Food firms need clarity on sustainability targets – new report

The UK government has been urged to deliver clarity for the country’s food sector as a new report warns that it is falling behind its sustainability goals.

The report from The Food Foundation has been published in the run up to COP28, examines the state of the nation’s food industry finds UK retail and food service sectors failing to act on key environmental measures.

Despite the UK National Food Strategy recommending a 30% reduction in meat consumption by 2032, and the Climate Change Committee recommending a 35% reduction in meat consumption if the Government is to meet its net zero target by 2050, The State of the Nation’s Food Industry 2023 report has found:

  • Government inaction on making reporting mandatory has meant business progress towards a better food system has slowed, with fewer commitments to healthy and sustainable diets being set in comparison to last year.
  • No major UK food retail or food service business has a target for and discloses the % of sales coming from both animal and plant proteins, despite making pledges to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Currently, 21.5% of multibuy (BOGOF) deals are on meat and dairy foods. Comparatively just 4.5% of multibuy deals are on fruit and vegetables and 4.2% on staple carbohydrates.
  • Just 1% of advertising spend goes towards fruit and vegetables and 0.8% on plant based dairy alternatives compared to 9% on meat and dairy products.
  • Plant-based chicken alternatives are on average 27% more expensive than a chicken breast#
  • 62% of main meals offered by the major UK restaurants contain meat, whereas only 32% were meatless.

“What we eat has never been so important, with the food system accounting for up to 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) of which livestock farming is a major contributor, the report stated. “The number and scale of extreme weather events this year has been a stark reminder that our climate is changing, and at a faster rate than scientists have previously predicted.

“Raising livestock also takes up nearly 80% of the world’s agricultural land yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories.”

The report found that few businesses have set public targets for a reduction in the sale of meat protein, despite the fact it would help to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Food Foundation has said the report should act as a call to retail and OOH sectors to measure and report on 3 key metrics in order to establish healthy and sustainable business portfolios and to help shift consumption patterns for the good of our health, as well as the planet’s.

These are:

  • % of sales of high fat salt and sugar (HFSS) foods
  • % of sales of fruit and vegetables
  • % of sales of types of protein (animal and plant)

With the health benefits of diets lower in red and processed meat and higher in fruit, vegetables and pulses well documented, the potential co-benefits of these measures in being able to improve health whilst simultaneously reducing our impact on the environment are significant.

Out of the 27 retailers, contract caterers, casual dining and quick service restaurants assessed, no company has a target and reports on all three metrics.  Eight companies (Aldi, Asda, Greggs, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) have a target and disclose data for HFSS.

Six companies (Compass Group UK & Ireland, Sodexo, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) have a target and disclose data of fruit and vegetables. However, no companies disclose information and have targets for both types (animal and plant) of protein sales.

Though some businesses are now reporting on the sales of HFSS foods and the sales of fruit and vegetables, the report found not one of the 27 largest retailers and OOH sector companies assessed in the State of the Nation’s Food Industry report have a target for and disclose sales of both types of protein by source (animal and plant).

Several businesses have set targets to increase sales of plant based proteins but have not set targets to reduce sales of animal proteins. This is a problem because even if sales of plant protein have increased, it doesn’t mean sales of animal protein have decreased and therefore the GHGEs associated with meat production remain.

The Food Foundation has urged businesses to report on each of these areas, but also calls on policymakers to introduce mandatory reporting to create a level playing field.

Lack of intervention and regulation from government has had a noticeable impact on business performance this year, with the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) being scaled back to make reporting voluntary and its Eco Working Group delaying making any formal announcements on how they will report on carbon targets until 2024, as opposed to ahead of COP28 as previously planned.

Companies are delaying moving to set new commitments until the government establishes frameworks and metrics and give a clear signal that they are committed to the healthy and sustainable diet agenda.

The report said examples of good practice can be found abroad with Lidl Germany recently announcing targets for sales of animal versus plant protein and contract caterers Aramark disclosing data and having targets for their protein sales. Clear targets and methodology have also enabled Dutch supermarkets to set meat reduction targets in order to support the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality’s target of 50/50 animal and plant-based protein sales by 2030.

Anna Taylor, executive director, The Food Foundation said: “Business transparency has stagnated, with fewer businesses disclosing sales weighted data on health and sustainability than last year.

“This negative trend is not being helped by the lack of leadership from government on food, and the fact there is still no agreed way of consistently measuring and reporting the nutrient content and carbon footprint of food.

“Government needs to build business confidence and signal its commitment to the healthy and sustainable diet agenda by making reporting of sales weighted data mandatory.”

The Food Foundation has said the report should act as a call to retail and OOH sectors to measure and report on 3 key metrics in order to establish healthy and sustainable business portfolios and to help shift consumption patterns for the good of our health, as well as the planet’s.

SHARE: