Consumer demand has been driving retailers and brands to embrace all aspects of the sustainability agenda in recent years. However, given the seismic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, will that agenda be taking a back seat for the foreseeable future? Maev Martin reports

A recent study by IGD revealed that more than 66% of consumers in the UK are ready to shift to healthy and sustainable diets. The study, published on 16 March, a couple of weeks before the populations of the UK and Ireland were put into lockdown, were not surprising.

The IGD research revealed that 37% of respondents considered personal health as the primary factor for a change in diet, while 21% considered family health.

Environmental reasons were cited by 15% of participants, while 12% were driven by taste. The IGD identified several steps that would help the food and grocery industry to encourage customers to change their buying behavior.

These include, among others, easy transition through small initiatives such as ‘meat-free Mondays’; highlighting the benefits of healthy and sustainable items; and effective product positioning in stores, like placing plant-based options next to meat products.

Cost emerged as the primary barrier to adopting a sustainable diet, with 41% of respondents saying that they found it more expensive. Other factors holding customers back include lack of familiarity, convenience, and the perception that it requires more time and effort. However, the sustainability drive could now face its biggest barrier of all – and one that no-one could have predicted.

Measure Adjustments

John Curran, head of sustainability at Musgrave, says that their sustainability strategy will continue to be driven by their four priorities – decarbonization, packaging, sustainable communities, and supply chain and sourcing.

“However, we did a lot of work around removing plastic from produce and we have had to reverse some of that currently because consumers are concerned about hygiene,” he says. “We must also take account of holistic risk – human health and wellbeing comes higher up the agenda than the removal of plastic.

While we want to remove it and are actively doing that, we will not compromise customer health and safety, so we will need to tweak our packaging strategy. We also had a big program on the removal of packaging from produce and looking at self-dispensing, but we have to do a re-take on some of those initiatives as well because, post-COVID, consumer attitudes to hygiene may change and we have to respect that and respond to it.”

Sustainable and Safe

Declan Carolan, general manager, ECR Ireland CLG, and co-chair of ECR Community, believes that the consumer drive towards sustainability will only slow down temporarily and will very quickly become focused on safe and sustainable packaging. “The drive towards making the world a better place will remain and consumers will remember and support those brands and services who continue to support this ideal throughout the recovery,” he says.

Nonetheless, he maintains that the COVID pandemic will alter consumer and shopper behavior in many ways and “chart a new path for food retailing.

We have seen before that shoppers can only handle one massive crisis at a time, so it is possible that a lot of people will put environmentalism on the backburner and trade sustainability for safety and cost. There is certainly an element of food fear at play right now, and there is a marked reduction in disposable income.

“For instance, there has been considerable industry debate as to the trade-off between food waste and plastic waste, with shoppers demanding less and less packaging. However, effective packaging will be more welcome by consumers again as they seek protection from the elements for their food and look for the greater shelf-life provided by effective packaging as they opt for bigger baskets and less frequent shopping trips. This will be even more apparent in the foodservice and food-to-go sectors.”

Plant-Based Milk Cartons

Lidl Ireland, together with Connacht-based supplier Aurivo Co-operative, has introduced plant-based milk cartons to its Coolree Creamery own-brand range. The new cartons will save 160 tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually and have a 31% lower carbon footprint compared with the same standard packaging.

The packaging launch also unveils the retailer’s new official ‘sustainable packaging’ label, which will help shoppers to make informed choices by highlighting that packaging has been optimized to reduce its environmental impact.

In the coming months, Lidl customers will see this label on all own-brand products that have either reduced their plastic content or increased the recycled packaging materials content, or when the packaging materials have been replaced by a more sustainable packaging option.

Climate-Neutral Milk

Dutch retailer Albert Heijn announced plans on 27 April to introduce milk from farms that have neutralized their greenhouse gas emissions by 2021. The retailer has also extended its collaboration with Royal A-ware, a leading global cheese and dairy producer in The Netherlands, and DeltaMilk dairy cooperative to make it’s dairy and cheese offering more sustainable.

The retailer said that emissions from dairy farms will be neutralized by capturing CO2 from the grass in the soil, along with the allocation of permanent grassland areas that will not be ploughed and partly sown with herbs or clovers.

Henk Sierksma, unit manager for cheese and dairy products at Albert Heijn, said, “Making the chain sustainable is a long-term matter and we do this together with chain partners, which is why extending this collaboration is also a logical step. In the coming three years we will raise the bar again and the dairy farmers will work on climate-neutral milk from the farm. We are also taking additional steps in the field of biodiversity and animal welfare.”

In 2017, Albert Heijn introduced the Better for Cow, Nature, and Farmer program in association with Royal A-ware for developing a closed and more transparent production chain for sustainable dairy products. At present, around 300 dairy farmers supply milk processed exclusively by Royal A-Ware and DeltaMilk for Albert Heijn products with the Better for Cow, Nature and Farmer sustainability logo. The products include milk, buttermilk, yogurt, Gouda cheese, and Zaanlander cheese.

In December 2019, Coop Italia chose IBM as a blockchain technology partner, to trace the supply chain of eggs sold under its private-label brand, Coop Vivi Verde. The solution is based on ‘Hyperledger Fabric’ technology, which is a Linux Foundation framework hosted on IBM Cloud.

It allows full transparency and visibility of the various actors involved in the production chain, involving around two million hens that produce more than 200 million eggs per year.

By scanning the QR Code printed on the new packaging and typing the code of the batch, consumers can access information about the journey of the product from the farm to the store.

Carbon-Neutral Grocery Store

Finland’s K Group announced last December that it had developed an energy recycling system that can reduce the consumption of heat in supermarkets by as much as 95%, rendering the property almost carbon neutral.

The retailer said that the reduction in emissions will correspond to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of a municipality of nearly 7,000 people. The system comprises a low-emission refrigeration system that runs on natural refrigerants, a heating pump, and recovery systems for energy recycling.

It uses the heat generated during condensation from cooling systems to meet the heating requirements of the store.

K Group has also teamed up with Natural Resources Institute Finland to devise the concept for a carbon-neutral grocery store.

It will involve determining the carbon footprint of a store’s operations, setting targets for decreasing the footprint, and identifying measures to reduce the footprint. In August 2019, the retailer announced plans to add a feature to its K-Ostokset tool to show customers the carbon footprint of their food purchases.

Eco-Friendly Glass Packaging

Spar Austria has introduced five of its best-selling own-brand beverages in environmentally friendly packaging. The company has replaced the packaging of its one-liter soda water, apple juice, orange juice, cola, and herbal soda with reusable glass bottles.

The glass packaging also allows consumers to combine the beverages in a six-pack crate as the glass bottles are uniform for all the drinks.

Shoppers are required to pay a deposit of €0.29 for each returnable bottle and €3 for the crate. In March of this year, the retailer launched organic farm milk in glass bottles under its Natur*Pur range.

The retailer has teamed up with Egger Getränke for manufacturing reusable glass bottles and crates in its new glass bottling plant near St. Pölten. The facility is 100% climate-neutral and equipped with state-of-the-art technology that consumes 25% less energy and 50% less water compared to conventional production methods.

Source: Checkout.ie

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