Sustainable Foods Summit: Strategies for a circular economy
Sustainable Foods Summit 2018 - animated discussions during a coffee break. Photo © Karin Heinze
The 10th European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit by Ecovia Intelligence took place in Amsterdam on 7 and 8 June. Speakers from all over the world presented a broad range of topics relating to the model of a future circular economy. The international audience consisting of stakeholders from all over the supply chain was seeking inspiration and sustainable solutions. The conference provided best practice models for sustainable cultivation, processing and packaging, but also for the reuse, recycling and avoidance of waste in order to conserve valuable resources.
Amarjit Sahota, CEO of Ecovia Intelligence gave a welcome note and informations about the international organic and sustainable markets. Photo © Karin Heinze
Amarjit Sahota, founder of Ecovia Intelligence (formerly Organic Monitor) and organiser of Sustainable Foods Summits around the globe, gave an overview and presented figures on the ecological and sustainable development of international markets. There would be many urgent challenges related to food and agriculture - from deforestation and biodiversity loss to health problems and plastic pollution. "What can we do to meet people's needs today without endangering the needs of future generations?" Amarjit Sahota asked in his introductory speech. The two-day conference was supposed to provide answers.
The IKEA sustainability strategy
With its company size and enormous reach, IKEA has a great influence on sustainability issues and has set itself ambitious goals. The Swedish furniture store is also a major player when it comes to organic food. Jacqueline MacAlister, Health & Sustainability Manager at IKEA Food Services, responsible for the sustainable development of the catering industry, gave an overview of facts, challenges and goals of the globally active company. IKEA restaurants host 660 million guests a year, which means that every day more than two million people eat in the restaurants of the 355 shops in almost 29 countries around the world. "This is a great responsibility for us", said MacAlister.
Jacqueline MacAlister IKEA sustainability manager explained the company´s goals towards a more sustainable future. Photo Karin Heinze
„Good food should not be a luxury. It should be affordable, healthy and sustainable“, MacAlister says. Some of the steps are to offer sugar-reduced drinks and to double the range of healthy food within the next three years. According to MacAlister, IKEA's current sustainability goals are “Healthy & Sustainable Living”, “Circular & positive Climate” as well as “Fair & Equal Society”. In terms of food, the company's strategy is to serve organic dishes on a regular basis. Further, the Swedish Food Market (IKEA food shop) has a number of organic products on offer.
IKEA is already the biggest retailer for certified sea food. Another goal is to reduce meat consumption, as 10% of the millennials are veggie – veggie balls instead of meat balls, which represent IKEA's most loved meal, will be offered in the restaurants. "The food industry must change and will change“, she says. Although the company is already a big player within organic gastronomy, IKEA will move on to more organic methods as well as better animal welfare - which should be achieved by 2025, according to MacAlister. „100% organic one day would be nice but we are looking on it on a case by case basis“, she stated. Today, all coffee served at IKEA is certified organic (EU) and UTZ certified.
IKEA is active in many fields of sustainability and has set high goals for itself. Photo © Karin Heinze
Sustainable growth is circular
IKEA is committed to becoming "People & Planet Positive", i.e. to minimise the negative impact of its activities on the environment. "Just like our financial model, where our profit goes back into the business, we believe in treating waste as a new resource – as the circular economy"“, MacAlister states. In 2017, the company started implementing a food waste reduction solution in its own food operations to cut food waste by 50% by end of 2020. By 2030, IKEA wants to be 100% circular (climate neutral, positive social impact, eliminate plastic), MacAlister says. The company wants to set a good example and inspire more than one billion IKEA customers a year to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. According to the yearly summary of Financial Year 2017, the holding with 149,000 co-workers has a revenue of 34.1 bn €.
Plastic Free Aisle - Ekoplaza Market in Amsterdam. Photo © Ekoplaza
Ekoplaza – consumers and suppliers are willing to save plastic
"Get out of the plastic trap!" That is today's demand, need and Erik Does' opinion at the same time. The founder and CEO of more than 70 specialised organic Ekoplaza shops in the Netherlands did not hesitate to dare an experiment. As a longtime partner of the Plastic Soup Foundation, Ekoplaza removed all products wrapped in plastic packagings from the shelves in one of the shops in Amsterdam and re-opened a "Plastic Free Aisle". This raised an enormous echo in the press and social media – much more than Does ever had expected.
From Does' point of view, the Ekoplaza Lab project was a complete success in raising the awareness of business partners and customers for the problem of plastic packaging. The pop-up store is now closed, but the Ekoplaza lab will continue. Meanwhile, Ekoplaza offers almost 1,000 plastic-free packed products and the assortment is to be extended soon. An earlier Ekoplaza project had already focused on 100% natural cosmetics without micro-plastics and the offer of a large plastic waste shopper that can be returned for recycling after use.
Ekoplaza founder Erik Does presents his experiment. Photo © Karin Heinze
Watch the video interview with Erik Does from Ekoplaza talking about his experience with the plastic free aisle.
Positive effects throughout the supply chain
Erik Does commented on the positive impact of the Ekoplaza lab for the entire supply chain. He explained that many of his partners in production are now ready to find solutions for plastic-free packaging. He is also satisfied with the effects of the experiment because, in addition to the effects on trading partners, consumers have also been trained and awareness of the problem has increased further. "Solutions are often easier than we think - but it has to be done", says Does. The investment for the activity was quite high, but Does is pleased with the result. Amarjit Sahota commented: "This is the different attitude in the organic sector. The pioneers do a lot not to earn money, but to find alternative solutions."
Although the packaging looks like conventional plastic packaging, it is completely compostable. Photo © Ekoplaza
Futamura Natureflex: Plastic free solutions
Andy Sweetman, Sales and Marketing Manager at the Japanese company Futamura, NatureFlex brand, gave an overview of the challenges and the solutions in plastic free packaging. Futamura is the global leader in renewable & compostable packaging films. But of course not all products can be sold without packaging. Sweetman explained the need to package products: Hygiene, protection of goods, differentiation e.g. organic - non-organic, descriptions and labelling of products, transport, keeping fresh etc.
However, he regrets that far too much unnecessary packaging material has been used. "Unfortunately today - even in organic shops - too many products are offered in plastic packaging and plastic bags are available in the fruit and vegetable department. The plastic flood in trade, industry and households will result in more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, he quoted from a study. There are already a number of plastics in the food chain. According to the New Plastics Economy Study (Ellen Macarthur Foundation), 32% of plastic packaging goes "into the environment" and 8 million tons per year into the oceans.
Andy Sweetman, Futamura Natureflex presented compostable packaging solutions. Photo © Karin Heinze
Consumers want to avoid plastic
The good news is: "The technology in this area is developing and improving steadily," informed Andy Sweetman. "In many applications today, organic lamination can combine the technical properties of classic packaging with improved environmental properties", he said. Rapidly compostable films, "plant" bottles and biopolymer capsules are already being integrated into the production chain of some larger and smaller companies. But technology and the range of use would have to be improved. Another challenge is the fact that "feasibility and capacities are not yet 100% available". On the other hand, it has been welcomed that consumers rewarded the efforts of companies to save or eliminate plastics. Sweetman mentioned an example of some organic tea companies: Their sales increased by up to 64% after the bio-plastic came into use for its packaging as this was communicated.
Eosta is pleased about another award for the laser marking technology "Natural Branding". Photo © Ecovia
Eosta natural branding – without packaging
The reliable labelling of individual fruit and vegetable products as organic has so far been difficult. Dutch organic fruit and vegetable distributor Eosta uses a special laser technology instead of plastic packaging to label avocados, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and others to completely save the packaging. Natural branding is applied with the laser and has no influence on the taste or shelf life of the products. The non-contact process has been approved by organic certification bodies and declared harmless. In contrast: The energy requirement for laser marking is less than 1% of the energy required for the production and application of a sticker. Eosta has been awarded the Sustainable Foods Award 2018 for this technology.