February 03, 2020

The Future of Food and Drink Report: The Sustainability Issue

In December 2017, Sir David Attenborough shocked the world with an episode of Blue Planet that showed the scale of plastic waste in the ocean. Two years on, the BBC naturalist says we are now at climate change “crisis point”.

“We can’t go on saying: ‘But there is hope and we’ll leave it till next year’. We have to change. And we have to change not by appeals to different kinds of optimism but to deliberate, compelling, life or death decisions.”

Radically changing the way we eat is one decision that Attenborough – like many climate scientists – advocates for. We’re told that a move to a largely plant-based diet would be a big step towards reducing carbon emissions from food. But while we’re seeing lots of innovation in this space, is it actually enough to drive meaningful change in consumer behaviour?

And who’s responsible anyway? The government? The food industry? The consumer themselves? And what about the scourge of plastic packaging? Trying to tackle the issue has thrown up more problems than it’s solved, with some retailers bowing to public pressure and rushing out alternatives that are actually more detrimental than plastic.

Meanwhile, despite consumers calling for more sustainable options, brands are finding the public is often unwilling to put its money where its mouth is. Consumers talk the talk but are they prepared to walk the walk? Sales numbers lead brands to believe that maybe they’re not…

In this report, we investigate consumer desire for change alongside the actual behavioural changes they’re making. We also highlight the lack of consumer understanding around sustainability issues, such as food carbon emissions, packaging, and recycling, and look at the way forward for the food industry and the planet.