It is no longer possible to put off making transformational changes in the way we produce, manufacture and consume food – could 2022 prove a turning point, asks Nomad Foods CEO Stefan Descheemaeker?
In today’s world it is increasingly difficult to make predictions about what next week will bring let alone the next 12 months. What is very clear however, is that 2022 needs to be a year of action to really bring the ambitions for creating a food system that is more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable, to life. So, what can be expected from the food industry to make this a reality?
Accelerating the race to net zero
The global momentum on climate action has never been stronger. While COP26 came with some disappointments as well as achievements, the events highlighted an overwhelming corporate commitment to moving the dial on climate change.
The food sector represents 30 per cent of global energy consumption and over a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally. It therefore needs an industry-wide transformation to deliver nutritious and affordable food for all, without jeopardising our economies, society and the environment, for future generations. As a result, we are seeing a proliferation of agricultural pilot projects that are helping to capture carbon as well as an increased commitment to embrace practices such as sustainable fishing – aligned with certification organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Both of these are areas that Nomad Foods is actively involved in.
What is also clear is that meaningful change cannot be achieved in isolation or without proper checks and balances in place. Global sustainability benchmarks and industry-wide calls to action have an important role in encouraging the sharing of best practice and promoting collaboration. They are essential to driving change at pace. Since we are moving towards the same goal when it comes to protecting the planet, we will all go further, faster if we act together. But it is also essential when facing challenges like the climate crisis, that companies set not only 2040 or 2050 targets but also interim 2025 or 2030 emission reduction targets that are ambitious and supported by tangible action plans.
While we can expect to see increasingly rigorous criteria for the sourcing of animal ingredients to meet sustainability commitments, it is clear that pioneering R&D and innovation, often referred to as ‘food tech’, will play a critical and disruptive role in delivering more sustainable supply chains for the future. Innovation in this space is an important part of conserving our planet’s resources and we are at an exciting point in time as we witness an acceleration of the technology that will help us develop alternative sources of meat and fish.
Nomad Foods’ partnership with BlueNalu, a leader in cell-cultured seafood, is just one example of how food companies are exploring opportunities to leverage the latest technologies to meet future demand for sustainably produced, healthy seafood products. As cell-cultured foods evolve and become better understood we expect this trend to continue.
As well as collaborations between corporates, we are also seeing wider engagement with the tech world through ‘dragons den’ style working groups that are enabling a diverse range of individuals to help carve out the future of food.
Enabling better consumer choice – for both people and the planet
As sustainability increasingly influences people’s food buying habits, it is also essential that we provide products that make sustainable, nutritious choices the easy choice for consumers. Vegetarian, vegan, meat and fish alternatives that are healthy but also taste great; so there is no feeling of compromise and with labelling that helps facilitate comparisons. We have seen the fast paced growth of plant-based products – including our Green Cuisine range – and as they become more commonplace this is likely to help more of us make the necessary shift to a more flexitarian approach to diet. The UK’s National Food Strategy, out early next year, and the similar regulations anticipated across Europe, should also play a key role in nudging us towards healthier, more sustainable eating habits.
With the global population estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050 and climate change placing increasing pressures on our food production system, it is no longer possible to put off making transformational changes in the way we produce, manufacture and consume food. The next 12 months present an exciting opportunity for food companies across the globe to act. Each day of progress counts and by working together we can really empower consumers with choices that are not only good for them but also good for the planet.
Stefan Descheemaeker is CEO of Nomad Foods.