Food Producers Must Strategize on Sustainability, Even if Consumers Won't Pay For It

July 15, 2013

CHICAGO –, More food producers need to create sustainable business strategies that not only reduce emissions but guarantee a healthier future for both their businesses and consumers, according to a July 14 panel discussion at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo® in Chicago held at McCormick Place.

“We shouldn’t consider if consumers will pay for it,” said Cristian Barcan, regional head of applied sustainability for BASF Corporation of Florham Park, NJ. “We as producers have a responsibility to put food on the table that is safe, healthy and sufficient.  It’s not a matter of whether consumers will pay for it.”

During the Q&A session, Barcan told more than 100 conference attendees that if they chose to do nothing to make their food production and products more sustainable, they would no longer be competitive and run out of the raw materials necessary for production. If a company is efficient in its sustainability practices, he argued, the business will in time see additional savings. However, product cost is not what sustainability should be all about. He recognized dozens of companies including General Mills, Disney, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and others who have invested in sustainability practices. Barcan also cited Sustainable Futures ’09, a consumer study conducted by Havas Media of more than 20,000 consumers in 10 markets with more than 50 brands in eight market segments which found nearly 85 percent of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in sustainability, and would be willing pay a premium for a product produced in a responsible way.

According to panelist Dr. Gail Barnes of Personify LLC, who shared the 2010 study by the U.S. Dairy Association, most of the milk gallon’s carbon footprint is from feed and milk production on the farm. The largest impact in processing comes from the use of electricity, which generates 75 percent of the overall footprint, compared to 35 percent involved with container formation and packaging. By reducing the reliance on containers as well as the use of electricity commonly used in the milk pasteurization process which creates heat to ensure food safety, the heavy carbon footprint will lessen, she said.

“The single biggest way to make it more sustainable is don’t use it in the first place or use less of it,” said Barnes, who encouraged attendees to explore energy reduction in processing and packaging by using packaging materials made of plant-derived resins and inorganic fillers such

as calcium carbonate, as well as the use of innovative non-thermal technologies as an adjunct to pasteurization.  “Look for UV in the future for the treatment of liquid food products to make them safer and last longer.”

Scott Harris of Givaudan also spoke to conference attendees on the need for food manufacturers to be more aware and socially responsible in respecting human rights and safe practices for workers worldwide who participate in the production of the raw materials used in many products sold in North America.

Harris offered the example of how Givaudan, which relies heavily on the country of Madagascar for its fresh vanilla for its food scents and flavors, has reached out to farmers to assist in building 14 schools for not only the country’s children, but for teaching the farmers and other adults in the community how to improve their farming practices while ultimately improving the raw materials his company procures.

Barcan added that companies need to use their marketing messages to promote their sustainability practices rather than adding that message to their product packaging.


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