There's no question that sustainable agriculture and local sourcing of ingredients have become a hot topic in food product development. As the world's population increases, we must find new and more efficient ways of meeting its demand for food. Unfortunately, any increases we make in supply in the short term often result in downward pressures on food supply in the long term.
The case for sustainable agriculture.
Food production and delivery accounts for somewhere between 19 and 29 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the non-profit sustainable agriculture advocacy group Ceres. Farming in and of itself contributes over 80 percent of those emissions.
Farming is also a runaway train: agriculture is the root cause of 75 percent of deforestation, globally, and deforestation reduces the planet's ability to reabsorb and balance out those greenhouse emissions. By increasing our agricultural land use, we are simultaneously pumping more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and ensuring that they will stay there longer.
Sustainable agricultural practices seek to reduce land use by finding innovative, economically-feasible ways to increase the yield of extant farms and reduce the amount of resources consumed in the processes of producing agricultural commodities and delivering them to market.
A shift toward increased sustainability is critical if we are to secure the world's food supply. That point certainly isn't lost on consumers— especially on adults in the key 20-35 age demographic. Unfortunately, many food companies still aren't making meaningful progress toward achieving a sustainable supply line.
Strong leadership is needed to affect real change.
In 2014, Ceres partnered with Sustainalytics to evaluate the efforts the US food and beverage industry has undertaken to achieve a more sustainable food supply. They found efforts sorely lacking in several respects.
Approximately half of the globally-operating companies that Ceres surveyed do not report conducting risk assessments of their agricultural suppliers, and those that do "generally lack specificity about their plans [to achieve greater source sustainability] in the absence of external standards." But there seems to be little political willpower to develop those external standards.
"Existing federal, state and local government policies often impede the goals of sustainable agriculture," according to UC Davis' Agricultural Sustainability Institute. "New policies are needed to simultaneously promote environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity."
And though, "some companies have high-level managerial oversight of key agricultural sourcing initiatives," advised Ceres, "the vast majority does not adequately disclose how these issues are managed internally."
There seems to be little accountability on the corporate side, either. "Across the board," the non-profit reported, "companies are failing to effectively measure and disclose how their efforts are addressing sustainability risks, such as increased exposure to the adverse effects of climate change, and ultimately changing farmer practices."
Nevertheless, consumers demand action— and they figure to get it in the coming year.
A joint 2009 study by the Grocer Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Deloitte found that over half of shoppers are influenced by sustainability considerations when they make their food purchases.
"Green shoppers," as Deloitte designated the demographic, are particularly attractive to food marketers. They spend more, shop more often and demonstrate more brand loyalty than the average consumer. Being able to capture their business by highlighting the progress your firm or restaurant has made toward achieving sustainability could help to ensure your company's long-term, healthy growth.
This has not gone unnoticed— at least by restaurateurs. A recent survey of nearly 1,300 members of the American Culinary Federation found that the top two food marketing trends in US restaurants in 2015 will be the introduction of more locally-sourced meat and more locally-sourced produce.
"Chefs are diving deeper into local trends, beyond restaurant gardens, to offer more house-made, farm-branded and artisanal items," wrote Food-Navigator USA's Elizabeth Crawford, "as well as signature items made from scratch."
"The maturing trend of environmental sustainability also makes sense going forward as food costs continue to rise and restaurants try to control costs by minimizing waste and surplus," she reported.
Sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients need to be part of your food product development plan.
"Awareness of sustainability issues continues to grow," the GMA advised. "Sustainability considerations are emerging as a key product attribute influencing shopper decisions."
If the green shopper market is as lucrative as we all believe it to be, the indications for increasing your food company or restaurant's sustainable ingredient and locally-sourced ingredient use are clear.