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Sustainable Foods Summit focuses on industry accountability

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 01-Feb-2011

Participants at the North American Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco called for greater transparency and accountability in food companies’ sustainability efforts, event organizer Organic Monitor said.

The two-day summit took place from January 18-19, focusing on pioneering sustainability initiatives, ethical sourcing, sustainable ingredients, organic plus strategies, and marketing and distribution innovations, bringing together food industry representatives involved in sustainability initiatives.

“Some argue that international supply chains are making consumers disconnected from agriculture and food production methods, with eco-labels able to strengthen consumer confidence,” Organic Monitor said.

Indeed, consumer demand for eco-friendly products continues to grow and companies have responded, with more than 13,000 new products making sustainability claims since 2005, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. Mintel’s market research indicates that 84 percent of consumers actively seek out sustainability claims on food and beverage products.

However, consumer comprehension of what certain claims entail is low, and the Federal Trade Commission said in October that terms like ‘environmentally friendly’ may be too broad, and can be at odds with consumer perceptions.

Organic Monitor said that its Sustainable Foods Summit explored the evolution of food labels intended to reflect certain aspects of sustainability, including organic, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance labeling.

Kenneth Ross from Global ID discussed future trends in eco-labels, the organic research organization said, with an emphasis on the role of new technologies in combating food fraud and providing traceability to consumers.

“Convergence of mobile and internet technologies is expected to allow consumers to get ecological and social footprints of their food products,” the organization said.

The San Francisco summit was the first of Organic Monitor’s Sustainable Foods Summits to take place in North America, and comes on the heels of the North American organic food and beverage market overtaking Europe to become the biggest organic market in the world, according to Organic Monitor figures.

Previous editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit have taken place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 2009 and 2010, and the organization is planning its next North American summit in San Francisco for January 17-18, 2012.

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