Move beyond plant-based product innovation for sustainable food future, report warns

Move beyond plant-based product innovation for sustainable food future, report warns

Food businesses need to move beyond consumer-driven innovations in plant-based ranges if they are to future-proof themselves and their supply chains through the worsening climate crisis, cautions a report from non-profit, Forum for the Future.

The Future of Food’ assesses the public commitments of 132 of the largest, most influential businesses with a stake in the global food system, from major high-street retailers, brands and food service providers to meat, dairy and feed producers.

It calls on businesses to follow a five-point plan with potential to create wholesale system change and deliver sustainable protein throughout the value chain — from the way we feed livestock to ensuring balanced, diverse and healthy diets.

With agriculture and land use change accounting for almost 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the report asks whether businesses are doing enough to create a more sustainable global food system for protein.

The report identified the start of a widespread shift among businesses in the US and Europe towards a more diverse protein offer. For example, one in every two companies are working to increase the availability of consumer plant-based products.

Food and ingredient businesses are leading the way, with 79% actively advancing plant protein in their portfolios or on their menus, closely followed by food service and restaurants (61%), retailers (52%) and meat producers and processors (34%).

Much of this is happening against a backdrop of concurrent growth in meat sales and while new product ranges are launched almost weekly, there have not yet been significant moves to reformulate other, more mainstream ranges, or to prioritise ensuring sustainable protein as part of business models.

Despite the major influence of animal feed on health and welfare, end-product quality and overall costs of livestock production, only one third of companies are taking action to ensure its sustainability, the report found.

The five-point plan

The report calls for businesses to lead a transformative shift in the global food system and outlines a ‘five-point plan’ for them to do so. Its recommendations are to:

  1. Develop an integrated protein strategy that puts sustainable nutrition at the centre of delivering healthy diets, links to corporate climate targets and covers key protein impact areas.
  2. Make public, time-bound commitments to shift to sustainable animal feed that send clear signals to the market.
  3. Embed across the business: Focus resources on understanding the shifts needed across all consumer product portfolios to embed and enable healthy balanced diets, and how to align this across all business functions with a supportive business model, led from the top.
  4. Collaborate: Identify and collaborate on precompetitive challenges, from shifting our food culture and transforming across the value chain to creating an effective enabling environment for scaling sustainable animal feed.
  5. Advocate for change across the food sector, engaging policymakers and institutions. With 10 years left to address the climate challenge, businesses can play an active role in engaging policy makers, investors, funders and NGOs to accelerate action – sending a clear signal for outcomes that deliver both sustainability and nutrition outcomes and shifting incentives in the market.