Societal pressures related to the climate crisis are putting the spotlight on food brands and consumers expect them to act. The United Nations’ IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land states that a plant-based diet produced in a sustainable, low greenhouse gas emission systems can reduce risks from climate change, as well as being beneficial for human health. This means that not only should food brands revaluate what they produce, but also how they produce their products.

The Global Food and Drink Trends 2030 report by Mintel predicts that we will see a further rise in the sense of urgency from customers who are frustrated by companies that are not acting on global issues such as the environment. It predicts that in 2025, brands will prioritise people and planet over profitability. The report also states that consumers will continue to reward the companies that act responsibly with their loyalty.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer supports this but suggests those brands prioritising people and planet will also benefit financially, finding that companies “doing the right thing” will not only earn their licence to operate, but ultimately become more profitable. The study shows that in 2019, belief-driven buyers continued to increase across all ages, with double-digit gains in the U.K, Japan and Germany.

Part of the reason consumers expect brands to step up may be that they believe they have real power to act. 54% stated that they believe it was easier to get brands to address societal problems than their government. This has again been echoed in the newly launched 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, which shows people still expect businesses to step up. 92% said it is important that their employer’s CEO speak out on issues such as climate change, and 74% say that CEOs should take the lead rather than waiting for government to impose change.

On the flip side, years of purpose washing has also left consumers sceptical, and the food sector has felt this distrust in particular.

55% worry that the food and beverage industry does not have a plan for producing enough food to keep up with the surge in population growth predicted over the next 20 years, and a further 65% believe that large-scale food and beverage production has harmed the environment, as reported in the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Food and Beverage.

Trust in the food sector isn't keeping up with the slight increase in trust for businesses overall.

However, customers are becoming more open to tech solutions as a response to the sustainability challenges in the food sector. This can provide an opportunity for food brands to benefit from the trust halo that comes with technology as a more trusted sector.

In the last year, we have seen several successes in consumer-focused Food Tech innovation such as alternative meat company Beyond Meat, as well as B2B focused tech solutions touching on more sustainable supply chains.

The agriculture industry has seen great innovative advances as AgTech booms. Companies such as Saturn Bioponics, Cervest and LettUs Grow are making great strides, preparing us for the farms of the future through science and AI. With new innovations emerging, we will be moving towards more sustainable food production systems.

Though responding to the environmental challenges and societal pressures can be tough, it does present an opportunity for businesses to re-analyse and assess the risk – and longevity of their own supply chain. This is a challenge that requires a systems lens, with the whole food ecosystem in mind.

This means going back to the drawing board, taking a new look at their business’ purpose, core beliefs and strategy, to reap the rewards available.

73% of employees in food and beverage companies agree that they are looking to their employer to take leadership and stand up for them and their shared values (2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Food and Beverage). This means people globally are looking to their employers to make the right choice – and that includes looking at how their supply chain will be able to survive in the future, whilst benefitting people, planet and their bottom line.