Industry Insights · 16min read
Sustainable Manufacturing: An Intro for Food Businesses | foodcircle
Explore some simple processes you can adopt in your business to help build a more environmentally sustainable food system.
Table of Contents
- Source responsibly
- Get certified
- Mitigate waste
- Opt for eco-friendly packaging
- Reduce your emissions
Gone are the days when sustainable manufacturing was limited to niche food products for fringe markets. Awareness of the imminent threat of climate change as well as the widespread consequences of pollution and waste is rising. The onset of the pandemic brought with it a string of food supply chain disruptions that laid bare food security vulnerabilities. And the outbreak of the war in Ukraine once again highlighted European fragility, reiterating the pressing need for businesses to find ways to become more resilient.
Sustainable food production has rapidly shifted from a trend and gained a strong foothold in the mainstream. The urgent need for a more sustainable food system is recognised by more and more companies. We have compiled the following introductory guide as food for thought to help you bring your business to the next level.
Before we zoom in on the micro, let’s take a quick look at the macro — in other words, your business as a whole. Sourcing responsibly can happen in multiple areas of your business. It should include everything from the energy you use to power your office and servers to the coffee and milk you serve your employees to your printer paper and toilet paper. While these might seem like ‘small’ things to consider, they quickly add up when you’re running an office with a growing number of employees. A good approach here is to task your Office Manager with analysing and optimising the resources your company uses on a day-to-day basis.
The quality of ingredients you use in your manufacturing plays a critical role in your food’s impact on planetary and human health. Formulating foods using regional (and seasonal) ingredients where possible is an easy way to reduce the distance they travel and thus their footprint. A simple example for European businesses is choosing oat derivatives and hemp protein over their soy counterparts. On an EU level, the expectation is that more and more companies are focusing on shifting to regionalism in the long run where possible to reduce the reliance on imports and mitigate potential instabilities.
And opting for regional ingredients doesn’t just benefit the climate. It can also be good for business. Studies have shown that consumers, especially younger target groups, are more inclined to reach for foodstuffs marked as ‘regional’ on supermarket shelves. When ordering ingredients through our order management system (OMS), you can always make an inquiry with our Sales Team to find out what suitable ingredients we offer.
A further point to consider is traceability to provide transparency. Terms like ‘bean-to-bar’ and ‘farm-to-fork’ or ‘farm-to-table’ seem to be on everyone’s lips. This is where technology comes in. Harnessing the power of state-of-the-art traceability systems, like IBM Food Trust™, Provenance and Morpheus.Network, which are designed to help boost traceability along the food supply chain, can really elevate your business on the consumer front.
Which brings us to: certification. Be it organic or fairtrade, there are a number of seals you can look for in ingredients to ensure you are sourcing responsibly. But that is only the first step. Choosing to source responsible ingredients means the sustainable foods you manufacture also become eligible for certification.
Get your manufactured foods certified
One of the best ways to get on the right track when taking an active role in sustainable manufacturing is to get your foods and/or business certified. By undergoing rigorous vetting processes to ensure that you meet certification bodies’ strict social and environmental parameters, you can be sure you adhere to some of the highest international standards.
In food manufacturing, we have the big five — EU Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, FSSC 22000 and International Featured Standards (IFS) — the former three of which, in particular, have a high awareness and positive association amongst consumers. Here’s a brief overview:
EU Organic requires that 95% (or more) of a product’s ingredients are derived from organic agricultural practices, and genetic modification can only be present in 0.9% of its ingredients. Not only does it cover the farming, but even your warehouses and transportation will be subject to strict measures. Rainforest Alliance maximises social, environmental and economic impact by creating a framework that helps improve farmers’ livelihoods while protecting the lands they cultivate. Fairtrade has a strong social focus with minimum prices and set premiums to help ensure farming communities can sustain themselves. FSSC 22000’s mission is to ensure that consumer goods are affordable, safe and high quality via Food Safety Management Systems. And IFS presents a series of eight supply chain standards that ensure quality, transparency and efficiency in manufacturing to ensure food safety and quality.
For more information, read up on our Five Certifications for Food Manufacturers on our online magazine.
In the EU, estimates show that member states produce around 88 million tonnes of food waste per year. While around half of that waste happens at a consumer level, i.e. in households, the other half is accounted for in earlier supply chain stages, such as farming and manufacturing.
From a manufacturing perspective, there are several things you can do to help mitigate this waste, and the answer to most of them involve technology. One crucial point is harnessing the powers of forecasting software and traceability technology. This helps ensure that your supply matches the demand to avoid overproduction while always understanding where your ingredients and products move around the world. Tracing your products is especially critical for ensuring cooling chains are maintained. Further technologies that can help your overall business's efficiency and waste reduction are the use of order management systems (OMS) and enterprise resource systems (ERPS) for food. The former can help you continually monitor, manage and optimise your ingredient purchases, while the latter supports resource allocation throughout your entire business.
While the aforementioned steps are more structural (macro), there are also things you can do on a more micro level to help your manufacturing become more sustainable — such as formulating with waste products or finding sustainable brand partners that do. And of course, your packaging is also an important one to consider to ensure that your food not only lasts longer and is not at risk of contamination but is also as environmentally friendly as possible.
Opt for eco-friendly packaging
Manufacturers the world over are vamping up for milestones in 2025 and 2030, years when a long list of global sustainable packaging and EU circular economy targets are set. On a more local scale, we also see a string of exciting packaging laws coming into effect, including environmental labelling in Italy, a ban on plastic packaging for produce in France and mandatory beverage deposit in Germany.
For food manufacturers, there are two types of packaging to consider — B2B food packaging for transporting large quantities of ingredients and foods from A to B, like IBC tanks and jerrycans, and B2C food packaging for delivering these foods directly to the consumer. With food safety, of course, a top priority for both. Today, we are seeing an influx of innovations on the market that are driving packaging innovation to help food manufacturers and the food systems they do business in become more sustainable.
One example is Notpla which has made a name for itself with its 100% natural, biodegradable and edible membrane made from seaweed that encapsulates liquids called Ooho. Another is Repac, the German technology scout and product developer focusing on recyclable product development, particularly compostable solutions for packaging, which close the organic cycle. And then there is Tipa, an innovative packaging solution that has the same end-of-life as organic matter while promising the same durability, transparency, sealability, printability, and shelf-life as plastic. You can learn more about these and other exciting brands here.
Reduce your overall emissions
Last but certainly not least, reducing your sustainable food manufacturing company’s overall emissions should be a top priority. Experts estimate that energy, such as electricity, accounts for 60-75% of global greenhouse emissions, 25-30% of which can be traced directly to our food systems. Of course, there is no one-for-all solution, and systemic change requires farmers, processors, producers, distributors and consumers to step up to the plate.
On the sustainable manufacturing front, we first circle back to points we already listed up top: supporting better farming practices by sourcing certified ingredients to support healthier ecosystems and farming communities as well as working to reduce food waste along the entire food supply chain. Another point is focusing on plant-based manufacturing, i.e. stepping away from fish, meat and dairy. Overall, there is also the need to formulate healthier foods for consumers, which often means using natural ingredients wherever possible.
Beyond these core considerations, you can also do general things as a business to reduce your overall business. The first step to understanding your emissions is tracking them. So harnessing the power of technology to really get to the bottom of those numbers is key. And then, of course, you have to mitigate them. This means reducing your footprint in all areas of production, from shipping to manufacturing, from powering your production plants to powering your office. While this takes more careful consideration, offsetting emissions, as we do at foodcircle, is a baseline solution that you can easily be implemented today. Examples of emission schemes we recommend considering for your business include Climate Neutral Certification, Planetly, Leaders for Climate Action and Climate Neutral Now.
Imagery: (1) Margot Richard, (2) The Organic Crave, (3) Anita Jankovitc & (4) Clay Banks via unsplash.com