging; designing and buying recyclable materials; and taking steps to boost recycling. Jean Billant’s description of the work of the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) in supporting SMEs in the application of circular economy principles to food and drink businesses touched on similar themes and examples (see www.winnowsolutions.com, snact.co.uk, www.oohowater.com, www.beunpackaged.com and www.toastale.com).
This small snapshot of the plethora of entrepreneurial initiatives engaging with these issues is certainly encouraging. But is the tide turning?
Large scale players
Of course, the day’s presentations included passing reference to action by bigger players, such as large-scale redistribution of food to FareShare and plastics use reduction commitments by heavyweights such as Nestle and Coca-Cola. But the elephant in the room was spotted over in Seminar 5 ‘The Future of Retail’.
Here, Mark Jones, (partner at Gordons solicitors) followed Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s upbeat summary of retailer Code compliance with indications that evolving retail practice is rapidly outgrowing the Code and restoring retailer power, whilst Guy Hepplewhite of 1HQ gave insights into a futuristic world of increased in-home technology, blended physical and digital retail environments and unrelenting innovation in experiential retailing, marketing and cross-sector collaboration (with products such as Coca Cola/Sanofi’s Oenobiol Beautific brand, for example, blurring the lines between beverages and beauty).It seems that marketing and retail-driven consumption is alive and well and still relatively untouched by the waste prevention and management innovations playing round its feet.
IFSTAL alumnus Angela van den Berg (City University Food Policy MSc, 2018) attended the Food & Drink Business Conference at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on 2 October 2018. This umbrella event for 15 individual conferences (including the Sustainable Food & Beverage Conference) aims to bring together professionals from the food processing, retail and food service industries to share insights on tackling current challenges. Read more about the event at www.fooddrinkevent.co.uk