Food production companies that wish to keep up with consumer ethics demands must invest in top-level employees that are capable of assessing societal concerns and managing practices throughout the supply chain accordingly. Of particular importance is the ability to effectively communicate the company’s achievements and commitments to a consumer base that is increasingly diligent about supporting corporate social responsibility.
Sustainable Practices in Agriculture
24% of greenhouse gases produced by humans each year can be tied back to our global food system and deforestation.1As agricultural practices evolve to meet the challenges of efficient land usage and biodiversity, food production companies are met with both a production challenge and a communications opportunity.
Permaculture practices are promising, but can be difficult to scale, particularly on a budget. Regenerative agriculture, reduced tillage practices and diversified crop rotations all bring with them environmental benefits that are not fully comprehended by the public at large.
Gene editing could create healthier, more productive animals that use fewer resources, but the controversial practice suffers from an image problem.2
While most operations are not in a position to overhaul their supply chain overnight, those who pay appropriate attention to practices throughout the supply chain will know where they stand and will be in a better position to highlight sustainability practices as a key component in marketing efforts.
Labour Ethics and Food Safety Issues
High profile Covid-19 outbreaks in several slaughterhouses only served to highlight what many have long known: they are dangerous and difficult places to work.
“Workers in factories strain to make thousands of cuts of meat every shift, leading frequently to repetitive motion injuries,” reports the Guardian. “Processing lines move so quickly that some workers must wear nappies because there are too few toilet breaks. There is not enough time for staff to cover their mouths when they cough – a potentially deadly issue during a pandemic. Even before the outbreak, the meat industry pushed limits of animal and human biology.”3
Poor working conditions, particularly amongst profitable companies, poses a real PR threat, as supply chain giant Amazon has learned. Grocery store employees, too, have gained appreciation for the role they play in the food supply chain during the pandemic, many viewing the growing number of grocery delivery services as a class-based outsourcing of risk. Truckers throughout the food chain work long hours as well.
Covid-19 has cemented the prospect of Zoonotic outbreaks firmly in the public consciousness, while various e-coli scares have placed further emphasis upon safe food production standards. Good worker safety standards can present a communications opportunity for responsible food production companies. These can be achieved through careful planning, well implemented automation systems, and dedicated HR initiatives. Food and employee safety must be committed to at the highest level and should exist in reality before being incorporated into branding efforts.
Food and Packaging Waste
Food waste can be split into two major categories: wasteful packaging and the waste of food itself.
According to the WWF, the food wasted in a year contains enough calories to feed every undernourished person on Earth.4
One way to combat this food waste is to market food in appropriate quantities. Food delivery services, for example, provide the exact amount of ingredients necessary for the preparation of one meal. Doing so reduces the amount of food ultimately destined for the waste basket, but can potentially create wasted packaging.4
Wasteful packaging, such as single use coffee pods, is problematic in the minds of many consumers. Efforts to present recyclable or reusable packaging are often rewarded, as evidenced by a recent survey conducted by Shorr Packaging which found that 58% of respondents reported being ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to purchase food products that clearly state the packaging is recyclable or reusable.5
Responding to Change in the Food Production Industry
The marketing and availability of healthy, fresh food, particularly for children or impoverished populations, continues to be a major concern. As veganism gains popularity, demand grows for accurate labelling and stringent measures to avoid cross contamination.
Lifestyle changes as well as retailer and supply chain concerns caused by the pandemic impact the types of food purchased, as well as preferred quantities and purchase channels. Companies who emphasize flexibility both on the floor and in supply chain channels will be able to respond to changes in consumer demand as they occur.
Consumer demands and concerns will continue to evolve, as will industry practices, supply channels and technology. Regardless of the specifics, companies with quality supply chain professionals, production managers and marketing departments will be equipped to respond accordingly, leveraging their efforts into increased market share.