Webinar: “Food and drink is where everything starts”

19 October 2021, 08:42 AM
Webinar: “Food and drink is where everything starts”

During Speciality Food’s first webinar, Dan Willis of Chorlton Cheesemongers, Megan Adams of Re:Store and Tim Etherington-Judge of Avallen explained how and why they created their own sustainability-focused businesses.

“We are living beyond our means, and that all starts with our destruction of the natural world, of the land and of the soil and of the oceans,” explained Tim. “Because food and drink products are closely tied to that, it’s really where everything starts.”

Food and drink businesses must look at their impacts on these areas and consider how they can help regenerate soil, waterways and biodiversity, he said. “We have to start to put more natural processes back in place and move away from this extremely destructive, toxic modern farming system.”

Dan agreed that a balance between taking from and giving to the natural world must be restored. “You can’t take keep taking more out without putting something back in,” he added. And the huge scale of the food and drink sector means it is central to the world’s sustainability mission, Megan said. “Everybody eats food, so the impacts of the food industry are far-reaching,” she explained. “If we were to get to a point where it was considered sustainable, what a massive impact that would have on the planet.”

Retail’s role in a sustainable future

For food and drink retailers, much can be done today to tackle sustainability, but Megan said that to be a truly eco-friendly shop, retailers must consider the issue holistically. “There are quite a few retailers now jumping on what you might call the zero-waste bandwagon, but if you’re putting products that are not ethically sourced in gravity dispensers, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an ethical or sustainable retailer. It’s making sure that the whole picture is looked at: the product is ethically sourced, it’s sustainably delivered, and it’s sustainably packaged or offered packaging-free.”

Retailers must also consider changing consumer habits and growing demand for more sustainable products. “You just have to look at the change in how people are eating,” Tim said. “I’ve been vegan for 22 years now, and never would I have imagined that I would see the day where vegan has become the hottest word to be slapped on the front of restaurant windows, [or] that I would walk into supermarkets and find full vegan sections and all these vegan meat alternatives.

“The big changes have definitely come from the general public and what they’re demanding from producers and also from retailers, which is fantastic to see,” he continued. “The big brands are going to have to catch up. The smaller brands, because they are more nimble, really have run with it.”

Megan added that customer demand has driven the opening of more refill and zero waste shops – and being a small business has given her the power to spearhead collaborations with other likeminded businesses. “When I first opened, I got in contact with some suppliers to ask if they would consider doing a closed loop delivery.” For example, she approached a coffee roaster down the road to ask if they would deliver her coffee beans in a tub, which is then washed and refilled for use in the next delivery. “It’s very simple. It doesn’t cost them anything to do it, but no one had asked them that before, so it’s quite refreshing to feel like there is a certain amount of power in just asking the question. When you’re in a network of other small suppliers and producers then you can work together to find to find solutions, which is quite an exciting prospect.”

Retailers can also take an educational role. “Our ethos is about educating people,” Dan said. In the cheese sector in particular where a product is sourced from has a huge impact on its sustainable credentials. “For us, it’s working with the consumer and being able to say what the differences are in the system we work with, and to be able to have those difficult conversations,” he said. 

The three speakers shared advice for starting collaborations, finding sustainable partners and swapping out wasteful products and materials. And they agreed that now is the time to act. “If we can just stop the destruction in the world, the deliberate damage that we’re doing, [nature] will recover very quickly,” Tim said. “It will begin to undo all of the damage that we’ve done and have a positive impact: it will begin to sequester CO2 out of the atmosphere or begin to restore biodiversity. All we have to do is stop destroying it.”

To hear more from Megan, Tim and Dan about creating a sustainable business, watch the full webinar here.

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