The awakening of a greater environmental and social awareness among consumers has created new habits and behaviors that even affect their consumption patterns.
Beyond the concern with packaging, modern consumers look for companies that have sustainability as a foundation throughout their entire production chain.
In addition, aspects such as animal health, hand labor used and management of the supply chain are also on the radar of the most attentive audience.
According to the American Public Health Association, sustainability within the food sector foresees the production of healthy food to nourish the population while maintaining, at the same time, the health of the ecosystem, avoiding the negative impact on the environment.
Therefore, many are the aspects that must be considered so that the food industry can meet sustainable needs.
In addition to worrying about the environmental impact generated by their production processes, the industry also need to be aware if the suppliers of raw materials, inputs and ingredients are also concerned with sustainability.
In this blog post, we will discuss practices that food companies can adopt to become more sustainable, as well as strategies for choosing suppliers that are aligned with this culture.
Sustainability dictating food trends
The consulting firm Ecovia Intelligence has listed trends for the food market, dictated by sustainable practices.
The first is the continued expansion of the market of organic food, both in retail chains as in supermarkets and in direct sales to consumers.
This category of food has a lot of popularity, especially among young people and with greater purchasing power, who worry more about the sustainability of the products they consume.
Still in this area, it is also predicted the launch of a wider range of vegetarian and vegan products, as well as the rise of specific restaurants for this audience.
The concern with the pollution caused by plastic packaging will also affect food trends, especially in regards to the rise of packaging produced with biopolymers.
In addition, it is predicted the acquisitions of small-scale sustainable food companies with good reputation by large industry conglomerates, as what happened with The Vegetarian Butcher by Unilever.
Strategies to strengthen the sustainable aspect of companies
Despite having a concept that is already established and well-known, sustainability within the food industry is not necessarily a reality for many companies.
According to a report by Analysts Food FW, 53% of the surveyed companies did not present any kind of information regarding sustainable measures. Only 13% presented sustainability strategies that can be considered exemplary.
Therefore, in the food industry, companies that propose to produce in an environmentally friendly way have competitive advantage and real chances of attracting new consumers.
However, adapting a company to this new reality is no easy task. This is due to the fact that, by the very nature of the sector, food production can generate a large amount of waste in the environment.
These residues, by having high content of organic matter, are complex and expensive to be treated.
Therefore, the key to sustainability for the food industry is to reduce to the maximum the emission of waste in their treatment plants.
In recent years, in fact, the use of by-products has received special attention, for being a way to add value to what was previously wasted and could end up as a polluter if improperly discarded.
A classic example is whey, generated during the manufacture of cheese. Treated as a waste in the past, whey has gained notoriety because of its rich content of globular proteins, which exhibits various functional properties, in addition to being allies in the pursuit of muscle mass gain.
Nowadays, concentrate and isolate protein of whey are products of high value, with the creation of companies exclusively intended for the processing of whey.
This shows us that sustainability can even act as an ally in the creation and development of new business models.
In addition, in the era of Industry 4.0, there are companies that offer software that helps in the management of the supply chain, waste disposal and control of the use of electrical energy and water, making possible a more efficient distribution of resources and a processing more friendly to the environment.
Water: scarce and fundamental
Whether for the sanitation of physical spaces, equipment and some raw materials, for cooling or steam generation, water is the most used resource among food processing companies.
Wastewater that can’t be reused carries waste that makes it unfit for disposal due to the high chemical and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD and COD). The BOD and COD are, in fact, indicative of the effectiveness of the processes conducted in the company, since the higher these indicators, the greater the waste.
The treatment of wastewater is extremely complex and costly. Therefore, it is interesting to optimize the use of water resources.
In order to reduce water consumption and, consequently, the generation of wastewater, it is important to use unitary operations that require a lower water usage.
In addition, it is also important to control the amount of water used for cleaning processes, paying attention to leakage points that may be occurring along the line.
As a rule, water should always be reused in allowed situations. A simple and common example is using the last rinse water of cleaning equipment to clean the factory floor.
It is important to be aware, because this reuse must occur consciously, always respecting the current legislation and aspects of quality and safety. Therefore, the technical manager must thoroughly know these aspects to make decisions that are in accordance with the rules.
Packaging: protecting food without losing the sustainable aspect
he goal of sustainable packaging is to make use of renewable raw materials in its composition and use recyclable materials to allow its return to the production cycle.
In the food sector, it is important that such packaging can survive specific conditions like high temperature and humidity. Generally, possible materials to be used are 25% more expensive than conventional materials.
Therefore, to overcome this challenge, researches are being conducted to be able to develop biodegradable packaging made from unconventional materials. For example, casein, the milk protein, used as a protective film against the degradation of meat, bread and cheese, an alternative to plastic wrap.
Input suppliers and alignment with the culture of sustainability
A company that carries the sustainability flag needs to be aware of the input suppliers it hires. To be considered 100% sustainable, all elements used within the factory must comply with such pillars.
Therefore, the ingredients and production inputs need to come from companies that also carry these principles in their DNA.
Not evaluating the reputation of a supplier in relation to environmental aspects can often tarnish the image of a company that is trying to stabilize its brand based on these precepts. Even more in a time when access to information is extremely easy and affordable.
When dealing with suppliers, the company needs to analyze the economic risks and disruption of operational processes in the event of supplier disconnections that do not comply with sustainability principles. In many cases, it is more advantageous to work side by side with them for this culture to be developed.
This should be considered especially when dealing with raw material suppliers. In many cases, small farmers, without the proper knowledge or economic potential to invest in sustainable aspects.
In these situations, there is a social aspect to be considered, which can be very well seen both for the region where the company operates and for its image with consumers.
A new era brings with it new behaviors and consumption patterns. Environmental concern is an urgent matter and that does not escape the radar of modern consumers. Therefore, the food industry cannot be left behind in regards to adapting its practices to this new reality.
Being shown as a company up to date and linked to sustainability issues brings competitive advantage and attracts new consumers, being extremely positive for its image.