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Imace Debate: “People, planet and profit: How to build up the case for sustainable diets?”

Photo_CD_15Following the Euromonitor Consumer trends 2016 and confirmed by other sources, more of us will be eating greener in the future, more people will care about cutting down food waste in and beyond home, will try harder to avoid unhealthy food and foods that have a big environmental impact. More of us will be keener on more natural, sustainable and seasonable foods. Margarine is a simple plant based product, a mix of vegetable oils and water, providing healthy and essential fats and fat soluble vitamins. Margarine has also a low environmental impact compared to animal based alternatives. Intuitively one would expect that our products fit perfectly the current consumer expectation on greener food consumption.

But is this already the case today? How is our category perceived by consumers and stakeholders? What is missing or what has to be improved? What does the external world know about our category or what do we have to tell better/different to bring our health and sustainability message across? These questions were asked to the panellists, Janice Harland (co-author of “The plant-based plan” and qualified nutritionist), Hans BLONK (Blonk Consultancy), Peter Andrews (British Retail Consortium), Mark Driscoll (Forum for the Future NGO). The debate was moderated by Mrs. Jacki Davis.

Hans BLONK (Blonk Consultancy) recognised that there is a trend towards more sustainable production amongst big companies. From the consumer, things are more complicated. Indeed, people want to consumer less carbon and land use, but they are hooked to other trends such as older eating patterns, and eating at home. Food is trendy, but not yet linked to global issues. Mr. Blonk added that margarine potentially has strong elements to leverage.

Peter Andrews (British Retail Consortium) confirmed that consumers do not know how to eat in a sustainable matter. The key drivers for consumers to purchase a product are price, safety, and quality/ Sustainability is linked to security of supply and thus (retail) prices, but the driver for business growth is growing trust. Trust can be built by focusing on sustainability. If these businesses are not sustainable today, they might well loose the customer tomorrow. Business risk is about brand protection. Communicating transparently is of importance. It was also noted that consumers no longer know about production, they are disconnected from production, and this leads to unsustainable consumption. Producers must connect stories about our products with consumers.

In addition, policy makers are increasingly focussing on sustainability. P. Andrews noted that the Eat well plate already makes (limited) reference to sustainability and shows the general trend, the increasing importance of plant-based foods. “This is actually very encouraging and the way to go for governments” adds J. Harland.

The Secretary General thanked the moderator and the panellists and concluded the debate stating that our panellists clearly saw a case for the margarine business in the sustainable diets area, mainly through the intrinsic characteristics of the product (plant based, healthy, affordable and sustainable) but in order to be successful some extra homework needs to be done by our sector:

  • Set a clear vision and ambition regarding sustainability/sustainable diets;
  • Identify potential issues and benchmark where the sector is now;
  • Identify the top material issues, develop an action plan in partnership with NGOs and governments and society;
  • Communicate positively and transparent on our ambition and on the progress regarding our key material issues;

The IMACE members are fully committed to follow up and to build the case for the margarine business in the sustainable diets area.

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