Lack of sustainability strategies in food industry

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

More than half of food businesses don't have a sustainability strategy published
More than half of food businesses don't have a sustainability strategy published
Food firms must improve work on sustainability, with more than half not showing evidence of having strategies on the issue.

Analysts Food FW assessed publicly available information from 178 companies from the Food and Drink Federation, and found the majority of them were not publishing their sustainability strategies.

In the report by Food FW​, Dairy Forward, it was revealed that 95 (53%) food businesses surveyed were not disclosing any form of sustainability information online. Under a quarter, or 41 businesses, had a website statement, 29 had quantified information, while 13 had sector-leading innovation.

“Becoming a sector leader can start with aspirational statements,”​ the report said. “But only a fifth of companies have gone on to measure their performance against aspirations. Beyond this, 7% of companies leading the sector in sustainability investment have done so by picking the right solution and using their achievements as a springboard for a strong, future-focused brand message.”

One of the report's co-authors Conrad Young explained why businesses might be hesitant to publish sustainability strategies. 

“There's a nervousness on the part of food businesses to commit to anything because they fear that a letter of intent could be held against them,”​ he said. “They also worry that this might interrupt their day-to-day operational focus. There's also the bandwidth issue. Some businesses simply don't have the resources for it.”

Young advised businesses that were genuine about sustainability, but did not feel they had the capacity, to at least try. “All academic and real world examples show that businesses don't get penalised for failing to meet targets if they're making a genuine effort to improve sustainability.”

He added that businesses displaying sustainability credentials would see other benefits in the long run. "It’s sustainability in every sense of the word. You’ll find that you’re more attractive when it comes to recruiting and to potential customers.​”

Dairy wastage

The report highlighted work being done in the dairy sector which was identified in the Courtauld Report as one of the biggest waste producers in the food industry. Recently, a Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) report on the Coultauld Commitment highlighted that the most notable change from the previous estimates concerned the dairy sector.

The paper estimated that waste produced in that sector in 2014 rose from 340,000 tonnes (t) to 452,000t in 2015. It claimed that was a result of increases in the reported weight of sludges, materials unsuitable for production and edible oils and fats.

The Food FW report praised Wyke Farms for its focus on carbon emissions, waste and water, making it the first British dairy to hold a Carbon Trust Standard triple certification. In 2013, Wyke Farms introduced an anaerobic digestion system that converts 75,000t of waste into energy each year.

The report also highlighted First Milk's anaerobic digestion plant, which the farmer-owned dairy cooperative claimed was the largest in Europe, and wind turbines operated by ice cream maker Mackie’s of Scotland.

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