Sustainability options take shape at F.M.I.

by Jeff Gelski
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LAS VEGAS — Sustainability as it relates to the food and beverage industries took center stage in presentations at the 2008 F.M.I. Show in Las Vegas.

Several presenters, and one exhibitor, urged food and beverage manufacturers to practice and promote sustainability. Contessa, San Pedro, Calif., dubbed itself "The world’s first environmentally-responsible frozen-food manufacturer."

Four sustainability issues — bottled water, carbon footprinting, Fairtrade and transparency — took spots among 10 food and beverage predictions for 2008 given by Lynn Dornblaser, director for Mintel International, Chicago, in a May 5 presentation (see "Trends for 2008," Page 14).

The bottled water backlash will continue, she said, as consumers ask questions about how the packaging affects the environment. The concept of carbon footprinting is growing worldwide although confusion exists because it’s difficult to calculate the carbon footprint of each product.

Fairtrade sales continue to grow as the percentage of consumers who say they regularly buy green products has tripled in the past 18 months, Ms. Dornblaser said. For transparency, consumers want to know where their food comes from and they want to make safety or environmental choices. They are checking out web sites and blogs for information about products and companies, which enforces the need for transparency.

Companies could face legislation concerning sustainability issues, said Andrew Winston, author of the book "Green to Gold" and keynote speaker May 4. He said more than 800 mayors have signed an agreement to take their respective cities to the level of the Kyoto Protocol, which means businesses may face more than 800 different regulations. Companies thus are asking the federal government to establish federal standards to simplify the task. Besides legislators, media outlets, the business community, consumers and investors all will continue to emphasize sustainability efforts, he said.

When promoting sustainability, companies should stay away from that specific word, said Laurie Demeritt, president of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.

"Sustainability is not a household word," she said in a May 5 presentation. "Consumers have trouble articulating it."

To resonate with consumers, a food or beverage company may promote its sustainability efforts by using such words as local, artisanal, fresh, unpackaged, organic and seasonal.

Food and beverage represents the gateway of consumer convergence to sustainability, she said. Consumers seek natural, organic, fresh or locally grown food or beverage items.

Consumers also want to decrease packaging, and they seek products with not only functional benefits but also emotional benefits, Ms. Demeritt said. They want to know what companies are doing for their employees. They want to hear stories about safe working conditions and good wages and benefits. Companies could do a better job of promoting these practices, she said.

Representatives at Contessa’s F.M.I. Show booth talked about its new Green Cuisine plant in Los Angeles. It achieved gold level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (L.E.E.D.). Contessa also promotes how the shrimp it uses in its products are harvested in a sustainable, environmentally-sound way and how its methods are turtle-safe, or dedicated to preserving marine turtles.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, May 13, 2008, starting on Page 1. Click here to search that archive.

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