Sustainable futures are made in the present

Foodservice Footprint Sally-Uren-300x199 Sustainable futures are made in the present Comment Foodservice News and Information  A look towards 2020 tells us that the foodservice sector should get serious about sustainability today, says Sally Uren, deputy chief executive, Forum For The Future.

FMCG brands and retailers will help make green living normal and easy for millions of people, and progress towards sustainable consumption will not be knocked off course by a weak global economy.  Those are the key findings of a report we published last month, Consumer Futures 2020, where, along with Sainsbury’s and Unilever, we examine what mainstream consumers might be buying and how they might be living in 2020.

We believe Consumer Futures 2020 has important implications for the foodservice sector.

Our conviction comes from the knowledge that there are some key trends which will force sustainable products and services into the mainstream, whether or not consumers actively demand them and regardless of whether the global economy is thriving or subdued.

Take resource availability. We know we are running low on vital natural resources, from water to wheat, and that price volatility will continue.It just isn’t realistic to expect the natural resources on which all supply chains rely to be available in the same quantity and at the same low price as today.

We are also entering an era of radical transparency. Right now, consumers can easily find information on the origins of products thanks to social media, and this trend is likely to continue. By the time we hit 2020, it just won’t be possible for businesses and brands to gloss over areas of poor environmental and/or social performance.

However, there are some big unknowns, with the two biggest being the willingness of consumers to make changes in their lifestyles, and the prosperity of the economy. In Consumer Futures, we took these two big unknowns, and the known trends, and created four possible versions of 2020.

In ‘My way’, mainstream consumers buy locally, strengthening their local economies.  Vertical farming is widespread, producing more food per unit of land. Global fast food brands take local identities.

In ‘Sell it to me’, driven by resource scarcity and a global deal on climate change, brands and businesses have taken a lot of the hard work out of being sustainable. Vertically integrated brands have stopped selling unsustainable products and sustainable products and services are commonplace.

In ‘From Me to You’, communities are again strengthened by local food and energy production. Resources are valued much more highly than today because they are scarce and expensive, and there is little or no waste.  Goods exchanges are mainstream and community farms are the norm.

Finally, in ‘I’m in your hands’, the product to service shift has happened. Retailers and brands lease a lifetime’s supply of key goods. Strict government legislation has delivered healthier choices and consumers take a ‘waste not, want not’ attitude.

So, what does this tell us about what the foodservice sector should be doing today?

I would start with these three actions. Firstly, start to adapt your business model today. In all of our scenarios brands and businesses have evolved and adapted their business functions to address challenges such as resource scarcity and changing consumer demands.

Number two, strengthen local production and embrace vertical integration. This will reduce risk of supply chain disruption from resource shortages and climate impacts, as well as give products and services a local, authentic story which will resonate with consumers.

Finally, get on with selling sustainability, but not as a single issue. In all of the scenarios, even though consumer awareness of the issues varies, sustainability has been made easy by bringing additional benefits to consumers, from price point value to improved nutrition.  This duality of benefit is critical for brands and business to start to get right today.