• Linda Ellett, Partner |
4 min read

The success of future generations relies, in large, on access to adequate & healthy food. The challenge is that global food systems are facing significant challenges on multiple fronts. Blockages within supply chains, caused in part by the Ukraine crisis and labour shortages, are resulting in commodity shortages and price increases. In addition, climate change is challenging the reliability of food production and contributing to price increases too. Warmer average global temperatures and extreme weather are threatening yields. Take Spain, for example, where olive crops have been hit by heat and the price of olive oil may therefore rise 25 percent.

These consequences are felt by consumers, who are already grappling with the shock of energy price hikes, a cost-of-living crisis and significantly squeezing household spending power, due to inflation.

The necessity for resilient food supply chains has never been more pressing, yet the opportunities for businesses and consumers to have a positive impact are there and exciting.

Take food waste, for example. It’s estimated that in the UK over 2 million tonnes of food are thrown away each year and 40 percent of this waste occurs at the consumer level. Business initiatives, that help encourage consumers to cut food waste, can have a direct & positive impact on personal finances and elevate pressure from the food system. Later I explore other ways to tackle this.

Firstly, there are two key ways business leaders can help support global food systems: Collaboration between different players in the supply chain and getting Consumers engaged and involved in actioning change.

Collaboration for innovation

I am really encouraged by the number of innovative partnerships and joint initiatives I see across the sector; There’s a real determination to find solutions. For example, one client, who uses glass bottles for drinks, is working with their glass manufacturer and a technology business to look at how to track the bottles, enabling better reuse and re-cycling outcomes. Previously the relationship between the three parties would have been purely transactional through the value chain, but now they are collaborating in a room together to find the answers.

Technology solutions like Blockchain (a central management system, which allows businesses to track and understand what’s happening within their supply chain in real-time), enable greater transparency and trust. This means key stakeholders, including businesses, retailers, and consumers, can be more confident about what is happening through the supply chain. This also enables businesses to further invest and collaborate in understanding how to improve yields, reduce food waste, reduce environmental impact, and more.

A great example of this is in the chocolate industry where a well-known brand outlined an ambition to end modern slavery and child labour in the supply chain, underpinned by Blockchain technology. The automation and efficiency of a blockchain allowed for reduced outsourcing, and in turn improved the visibility across the supply chain. As part of this, the company has identified five key principles, including 100% traceable beans and paying fairer prices to farmers. The initiative has had fantastic buy-in and is making a real difference. How? Other Cacao processors are inputting data onto their platform, and they are helping to develop the value chain, whilst creating new industry standards for traceability of cocoa bean to chocolate bar.

Getting the consumer involved

Collaborations of this kind are fantastic and inspiring – but we won’t solve the issues unless consumers are actively engaged in driving change. Consumers are increasingly supporting ESG practices, and this is something that the industry must engage with. Our research, for example, uncovered that sustainability is the third most common purchasing consideration, with a fifth of consumers saying that would give it more consideration than they did in 2021. However, given the cost-of-living crisis, we need to be mindful that consumers priorities are shifting, and that value is a primary driver of purchasing decisions.

The key to shifting consumers towards more sustainable behaviors is to make it easy for them to build these into their day to day routines and choices. We can help consumers shop more sustainably andsmarter by: using new packaging formats that preserve food, supporting consumers with their food planning to minimise waste and shortening the time between production & on shelf, to extend product use dates.

There are some great initiatives where brands are helping consumers towards sustainable choices, that also make strong financial sense. A major UK supermarket, for example, has launched a ‘Use Up Day’ concept to reduce food waste which encourages consumers to make their food go further by using up leftovers, helping them save around £260 annually, according to the supermarket. That’s a significant difference, especially for lower income households, who are disproportionately feeling the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis.

New technologies and apps also exist to help consumers access delicious, fresh food from cafes, restaurants, hotels, shops and manufacturers, that would otherwise go to waste. All at a great price, creating a triple win for consumers, business, and the planet. One popular app says it has rescued 13 million bags of food to date in this way.

As food supply challenges become more acute, business leaders can consider key opportunities to drive the “two C’s” of collaboration and consumers within their organisations, to deliver both growth and positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

Find out more and talk to our experts:

If you would like to continue the conversation and explore the initiatives that can help, please contact Linda Ellett.