Plating Up Progress: Call for more action


11 November 2020
Plating Up Progress: Call for more action

INDEPENDENT charity The Food Foundation is calling on supermarkets, catering establishments and investors to set stringent targets that will shift revenue towards the production and sale of healthier, more sustainable fresh food, including potatoes and other vegetables.

The charity has just released a new report, ‘Plating Up Progress 2020’ which examines ways of improving the overall food supply system during a global pandemic. It is urging policymakers and investors to make reporting on these targets mandatory and include performance against these targets as part of their engagement and investment strategy. 

Plating Up Progress Project Lead Will Nicholson said: “It feels like we are at a fork in the road. So many of the changes we need to happen for healthy and  sustainable food systems come with a ‘by 2030’ tag, so we have a decade to get there. Covid-19 presents an opportunity to change gear in our transition towards that. If progress stalls, we will lose vital time.”  

The new report finds that only four of the 11 supermarkets have public targets on either the percentage of food sales that are healthy, or for increases in sale of vegetables, fruit or plant-based protein products.  Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer showed commitment to reporting the percentage of sales that comes from healthy products.

Sainsbury’s Group Healthy Living Manager, Nilani Sritharan, said: "There are several elements which may help to build the business case to accelerate change. Firstly, by increasing customer demand and customer awareness about the impact of their purchasing choices, e.g. through labelling. Secondly, better data and better infrastructure for the sharing of that data across the food system will help us make more informed decisions right across the food chain. Both of these aspects can help improve the quality of the evidence around the behaviours we really need to drive – considering the interconnectivity of sustainability issues." 

Tesco’s leadership also aims to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket, and Lidl reports a 20% increase in sales of veg between 2017-2019. 

Of the major restaurants and caterers analysed, only three out of 15 have public targets or data available on either the percentage of food sales that are healthy, or report on fruit and veg sales. None of the companies have clear published targets or data for increasing sales of plant-based proteins, although several are introducing new menu options as alternatives to meat.  

Only 30% of major restaurants and caterers have any publicly available data on their scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (relating to food production in their supply chains) which is of particular concern, as food and agriculture account for around 30% of all global emissions. 

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The report does however highlight good practice and leadership qualities from companies such as Greggs and Sodexo (UK and Ireland) who are providing data in their corporate reports on increases in sales of veg. Sodexo, Mitchells & Butlers and Whitbread are also shown to be now including scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions within their overall climate change reporting. 

Paul Rhodes, External Affairs Manager, Greggs said:  "While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount across society today, we’re also mindful that our long-term strategic direction needs to remain “on track” to give our customers the food choices they want – and to ensure that we do the right thing as a brand. We’re continuing to focus on sustainable food as a way to help reduce the impacts of not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but all of the other sustainability challenges that haven’t “gone away” while global attention has understandably been elsewhere." 

The report highlights the opportunity for an economic recovery that could accelerate a transition to health and sustainable food, and the risk that the economic downturn could hinder this. It states the need for financial incentives for companies to invest in change towards a greater focus on healthy and sustainable foods. It notes that some of this change can be driven by consumer demand, but governments need to legislate to help get the parameters and incentives implemented too. 

Investors need to introduce expectations on food businesses to set targets for, and report on, sales of healthy and sustainable food if they are to understand the actual risks and opportunities that apply to these companies, the foundation states.

Executive Director of The Food Foundation, Anna Taylor, said: “The challenges we face are formidable and understanding the progress food companies are making and what targets they are setting is key.  We need clear direction from both investors and government to demand that companies report on these metrics if we are to see lasting change and if those companies with more ambitious health and sustainability commitments are to flourish.”

The report provides a set of "asks" for investors to use in this engagement with companies and additionally gives examples of where sustainability performance has been linked to capital provision.  Investors need to explore innovative ways that they can attach clear conditions of sustainability performance to capital investment, especially as the economy looks to respond to COVID-19.

Main Image: RitaE from Pixabay