How to Build a Sustainability Plan in the Agri Food Sector

How to Build a Sustainability Plan in the Agri Food Sector

By John Giles, Divisional Director, Agri Food, Promar International

Sustainability is probably the key driver in the UK food supply chain at the moment. Everybody seems to be talking about it – and not just in the UK. Avoiding it is all but impossible. But why?

In the last 20 months or so, the UK food supply chain has shown itself to at times be highly resilient, but at other times, more vulnerable than probably at any stage since the end of the Second World War.

In response to commitments made by government and business, ambitious targets have been set to mitigate against climate change and develop a carbon neutral supply chain. None of this can happen overnight, of course, but a start has to be made somewhere.

We see a powerful combination of “policy push” and “commercial pull” drivers at work here. In the policy world, the UK Agricultural Bill – post Brexit and post CAP, the Carbon Net Zero Plan, 2050, the 25 Year Environmental Plan, the UK National Food Strategy, COP –  26  and the EU Farm to Fork  Strategy, over time – are all pointing in the same basic direction of farmers in UK producing in a more sustainable manner.

At the same time, major players at the point of sale are looking for their suppliers to be more efficient, more productive, more sustainable, more resilient and also remain cost competitive. COVID  & Brexit  have only served to accentuate of all these points.

Without a coherent sustainability plan  in place – or well on the way to being in place –  it will be hard for food and drink companies to find a meaningful space in the UK market. Even when this has been developed, it will need to be updated on a regular basis. It also needs to be verified by an independent organisation.

All suppliers to the UK market – be they domestic producers or internationally based claim to be “sustainable”  – but some have to be more so than others. Just saying “we are sustainable” is not good enough – it is important to be able to prove it too.

There are, to my mind, 8 key things to consider when developing a sustainability plan and these include:

  • see what the best in class are doing & see what matters to your customers and align yourself to these
  • understand the “game changers” of policy push and commercial pull
  • get high level endorsement and have an “internal champion”
  • get the whole business involved and look at full supply chain
  • decide on priority areas and time scales and if need be, bring in some outside help and advice
  • set targets and measure what you do as you go along
  • be robust in your statements and be able to prove them
  • show improvements to customers and stakeholders and don’t stop there

What 2022 holds in store for the UK food sector remains to be seen.  Few of the factors though we have seen at play in 2021 such as labour issues, rising energy prices, changes in the routes to market, concerns over food security, trade friction with our EU based suppliers and the impact of new trade deals with countries outside of Europe –  will go away in the short term.

What we can be sure of is that we will hear a lot more talk about the issue of sustainable supply chains. We all need to be doing something about this, in regard to the policy push and commercial pull drivers we are already seeing in this area and not least, in response to UK consumer sentiment.

Recent research from the likes of Kantar has suggested that an increasing number  of consumers – up to 60%  are now sensitive  – or are at least considering these sustainability  issues when buying food, although c. 40% of the total are, still “dismissive” of them.  This trend will only increase and so action is needed now.

John Giles, Divisional Director, Agri Food, Promar International

John is a Divisional Director of Promar International – the agri food value chain consulting subsidiary of Genus plc.

John has now worked with Promar International extensively throughout the UK and in some 60 other countries on agri food related assignments. John is also the President of the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Food, Drink and Agriculture Group and a past Chair of the UK Institute of Agricultural Management.

He is also the Chair of the Organising Committee of the City Food Lecture (held in London on an annual basis and organised by 7 City based livery companies involved in the agricultural and food sector).

John spoke at our ‘Developing and Promoting a Carbon Neutral Business’ webinar held in November 2021, which you can watch back here.

His blogs on the topic can be found here.

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