How can brands improve the transparency of food supply chains? [Interview]5 Oct 2022
Transparency is vital to ensuring food supply chains are effective, sustainable, and resilient. How transparent is the current global food system and what role do different stakeholders play in contributing to this? Sustainability expert Koen Boone explains.
Coordinator of sustainable value chains at Wageningen University and Research, Koen Boone is experienced in developing sustainability assessment systems on all levels, from product to company to farm. He will be speaking at Fi Europe this year on the topic ‘Transparency in the sustainability of food: Developments in public and private sector’.
Click here to register
Click here to registerand claim your spot at Fi Europe 2022.
With the global population predicted to reach a staggering 9.7 billion by 2050, food production will need to increase by as much as 60% to meet this fast-growing demand, according to a United Nations report.
Ensuring that the nutritional needs of the growing global population are met in the long-term depends largely on our ability to create and uphold sustainable and transparent food supply chains. To do this, key stakeholders within the food industry, from regulators to corporates to consumers, will be required to collectively address a series of complex issues, of which a lack of transparency is at the core.
Transparency is essential, but is inconsistent between food supply chains
Shocks to the global food value chain brought on by recent socio-political events such as the Russo-Ukrainian war and the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted just how integral transparency is to the sustainability of the global food supply chain. Improving the transparency of supply chains offers benefits for stakeholders across the value chain.
According to Boone, these benefits range from fewer inefficiencies, to improved communication and coordination allowing stakeholders to better respond to changes and shocks, to increased trust from stakeholders to name a few.
Although the advantages are clear, the process of improving the transparency of the food value chain is certainly not a one-sized-fits-all approach. Just exactly how transparent supply chains are varies significantly between countries, commodities, and stakeholders.
“Short national supply chains are most often very transparent but some international supply chains with many links are not transparent at all,” said Boone.
“Commodities from the southern part of the world are most often not transparent because they are shipped to Europe in huge volumes. Risks are also higher in these supply chains because the enforcement of regulation is not always good.”
The sustainability of food brands is a growing consumer concern
Brands too have a large part to play in influencing the transparency of the global food system. A recent Deloitte report found that sustainability is a crucial consideration for over one-third of consumers. As consumers grow increasingly aware of the sustainability credentials of brands and products, more pressure is being put on companies to improve the ways in which they produce, distribute, and circulate foodstuffs to consumers across the globe.
While some brands have been praised for their efforts to become more sustainable and responsible contributors to the food system, others have been caught up in sustainability scandals, accused of ‘greenwashing’ which, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary is ‘an attempt by companies to make people believe they are doing more to protect the environment than they actually are.’
“There are huge differences between companies. Some brands are making good progress. Others do not even pretend to be sustainable, and there is also the group that is mainly involved in greenwashing,” Boone said.
“I expect that both because of public and private initiatives that are starting up, which ask all food producers to report on the impact of their supply chains (for example, the Scope 3 Standard [as part of the] Greenhouse Gas Protocol), the second and third group will quickly diminish.”
In order to improve the sustainability and resilience of supply chains moving forward, there are a series of actionable steps that brands can take.
“Steps that are useful for all supply chains include: traceability, risk assessment and management, long term relations, short supply chains, focussing on hotspots, and setting quantified time bounded targets,” said Boone.
“The exchange of information about sustainability in the supply chain following a harmonised international reporting standard, as well as transparency around the sustainability of supply chains for all stakeholders [is important in ensuring supply chain transparency].”
What role do regulators play in improving supply chain transparency?
The role of regulators in establishing transparent supply chains is also crucial. Over recent years, the industry has witnessed growth in the amount of regulation surrounding the actions of corporates via-a-vis their sustainability and transparency practices.
Adopted in February 2022, the EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence seeks primarily to ensure large companies to implement sustainable and responsible corporate practices, built around a shared understanding of and respect for human rights and environmental considerations. The rules set out by the regulation will ensure that businesses take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, both directly, and more broadly, across the entirety of the value chain.
“For companies that do not have transparent supply chains and no good risk management policies, the influence [of the Directive] will be large. This is not the only relevant regulation, however. There are also the upcoming Green Claims Initiative, the Sustainable Food Labelling Framework, and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Framework,” Boone said.
Due to the novelty of such initiatives, in many cases the effectiveness of these regulatory steps is yet to be seen. The question as to whether regulation will be enough to incite positive change in regard to the transparency of food supply chains is an interesting one.
“In my opinion, the preferred approach [for increasing the transparency of food sustainability] is to work on global or European level [to create] harmonised reporting standards […] that supply chain partners must use for reporting. Some national governments think that progress is too slow on these levels and […] in some countries, multistakeholder initiatives ([involving] government, businesses, NGOs, researchers) have started to develop these reporting standards,” Boone said.
“Communicating the sustainability of all individual food items to consumers is less advanced and therefore, multistakeholder initiatives on the national level might be a good step towards harmonised EU regulation.”
Climate change fuels France’s mustard shortage
10 Oct 2022
Droughts and the Ukraine conflict are fuelling a shortage of Dijon mustard in France, the world’s biggest consumer of the condiment, and could hit consumers particularly hard in the run-up to Christmas.Read more
Alkaline water brands tap into demand for sports nutrition products
7 Oct 2022
With purported health benefits, alkaline water brands are finding success as they position their premium as sports nutrition beverages with added functionality.Read more
Editors’ choice: Our roundup of the most innovative global dairy products
6 Oct 2022
From omega-3 goat milk in the Netherlands to banana-flavoured cheese from China, the global dairy space is an exciting area full of new and innovative products which are constantly changing perceptions in the sector.Read more
US consumers make a beeline for honey-sweetened products
4 Oct 2022
Honey-sweetened products are enjoying rising demand amongst US consumers, perceived as an all-natural product, according to recent USDA figures.Read more
Crunch time: Asian biscuit and cookie innovation offers success
30 Sep 2022
Consumer interest in healthy eating and clean label is shaping new product development in Asia for healthy but indulgent baked goods.Read more
How the food industry can take action to protect bees
29 Sep 2022
From practicing polyculture to using organic biocontrol measures, the food industry must act to safeguard the population, health, and resilience of bees, says the Best Bees Company.Read more
EFSA approve roasted and popped water lily seeds
28 Sep 2022
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently granted authorisation to Zenko Superfoods to place roasted and popped kernels from the seeds of prickly water lily plants on the market, paving the way for more innovation with this ingredient.Read more
Full of beans: Innovating in the tinned food category
27 Sep 2022
The tinned food category is known for delivering pantry staples at a budget price – but tinned food startups are innovating with new flavours and meal formats, such as harissa lemon chickpeas and apricot glazed baked beans.Read more
Singapore startup ProfilePrint expands its AI-powered food grading tech
23 Sep 2022
Singapore startup ProfilePrint has developed artificial intelligence (AI) grading methods that allow it to analyse food ingredients ‘directly at the molecular level’, attracting investment from major suppliers including Cargill, Olam, Louis Dreyfus and...Read more
Joint health sees strongest growth in US collagen category
22 Sep 2022
Collagen supplements for hair, skin and nails have historically dominated due to ‘beauty from within’ promotion, but an interest in joint health is growing as US consumers are increasingly educated on the overall health benefits of collagen, reports Nu...Read more