How sustainable diets will future-proof the foodservice sector

How sustainable diets will future-proof the foodservice sector

fruit sustainable diets and food service
A connection between nutrition and food business.

Foodservice companies promoting sustainable food and diets will enjoy a greater boost to their business in the longer term, according to a recent WWF report.

The report is the result of a three-year partnership between WWF-UK, the Food Ethics Council and catering company Sodexo. "Catering for Sustainability" (PDF) urges foodservice firms to pilot sustainable menus, remove unsustainably sourced ingredients and share best practices across the industry.

The report argues embracing sustainable diets will help foodservice providers to "future-proof" their business as evidence suggests consumers are increasingly demanding healthier and more sustainable food, as well as greater knowledge of where their food is sourced from.

It added that with farming responsible for 20 to 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, of which 14 percent comes from livestock production, better promotion of sustainable diets also will help the foodservice sector curb some of its climate change impacts.

The report also argues the foodservices sector can play a major role in efforts to cut carbon emissions. In the U.K., 43 percent of all expenditure on food and drink takes place through "out of home" catering in some form, equating to a market worth $128 billion a year. Furthermore, the foodservice industry employs over 1.6 million workers across 450,000 sites, which feed between a fifth and a quarter of the U.K. population.

Educating consumers about sustainable diets — for example through cutting food waste, buying sustainably sourced produce, and moderating meat consumption — can therefore provide wider environmental benefits while helping secure the future supply chain for the food sector, the report said.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said as most people in the U.K. eat in cafes, work canteens, fast food outlets or high end restaurants, the food choices they offer can have "huge impacts not just on our own health, but on the health of the planet."

"Our research shows that foodservice companies are stepping up to the plate and offering 'better' sets of choices to customers that are likely to be more profitable in the long run," he added.

However, the report concedes the majority of foodservices companies appear not to offer sustainable menus and there is "confusion" over the precise meaning of a "sustainable diet," with many businesses believing the term is synonymous with "healthy diet."

In addition, it argues many foodservice companies are either unaware or only partially aware of the effects of climate change on their business, and are therefore following a "short-term agenda" that focuses on low prices but not sustainability.

However, consumer trends suggest increasing interest in eating less meat and demanding more information on food traceability, according to the report. It adds that the idea consumers are only interested in price and not sustainability is a "myth" and as such it is "possible to make a strong business case for sustainable meal choices based around revenue growth, profitability and supply chain resilience."

The report comes alongside a survey by polling firm Populus on behalf of WWF-UK, which found that half of millennials — defined as 18- to 34-year-olds — are more likely to eat out in venues which provide details on where their food is sourced.

The survey also revealed 53 percent of millennials are more likely to eat at a restaurant, café or canteen if the meat served has been reared to high animal welfare standards.

"There's a clear trend towards sustainable consumption in the U.K. — and this is great news for our health and the environment," said Nick Hughes, WWF-UK food sustainability advisor. "Smart businesses will be taking steps to capitalise on the demand for ethical sustainable sourcing, meat-free options and more information about health and nutrition."

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