‘Retailers have the power to make nature-positive food the norm’

21 February 2024, 06:00 AM
  • Reniera O’Donnell, food initiative lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shares her views on retailers' power to enact change
‘Retailers have the power to make nature-positive food the norm’

Our food system is broken. One-third of all food produced is wasted, whilst 10% of the world’s population goes hungry; and for every dollar spent, society pays two back in health, environmental, and economic costs. 

It is a system which fundamentally does not work for farmers, retailers, and consumers alike. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Brands, retailers, and leading fast-moving consumer goods have an incredible impact on the food we eat every single day and the food systems from which ingredients are sourced. 

Take the European and UK markets, for example, where a staggering 40% of agricultural land is influenced by the top 10 companies within this group. Rather than being viewed as part of the problem, these companies have the power to be the drivers of the solution. By leveraging their size, scope, and influence to rethink and redesign their approach, food which allows nature to thrive can become the norm in our society. 

Our current economy is set up to be wasteful and destructive of our natural resources from the outset. We extract materials from the ground, make products on an industrial scale, and then dispose of them as waste. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our planet, creating global challenges such as climate change and pollution. 

The food sector is not exempt from this wasteful model. In fact, the rise of industrial farming has been a primary driver of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and pollution. Food waste is responsible for between 8-10% of GHGs alone. 

By contrast, a circular economy eliminates waste, allows materials and resources to be circulated time and time again, and regenerates our natural systems. Applying circular design strategies, such as using diverse, lower impact or upcycled ingredients to how food products are designed gives brands, retailers, supermarkets, and all those involved in the supply chain the opportunity to harness regenerative processes and create products which encourage nature to thrive. 

Seen through to its full potential, it is estimated that redesigning food to be nature-positive can reduce GHG emissions by 70% and halve the impact on biodiversity compared to business as usual – all whilst actually increasing food production and improving profits for farmers. With such a strong case, it is time to change the way we design our food to allow nature to thrive. 

Many key players within the food industry are beginning to take this journey and rethink their ingredient selection and sourcing choices. Through The Big Food Redesign Challenge, participants have been tasked with designing new food products – or redesigning existing ones – using circular design principles. 

Some 400 applications were pitched from companies within the UK, Europe, North and South America, and beyond. With participants ranging from startups to multinationals leading the way in designing and innovating new products with a nature-positive message at its heart, retailers now have a unique opportunity to showcase this new model for the food industry and offer consumers a glimpse into a future where all food products in their baskets enhance, rather than degrade, our natural ecosystems. 

From farm to fork, this is the start of the food sector embracing the circular economy. Redesigning our food system to be regenerative has the power to be a game-changing tool in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Brands and retailers now have the power to join this journey and bring regenerative products to supermarket shelves. 

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