MONTRÉAL, 4th October 2017 - The second and final day of The Consumer Goods Forum’s Sustainable Retail Summit drew to a close yesterday. It was full of fascinating discussions addressing three of the consumer goods industry’s biggest challenges. Taking place at the Centre Mont-Royal in Montréal, the Sustainable Retail Summit has brought together over 230 “global leaders” from 26 countries to discuss the role of business in tackling food waste, forced labour and consumer health.
While the first day focused on big name plenaries and introductions to the topics at hand, the second day was all about implementation and sharing knowledge on how to act as responsible businesses without impacting the bottom line. This included insights and learnings from industry experts, government representatives and non-profit organisations, as well as other stakeholders like Food entrepreneur and former White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, Sam Kass.
Eradicating Forced Labour
The forced labour track began with a discussion on the role of investors and the growing importance of reviewing business strategies on sustainability before making investment decisions. Experts from Domini Impact Investments, CERES, Shareholder Association for Research & Education and SUSTAINALYTICS sent a clear message: no investor wants forced labour in their portfolio. Investors now have a zero-tolerance approach and companies need to show that they understand where the risks lie and are being transparent.
Delegates were then treated to examples of how private companies are working with NGOs and other external stakeholders to help solve forced labour challenges around the world. Speakers covered a variety of topics, including how it is important to increase visibility on high-risk commodities and build on engagement with key stakeholders, show suppliers there are commercial consequences to serious forced labour breaches and emphasising that when things go wrong, the answer isn’t always to cut and run. Some companies prefer to stay and help solve the problem. It was also noted how the CGF’s Forced Labour Priority Industry Principles had helped make it easier for companies to move forward.
The final forced labour session looked at the important role of technology in mapping supply chains and understanding high risk areas. Technology is no longer the obstacle – it has immense emancipatory power. However, robust technological networks are needed if we are to fulfil its potential. Systems today tend to be siloed and the industry must work to find interoperable systems that can communicate with each other.
Reducing Food Loss & Waste
On food waste, the message provided by panellists was clear: it’s time to target, measure food loss and waste and take action. Targets should include the CGF Food Waste Resolution of halving food waste and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. Companies should use the Food Loss & Waste Standard on a quarterly basis to analyse the volumes wasted and collaborate to solve the problem. Retailers and manufacturers are working together to find innovative ways to tackle food waste and overcome obstacles together, as seen with the recent CGF call to action to simplify and standardise food date labels. Panellists also agreed it was important to focus on transparency and accuracy when measuring food loss and waste.
In the second session on food waste, the discussion started on post-harvest waste. The challenge of food loss vs food waste depends where you are in the world. In developing countries, it is happening early on in the supply chain. In the West, it is happening at the consumer stage. They agreed climate-smart agriculture and post-harvest loss reduction techniques, using new technologies, cut food waste and empower small farmers. However, industry needs to focus on measurement as well as human interventions, looking at which points in the supply chain human decisions can make a difference. In Canada, the local retailers said a big challenge is solving the food waste problem while also making sure you are offering the right price to consumers.
In the final food waste session, the emphasis shifted to collaboration, resources and trust. Solving the problem of food waste can have a huge impact on global societies and the earth. The greatest obstacles for not collaborating with other organisations on food waste, however, were lack of trust and resources. This is now changing. Tackling food waste and succeeding at the SDGs and CGF's resolution is doable, but industry needs to come up with new creative solutions to reduction approaches to accelerate progress.
Collaboration for Healthier Lives
Panellists began by talking about the Collaboration for Healthier Lives initiative, part of the CGF’s Health & Wellness Pillar. The initiative is built on three common convictions: a belief they can drive healthier baskets, the view that there is an opportunity to act with local public health authorities and academic leaders; and that they can drive health and wellness growth. They noted healthcare expenses are the number one concern for customers, so there is a need to help people take better care of themselves and their families. The Collaboration for Healthier Lives work is designed to lower the risk for individual companies to experiment, and allow them to deliver a huge impact in the communities they serve and empower local operations to take new approaches.
The second “healthier lives” session looked at how companies can step out of their comfort zone and how CPGs and retailers can reclaim the consumer. The consumer of today is changing, from an affluence to influence model. The younger generation don't define themselves by the products they buy, but more by the things they do. The consumer focus on health and wellness is here to stay. This was further supported by the LATAM pilot on Collaboration for Healthier Lives. The objective of the LATAM pilot is to promote nutritional education and an active lifestyle for shoppers in Bogota, Colombia, in order to adopt healthier lifestyles. Lastly, the session looked at “good growth”. It is important to establish a common definition of health and wellness to help portfolio management.
The final healthier lives session spoke on responsible marketing to children. There is a nutrition epidemic: 42 million children under 5 suffer from obesity and/or are overweight. Marketing invades children’s privacy (online marketing, companies collecting data to analyse behaviour, or parents deliberately posting information of their children on social media). Contributors noted that digital is an area of concern due to privacy and the need for responsible marketing. The speakers called on all CGF members to join the commitment of stopping marketing communications to children by 2018.
Bringing It All Together
The final session of this year’s Sustainable Retail Summit called for a “sustainable tomorrow”. Delegates were first treated to a recap on why the issues of food waste, forced labour and healthier lives are important. It’s clear there were no ifs or buts on these topics. Collective action is needed now.
It was then highlighted that 21st century trends and challenges for the whole global food system are well-documented. These themes have created imperatives for all of us to act to nudge consumers towards a healthier, more sustainable, but affordable diet. Few have been able to square that particular circle. As retailers, the additional challenge is to bring those sustainable, healthy food choices to customers at a price, which make those choices attractive at no extra cost to the family budget.
The 2018 Sustainable Retail Summit will take place in Lisbon in October. Visit www.tcgfsrs.com to stay up-to-date and learn more.