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3 Key focuses for Food & Drink Distributors looking to address climate change

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Food Systems globally are reported to be responsible for over a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. (1) From production, processing, distribution and consumption, this figure shows the magnitude of both the structure of our worldwide food network and the dire need for every area of the way we produce and consume food to be critically reviewed.

Food waste is responsible for an estimated 8% of all global greenhouse emissions, meaning that if it was a country, it would be the third-largest contributor. Closing the view to the UK alone, we waste an estimated 1.9mt of food and drink a year, with "1.1mt of this is avoidable, worth £1.9bn". (4)

Furthermore, research conducted by Pew revealed that “more than two-thirds said that large businesses and corporations are not doing enough to combat climate change.” (1) With this in mind, we want to drive into the Industry-wide changes that are being made to combat climate change and reduce the enormous impact that our food systems have on our planet.

So, after decades of environmentally detrimental practices that are having impacts to this scale, why now are we pushing climate change into the spotlight?

One of the key drivers is a switch in consumer demand, and this includes those workers who are members of the food & beverage industry. “In a September 2020 Ipsos poll, two-thirds of respondents said that companies have a moral obligation to use sustainable packaging; and 65% said that companies should not be using single-use packages”, and a further “44% — said sustainability is driving their purchasing decisions.” (1)

News coverage, research and investigations have increasingly focused on the need to address climate change in recent years; this has resulted in pressure from every angle and on to every Industry, company, and individual, to rethink operations, be more transparent and sustainable in the way they work.

The impacts of climate change are also having irreversible consequences for the food & drink systems that perpetuate the effects of global warming. By 2100, a 4-degree temperature increase has been predicted, and this “could lead to a 50% reduction of some crop yields.” (2) It goes without saying that the impacts of climate change are very much needed to be put at the forefront of major changes in the coming years.

In a recent article, we looked at the consumer pressures that have all eyes on the food industry, to change and rethink operational norms and practices in attempts to work more sustainably and transparently. Purchasing power has great influence, and consumers are increasingly looking to buy from businesses that resonate with these ethical, sustainability-orientated values.

This article will look towards the future, using 3 key focuses that businesses are targeting to meet these values held by the consumer.

Reducing mileage

The first and most obvious way food and drink businesses are trying to reduce their impact is by reducing vehicle driving times. Reducing mileage simply means less fuel, and reduced fuel costs.

Systems that optimise routes and let businesses plan their deliveries more resource efficiently are becoming almost a necessity when tackling environmental impacts.

Faster routes and call schedules that require fewer vehicles are all made possible with competent digital systems that are helping businesses to work smarter and more efficiently.

We have seen this transition to digital route planning systems pick up at a faster rate than ever during the pandemic, given other factors coming into play to influence the investment; driver shortages and a need to plan more flexibly being a huge one.

These systems are now becoming more accessible and affordable than ever, given the growing demand and subsequent growing number of systems in the marketplace as technology advances.

Sourcing locally

Another important factor is sourcing locally. Food miles and the environmental impact of shipping, processing and supplying ingredients and produce on a global level plays a major role in the Food Industry’s contribution to climate change.

Not only does sourcing local ingredients and produce from a supplier, or consumer point of view, reduce food miles, but it also promotes a diverse diet, retains money and investment in the local economy, and enables a greater level of transparency and traceability.

When produce has only travelled a few miles from ‘farm-to-fork, it is incredibly easy to trace its origins, and this is very much idealised by the contemporary consumer, and therefore, supplier/producer.

In short, the further food has travelled, the more resources that are required to get it in front of the consumer, and so looking to localise operations has taken centre stage for a lot of food and beverage businesses.

Improving efficiency

Elaborating on reducing mileage; there are various methods that are becoming Industry-Standard in terms of reducing environmental impacts, and they all rely on removing inefficiencies where possible.

Going paperless cuts spending reduces manual error and helps bring all operational functions under a more streamlined direction.

For example, deliveries can be made, and relying on a digital proof-of-delivery system rather than paper allows for instant communication and transfer of delivery reports and information. This speeds up work rate, minimises duplication of efforts, lost paperwork and so on, which in turn boosts overall productivity and efficiency. Switching to digital removes a variety of daily inefficiencies that build up overtime and have a big impact on any delivery operation’s overall environmental impact.

Encouraging the consumer

Although the demand for sustainable practices derives largely from the consumer, there are various ways that are promoted towards the consumer, encouraging more conscious, sustainable ways of purchasing and consuming food & drink.

Shopping locally, reducing meat consumption, buying MSC-certified seafood, buying seasonally, donating food, increasing recycling and reducing the consumption of plastics and one-use packaging are just a few of the ways we, as individuals, are encouraged to improve our consumption habits for the good of our planet.

For a more detailed look into how the consumer can buy more sustainably, you can check our a great article going into more detail here:


Image Sources

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Photo by Meghan Rodgers on Unsplash

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