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Sustainability: What does it mean for the industry?

2 October 2019 by Food&HotelAsia

Sustainability is a huge buzzword in the food and hospitality industry. With consumers becoming more aware of the amount of waste they produce and the impact of their actions on the world, the spotlight is cast on companies who realise that they can do the same as well. While companies are increasingly putting focus on green efforts through methods like reducing the use of plastics, what more can they do in the name of sutainability? In this article, we speak with industry professionals to better understand what some companies and brands in the world are doing.

Supply Chain perspective

One third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted every year and that is approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food. The highest category coming from “Fruit and vegetables” in which 45 per cent of its produce go to waste. This could come in various stages from agriculture, post-harvest, processing, distribution and finally to consumption. Singapore-based VertiVegies, for instance, embarked on urban farming to ensure no food is wasted through the handling process.

We are different from other farms by virtue of being able to control every aspect of our grow environment. Thus, we can farm all year round, independent of external environments – and this hedges our production risks from climate change related erratic weather patterns, which are accelerating at an unprecedented pace,” they said in an interview.

“Our smart technology provides us with an advantage and ability to constantly study, analyse and react to data we collect. Our Pesticide and Pollution free Farms in Singapore house grow systems that actively regulate temperature, humidity, hydro-nutrition & various input parameters to give our vegetables that burst of flavour and ensures they are power packed with nutrition.”

Singapore is currently largely dependent on other countries for fresh vegetables and fruits; this would mean getting produce from miles away. Smart farming technology helps shorten the distance needed for crops to make it to stores which lessens the carbon footprint of the produce. It also is generally more space efficient than traditional farms as well.

Retail perspective

Have you ever thought about the produce in our stores and how they kind of look almost too perfect? There is a part of the supply chain that is hidden from consumers– ugly food. ‘Ugly food’ as the name suggests, are produce that look irregular and are deemed not suitable for sale, and are eventually casted aside. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 40 per cent of food grown and produced in the U.S. each year goes uneaten, in large part due to stores and restaurants, which discard, or refuse to buy fruit and vegetables with natural flaws that, have zero impact on the produce’s taste or nutritional value.

 “Ugly” carrots, source: Imperfect Foods

While this has been common practice for many years, it is only recently that companies are starting to pay attention. Companies such as Imperfect Foods and Misfit Market came up with innovative ugly food boxes that offer savings up to 40 per cent as compared to buying “regular” produce in store.

Google offices also jumped onto the imperfect foods bandwagon with a partnership with LeanPath, by using ugly food as their core ingredients for their kitchens. This would mean dishes made could look “misshapen or have slight discolorations” but still taste the same as what you would find in stores. Google kitchens and cafes feed more than 100,000 employees daily in their 189 cafes in 26 different countries and regions. With this movement and other strategies they have employed, Google reports that they have prevented six million pounds of food waste since 2014.

The fight against plastic 

Another conversation driving the sustainability movement, is of course, the reduce use of plastic, particularly single-use plastics. Though this topic is not new, it is only in the recent years that it has really taken flight. Besides the trend of switching to metal or bamboo straws on a consumer level, we are also seeing an increased use of biodegradable straws in restaurants and cafes alike – from paper straws to wheat straws and even rice fibre straws.

The largest zero-plastic movement this year has got to go to the rise of bulk food stores.

Selection of ingredients at Source Bulk Foods Newcastle, source: Source Bulk Foods

Bulk food stores such as Source Bulk Foods and Scoop Wholefoods allow customers to weigh food items by the amounts that they need and purchase them by weight rather than in a pre-packaged product. For example, a customer who wants to do a one-off baking session can now buy just a cup of flour instead of an entire 3kg bag of flour. This helps reduce wastage from the excess of our purchases and also ensures we are buying products of a certain level of freshness (not just limited to food) as compared to using the excess over a span of time.

Have you ever unpacked your groceries and realised how much packaging is being used? The zero-waste element from these stores comes in the form of reducing the resources needed for packaging of the individual item. To top it off, these stores sometimes do not provide any plastic bags and would require you to bring some form of storage ware which in turn support the zero plastic movement as well. While bulk food stores is more a Western concept now, some stores are starting to pop up in the Asia – something we can all look forward to in the near future.

Conclusion

We are in a new era where businesses and individuals are placing a bigger emphasis on sustainability. Though efforts such as the ones mentioned above are in place, we are merely at the start of a long road toward reversing the damage already done over the decades. While the food, beverage and hospitality industries are on the right track toward a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future, there is still an overwhelming, urgent need for everyone to come together and find cohesive solutions for our future.

Find out what FHA exhibitors and personalities are doing to contribute to the sustainability movement in this video on “Sustainability”, a part of the #FHAUncovers series exploring industry trends and happenings.

 

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