The food industry is making positive strides in tackling the issue of ESG, according to a survey carried out as part of the 2022 Yorkshire Food & Agri-business sector dinner, a joint event hosted by accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO LLP, Barclays, and Mills & Reeve.
Half of businesses surveyed said they were already implementing, or had an ESG business strategy in place, with one in 10 emphasising that sustainability is central to driving the company forward. The survey also showed that 50% of food businesses were still in the early stages of addressing ESG.
The survey of businesses drawn from Yorkshire’s formidable food sector showed that climate change and the environment were the biggest areas of focus for the majority of respondents (90%), compared to just 35% for the Yorkshire business community as a whole. Prioritising ethical and sustainable suppliers and materials during the procurement process (40%), as well as board leadership and company purpose, in line with the UK Corporate Governance Code, were also ESG priorities in 2022.
Jason Whitworth, partner at BDO in Yorkshire, said: “When it comes to ESG, there’s a mixed picture in the regional food sector, in terms of where people are on their ESG journey. However, there is an extremely strong appetite amongst Yorkshire businesses to ensure they implement robust processes and procedures that form a core part of their business strategy moving forward. It’s clear that there is a fine balance to be found between meeting ESG commitments and managing other areas of the business. However, despite this juggle, the food sector overwhelmingly wants to do the right thing.”
He added: “ESG is quickly becoming a core part of how the food sector operates and investing and innovating in more sustainable business practices will be vital in years to come.”
The ESG-themed event, hosted at Yorkshire heritage-rich venue The Tetley in Leeds, focused on important issues currently facing the sector, including what ESG means to businesses in the sector, how corporate strategies will evolve over the next three to five years, and what more needs to be done to tackle ESG in the food industry. It featured organic food delivery service Abel & Cole – a company leading the charge, in terms of sustainability credentials – speaking about its B Corp accreditation, together with recent “Free-From Food Awards” winner, Yorkshire brand, Good – It’s Gluten Free, on the importance of ESG for a fast-growing start-up.
Stefanie Sahmel, head of sustainability at Abel & Cole, said: “ESG considerations are in the Abel & Cole DNA, and B Corp status has been an important investment we have made in sustaining our momentum in this core belief for both Abel & Cole and the wider Yorkshire-based William Jackson Food Group. It is a cost, but we’ve done it because we feel it is the right thing to do – a principle is not a principle unless you are willing to invest in it.”
Andrew Daly, of Good – It’s Gluten Free, added: “ESG is an issue rightly high on the agenda for a business of any size, especially those that are so closely connected with their consumers and aware of what is important to them.”
Alex Kenworthy, partner at Mills & Reeve in Leeds, added: “It was really interesting to hear the views of speakers from two businesses at very different stages in their lifecycles, but what shone through from both (and indeed from the other contributors) is that companies in the food sector are increasingly being judged on not only their profitability but also on the manner in which they conduct business.
“ESG factors are driving where consumers purchase their food and many now expect companies that supply them to be ethically aligned to their own priorities. Whether it’s executive pay, treatment of employees, sustainable sourcing and environmentally conscious practices, they all play a part in this thought process.”
John Laud, Barclays head of corporate banking in West and North Yorkshire, added: “It was clear from the speakers, the engaging discussion and the survey we undertook as a part of this event, that Yorkshire food producers are taking their wider ESG responsibilities seriously. We believe that supporting our customers with their transition to a low carbon economy is crucial to driving their Enterprise Value and their sustainable growth for the future and holding this type of event where opinion and experience are shared is a vital part of that.”