Food retailers can make their supply chain more sustainable if they work more closely with producers. This was the message to delegates at the December 10 Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels.
Delegates at the December 10 Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels heard how working closely with producers can help retailers make their supply chain more sustainable and how it’s vital to cut waste and get more food to the people who need it.
They were also told how citizens need to cut meat consumption, but it will remain an important part of most people’s diets. Ondina Afonso, Head of Quality & Research Department at Portuguese retailer Sonae MC, described an initiative called ‘Producer’s Club’, which she chairs and which has been running for 20 years. It had involved “creating a group of agricultural & veterinary technicians, who were able to identify a group of producers on the ground who would be our producers,” she said.
“What we are doing is providing our customers with the best of Portugal,” she explained. The scheme involved 200 producers and had created 11,000 jobs. Just over 83% of the fresh products sold in the company’s 300 stores came from Portuguese producers.
The producer organizations and family farmers involved followed a protocol with sustainability criteria. “We also want to have a pro innovation, pro differentiation spirit,” she said. “Knowledge sharing goes on throughout the year,” she explained.
Nicolas Chabanne, Director of the food brand ‘C’est qui le patron?’, described the development of his brand, designed to sell products at a price, which means producers can be paid enough to earn a decent living.
He described how he came up with the idea for the company, which started in 2016. He had discovered that an extra eight cents on the litre was all that it would take to make the price of milk enough to support producers.
“Citizens are taking a large share in policy, in politics,” he said referring to the public’s increasing engagement with how the food system works. It was “very important for citizens to be more involved,” he insisted. “We sold many more litres of milk than we thought was possible.”
The idea had spread to eight other countries, the U.S., Morocco, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. “Social media has played a very important role,” he said. “It’s just about a few cents extra per product to enable people to live decently.”
Importance of Cutting Food Waste
Balázs Cseh, President of the Hungarian Food Bank Association, reminded delegates of the importance of cutting food waste. “Our consumers are people in need,” he told the packed auditorium. Surpluses should be prevented. He stressed that if possible, food should be sent to people who need it the most. The next priority was using it as animal feed. If that can’t be done it should be used for energy.
Only if none of those things are possible should food be disposed of. However, that doesn’t always happen. He explained that food has a value as animal feed to farmers, but no value when given to needy consumers, a factor which distorts the priorities. He stressed the importance of bringing people from different disciplines together to tackle problems. “We live in silos,” he said. Bringing people together meant that “we could find an out of the box solution.”
Rosita Zilli, Deputy Secretary-General, Euro Coop, insisted that consumers do know what they should eat. The problem was the food environment, what was available locally at the right price.
Fritz Schneider, Chair of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, pointed out that although reducing meat consumption is often discussed, it is not realistic to cut out livestock production altogether. “60% of the agricultural area of the planet is pasture,” he said.
“We need ruminants,” to convert that pasture into food. He also explained that 500 million people depend on livestock for a living. “We cannot deny nomads their livelihood by insisting on plant-based food,” he said. There was however “no doubt that in the north and the west we have to reduce our consumption of meat and animal-based products. The reduction in meat consumption in western societies, and possibly in South America, is a must.”