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With the food and drink industry the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases on a global scale, sustainability is becoming more and more important to shoppers.
We spoke to industry figures to find out how fine food retailers play a key role in providing more sustainable options.
The importance of sustainability
Despite the cost-of-living crisis squeezing budgets, consumers are still choosing to spend their hard-earned pennies on more ethical and eco-friendly options. Therefore, fine food retailers can benefit from building these selling points into the core of their business.
Indeed, as Jill Sargent, businesses development manager at Produced in Kent, explained, “Sustainability is something that’s driving buying decisions by both consumers and retailers and it’s the right thing to do from an environmental and social perspective. Conscious consumers want to be able to identify not just with a brands’ values but its actions too.”
According to James Woodward, head of the sustainable farming campaign at Sustain, “By supporting sustainably produced food, SME food businesses can have a unique selling point with customers who are becoming increasingly aware of how their food is being produced. Looking ahead, adapting towards selling sustainable food could help these businesses stand in good stead in the medium to long term, as these trends in wanting to buy better food continue.”
This is something that Jason Gibb, founder of Bread & Jam and host of the upcoming Future Food Summit on 23rd May – a one-day conference for professionals seeking to build sustainable practices into their business – has also identified, raising awareness for food businesses to incorporate sustainable practices into their businesses.
As he explained, “In the UK SMEs account for half of all emissions, many are in the food sector, and we so we are duty-bound to play a key part in mitigating the climate crisis. Our ability to change and adapt quickly means that we are in a unique position to drive change (which at the same time differentiates us from the big food and drink corporates and offers us a unique selling point).
“While the cost-of-living crisis has moved sustainability down the priority list for some consumers, I strongly believe that the issue will only grow in importance and those brands and retailers that keep sustainability at their core, and at the forefront of their messaging, will benefit in the long term.”
What consumers want
In order to build sustainability into your business, you need to know what consumers are looking for within the sector.
As James explained, “People are becoming more interested in how the food they eat is produced and where it comes from. Whether that be in an environmentally friendly way, to good ethical standards on things like animal welfare, or wanting to know they are supporting producers fairly.
“Therefore, a key thing for SME food businesses is to supply as much as possible from local farmers who produce food to high standards. This could include organic, Pasture for Life, and other certifications, but also build relationships with producers and get to know how they farm.”
By building your supply chain around these producers, you can appeal to sustainable shoppers and make your business model greener. Additionally, using small, local suppliers is a more stable way to fill your shelves.
According to Jill, “Supermarket shortages have helped highlight seasonality and locality – most independents haven’t had empty shelves because they have good relationships with their supply chain and pay a fair price. Customers have started to value the certainty of supplies. Budgets may be tighter in 2023, so helping customers learn about seasonality and making the most of what they are buying is something the independents do brilliantly!”
“Retailers should highlight the importance of seasonal food and offer tips and recipes on how to use them,” Jason added.
There are plenty of ways for fine food retailers to make sustainability the focus of their business, and it certainly won’t cost the earth.
According to Jill, “There are big things like using renewable energy or paying a living wage. Then there are the small things – looking at the overall customer journey. Whether that’s providing electric vehicle charging points, refill stations or recycling your cardboard boxes for deliveries or making sure any edible food ‘waste’ is reduced, re-distributed or recycled.”
Jason agreed, “Indies should look at minimising food waste by working with platforms like Olio and Too Good to Go.
“Installing zero packaging stations for staple products like pasta, rice and cereals is a great way of reducing packaging and driving customer loyalty. Every retailer should set targets around packaging, carbon footprints and food waste and publicly display them in their shops to make sure they do them.”