Food and drink brands must shout about sustainability

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Food and drinks brands have set out tough new goals to make the industry more sustainable but must make more effort to communicate their achievements to consumers.

As part of its annual Five-Fold Environmental Ambition report the Food and Drink Federation, (FDF) with members including Cadbury/Kraft, Kellogg’s, Nestlé and PepsiCo, has extended its five commitments to improving the sustainability of the industry. It has set new targets across carbon reduction, waste to landfill, packaging reduction, water efficiency and transport miles.

It has also set out five new sustainability principles designed to encourage better behaviours from suppliers, manufacturers policy makers and consumers.

The FDF says that the new goals better reflect the broader sustainability challenges its members face and will help consumers make sustainable choices.

But, while brands are putting sustainability at the heart of their business strategy, often it is not being as widely communicated to consumers as part of their brand messaging.

Instead many are taking an inward looking view of sustainability.

FDF communications director Julian Hunt says: “While some brands are activating their sustainability commitments at a consumer level by tying it into brand messaging, to an extent its true that brands don’t talk about it enough, as it’s seen as an internal business practice.

He adds that food and drink companies put a lot of focus on engaging staff and this goes on to have a big consumer impact because the industry is one of the largest employers in the UK, contributing 6.7% of the country’s GDP.

“Brands are putting it at the heart of their business strategy because its good for business and they’re starting to tie it into their brand messaging.”

Sustainability has risen up the consumer agenda as fast as it has the business agenda and people are increasingly interested in things such as sourcing and water use, which have previously been out of the consumer conscience.

Hunt says that it is now important for the industry to look beyond the factory gates to the wider context because alerting consumers to sustainability messages is key to shaping the future of the sector.

“Companies are putting their heads above the parapet to talk to consumers and put a marker down for how they want to do business in the future,” he says.

The organisation itself is considering developing a campaign to help consumers better understand the role of packaging and reduce its impact.

Separately, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo have outlined their own ambitious environmental strategies, which go beyond the framework provided by the FDF.

In its first Sustainable Farming Report PepsiCo has outlined plans to cut water usage and carbon emissions by 50% in the farming and packaging of its brands.

P&G added additional commitments to its existing environmental targets and pledges to reduce its use of petroleum-derived materials by 25%, reduce its packaging by 20% and ensure 30% of the power in its operations is sourced from renewable energy by 2020.

The additional targets are part of its long-term goal to power its plants with 100% renewable energy, make its packaging from 100% renewable materials and send zero waste to landfill.

At the time, P&G president and CEO Bob McDonald said: “P&G does not view environmental responsibility separately from the business and its long-term sustainability vision transcends its business and financial goals.”

In November, Unilever unveiled its Sustainable Living Plan, which CEO Paul Polman says will “decouple business growth from environmental impact”.

Under this business plan, Unilever pledges to double sales and halve the environmental impact of its products over the next 10 years.

Both Unilever and P&G separately called for the industry to work together to reduce the environmental impact their businesses have, something the FDF also believes is key to embedding sustainable behaviours into the industry.

The FDF is already working with other organisations including the British Retail Consortium and IGD to make sure that there is a standardised framework for the industry to share best practice and take a responsible approach to the environment.

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