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Global Food Sustainability Outlook

Date: 02/09/2021

Bord Bia Global Sustainability Survey: Demonstrating the commercial importance of sustainability to Irish businesses

 Bord Bia has published the results of one of the most extensive global surveys ever undertaken of thought leaders’, consumers’ and trade buyers’ attitudes to sustainability. The study is intended to help promote sustainability among Origin Green’s Irish food and drink business members and to assist them in promoting their products based on meaningful, sustainable actions.  

The Origin Green Global Sustainability Survey was undertaken domestically and in 12 of Ireland’s most important export markets, to understand existing attitudes to sustainability and emerging trends among three groups; agenda setters (advocacy groups, policy makers, industry leaders), customers (trade buyers, sustainability leads, operations leads) and consumers. The survey finds clear differences in what each group prioritises and how they see the topic of sustainability.

The new research insights can be viewed on special portal on the Bord Bia website by market and by sustainability theme e.g. GHG emissions, biodiversity, water, circular economy, packaging, animal welfare, food waste or regenerative agriculture. This allows Bord Bia clients and Origin Green members to understand how customers in their key markets think about the top sustainability issues.

Research across the markets indicated that emissions were a key topic for agenda setters and customers. These groups, particularly larger retailers, are setting science based or net-zero targets, putting pressure on suppliers to reduce emissions and presenting sustainable suppliers with an opportunity to stand out. Two thirds of trade buyers globally say “having the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions/carbon footprint” is important when choosing a supplier and sustainability is becoming a key purchasing criteria for trade buyers, along with quality, price and supply. However, consumers are less focussed on emissions, as it is currently more difficult to link the carbon footprint to the product on-shelf. 

Similarly, while agenda setters are very heavily focussed on biodiversity, this issue is not yet on the radar for consumers in terms of making purchasing decisions. However, as the sustainability agenda develops and becomes more important, the carbon and biodiversity impact of products will become more important to consumers. The research indicates we can expect more tipping points in the short to medium-term that will bring increased consumer and trade buyer focus on big sustainability topics.

At present, consumers view food waste and packaging as the most important sustainability issues. Some 77% indicate that they have made an effort to buy products with less packaging, and 87% indicate that they have made an attempt to reduce food waste in the last 12 months. For beef and dairy consumers, we see that high animal welfare standards and grass-fed are some of the most important sustainability attributes globally that can command a premium. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) beef consumers globally say they are willing to pay a premium for grass-fed beef.

Origin Green members are taking action to improve the sustainability of their business across a range of metrics. The Global Sustainability Survey, published on the Bord Bia website, will help our industry to better understand how customers and consumers view sustainability, how they can communicate their actions and values in a more impactful way and what areas they need to improve on in the years ahead. 

In many areas of sustainability, Ireland already has a strong competitive advantage, for example grass-fed production of beef and dairy. In others, such as food waste, this research gives us the opportunity to highlight to our members how that is a key touchstone for consumers in certain key markets and the value of meeting these expectations. The best way of encouraging action is to demonstrate how it contributes to the long-term sustainability of the business. This research makes the clear case for businesses to engage in measurable action across a range of sustainability issues.

 The research found that while the sustainability agenda is accelerating, it is happening at a different pace in different countries and each market is focussing on different aspects of the sustainability conversation. In Western European markets, there is a greater focus on local food, and animal welfare is closely associated with sustainability. Meanwhile, in Asian markets, where there is more of a concern over consistent, nutritious food supply, the focus is on quality and safety assurance.

The survey also identified clear benefits to companies who could demonstrate positive action and leadership on key sustainability issues. In several areas, consumers appear to be looking for greater information around key sustainability issues. Bord Bia believe there is an opportunity for Irish brands to stand out if they can communicate in a clear way. Food waste is a very definite example of this, both in terms of how food waste is avoided in production but also how consumers can do more to avoid wasting food. It also highlighted that consumers are looking for both information and leadership from food producers. The Origin Green programme is the world’s first national sustainability programme from farm to fork, and members are well placed to benefit from this consumer need for leadership.

The Origin Green Global Sustainability Survey is available to Origin Green Members at https://www.bordbia.ie/global-sustainability-insights/