Sustainability in food supply chains is likely to become crucial to the food industry as the global population expands – and it is also central for companies’ long term financial health, according to Stefano Crea, global director of food and beverage at DNV Business Assurance.
Speaking at the recent Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference in Orlando, Florida, Crea told FoodNavigator-USA that the food industry is well-positioned to connect with consumers about sustainability, considering the very tangible nature of its products. And as demand for food increases, ensuring that supply can keep up will be fundamental for food businesses.
“How can a company be sustainable if the product is not sustainable?” he said.“…We have to grow because we will need to feed another billion people in a few years. When we apply sustainability to the food industry, we see a strong focus from the corporate room, but also at the product level. The food industry has very tangible products.Not every sector has sustainability concepts that move beyond the board room.”
However, many food supply chains are still extremely inefficient, and some are inherently so. Crea gave the example of fishery, saying that only one fish is eaten for every two fished.
“This is in a way inherent, because the ambient temperature of the sea is lower than the earth,” he said, but alternatives, such as aquaculture in this instance, carry their own environmental risks.
“We need to make sure that every kind of progress is in sustainable conditions,” he said.
US an ‘emerging market’ for food security
It’s an area where the United States has some catching up to do. While the US has started to develop a much stronger focus on preventive food safety measures, Crea said he considers Europe a more mature market, when it comes to both food safety and food security issues.
“It’s strange to see that the US is not at the forefront of something, but it is an emerging market when it comes to food safety, and also is behind Europe when it comes to food security,”he said.
DNV’s role is to challenge companies to look at their supply chains and ensure sustainability concepts are implemented at every stage of supply and production, including product development. It also provides third party, independent assurance and benchmarking of a company’s sustainability efforts.
Last year, the firm was working with an Italian coffee company, which had the challenge of trying to meet high quality standards alongside a focus on sustainability.
“What they need is high quality, but also high stability because you can’t have a certain quality of coffee in May but not at another time of the year,” Crea said.
“They established incentives to the growers for the highest quality, so they are sharing [the premium they charge for their coffee] with their growers. For them, sustainability is about taking care of the whole community… This is about driving high quality while establishing a true partnership with their suppliers.”
He said that the media has also played a role in driving demand for more sustainably produced foods, and as consumers have become more informed, those players in the supply chain that are most visible to consumers are playing a crucial role in improving sustainability.
“This is a particularly interesting issue for the food industry, which has a product that’s very visible to the consumer compared to other industries where the product may be more abstract.
“…Food companies have been focused mostly on taste and quality, which is of course still there, but we have to look also at how the world is changing, and the concept of making sure there is enough food and nutrition for everyone.”