Quinoa, grown in South America, is used as a meat substitute. © Fotos 593/Stock Adobe
Quinoa, grown in South America, is used as a meat substitute. © Fotos 593/Stock Adobe

Food firms are moving to plant-based protein

posted by Lucy Patchett
25 July 2019

Unilever, Tesco and Nestle have been rated as the top three companies in terms of diversifying supply chains away from meat, according to a report.

The report, by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative (FAIRR), rated 25 food retailers and manufacturers on strategies to move towards more sustainable protein products.

FAIRR, a collaborative network of investors, measured how well companies addressed risks in the meat supply chain and how they had embraced alternative-based protein foods.

Unilever, Tesco and Nestle, were ranked as the most “proactive” in showing how they were taking actions against risks in the animal protein supply chain. This was based on understanding of climate and sustainability risks around protein sourcing, tracking and reporting of “protein exposure” and greenhouse gas emissions, and commitments to transition to sustainable products. 

The top 10 companies include Unilever, Tesco, Nestle, Marks & Spencers, Conagra Brands, General Mills, Sainsburys, Group Casino, Ahold Delhaize and Carrefour. The companies ranked lowest out of the 25, and described as “reactive”, were Amazon (Whole Foods), Saputo, and Costco.

The global meat substitutes market hit $4.63bn in 2018 and is predicted to grow 6.8% by 2023, according to research cited by FAIRR. Food manufacturers such as Cargill and Danone (owner of Alpro), have invested in plant-based and cell-based technology to reduce dependency on meat supply chains. There was “$673m invested in the plant-based food industry alone” during 2018, according to the report.

Many big brands are "riding the vegan wave" as quinoa, beetroot, tofu and lentils have grown in popularity due to benefits on diets and the environment.

Meanwhile, sustainability charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has highlighted the scale of food surplus and waste in the UK agricultural food chain. 

A report found that the equivalent of approximately £1.2bn worth of vegetables, fruit, cereal crops, dairy and livestock is wasted in primary production each year in the UK. This makes up 3.6m tonnes per annum wasted before it has left the farm, and 7.2% of production, according to the report. 

The top 10 foods going to waste include sugar beet, potatoes, carrots, milk, wheat, poultry, onions, oilseed rape, barley, and cabbage. “Sugar beet, potatoes and carrots made up more than half of the overall waste by weight,” said WRAP.

Peter Maddox, director at WRAP, said the use of best practices on setting and maintaining quality specifications has a huge potential to reduce food waste. He also advocated the collaborative data sharing platform the Food Surplus Network to increase the redistribution of food surplus.

WRAP has worked with businesses to implement best practices across UK supply chains, and has delivered practical solutions such as more efficient production systems for strawberry growers.

Peter Andrews, head of sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working closely with their suppliers to minimise waste, for example by using more accurate prediction of demand, finding ways to use surplus production, and settings clear targets for future improvement.”

Jack Ward, chief executive at the British Growers Association, said: "As the sustainability of our food production systems comes under increasing scrutiny, reducing waste at every point in the food supply chain will be an increasing priority.

“Having new insights into the scale of food waste and under-utilised production on farm is a positive step forward, and a resource that should be of use to many growers and the wider supply chain.”

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