Over the last several months, we have been exploring the details of several critical factors that are impacting the food and beverage manufacturing sector in terms of sustainability, including:
- Climate change and regenerative agriculture
- Consumer preferences, new foods and packaging
- Food insecurity and food waste
Two additional factors that food manufacturers now have to manage regarding sustainable practices are transportation and regulatory restrictions. Each can be discussed as a separate topic, but they are intertwined, as there have always been regulations regarding food transportation, and obviously food has always needed to be transported. Now that sustainability is an important topic in all areas of food manufacturing, it makes sense to discuss these two subjects both individually and collectively.
Transportation and Regulatory Joint Concerns
Ensuring that all areas of food transportation incorporate sustainable practices is a critical component of achieving sustainability in food manufacturing. To this point, however, these types of practices have not fully been implemented or even designed. This area is still evolving. From a straight transportation point of view, governments globally have been imposing restrictions for decades. These restrictions vary from country to country, province to province, region to region, and so on, and this causes confusion when inter- or intra-region transportation of food is required. There are also several regulatory differences based on mode of transportation. Land, air and sea transportation can and should have different regulations.
Another ingredient that should be added to this product mix of sustainability, transportation and regulations is food safety and the integrity of the food materials being transported whether it is ingredients, work-in-process foods or finished products. Various modes of transportation can affect the chemical composition, physical appearance, nutritional value and quality and safety of food. It could be straightforward to start implementing restrictions, regulations and new methods of how to package, manufacture and transport food to satisfy the growing trend of sustainable food behaviors. However, what cannot get lost in this is the issue of food safety and integrity.
Sustainability More than Recycling and Litter
When discussing regulations around transportation and food, many people immediately think of littering, of some uncaring individual throwing a soda pop can out of a car window. Littering regulations, laws, fines, penalties and public service campaigns have been in place globally for more than 50 years. The next time you go outside, take a look around at how effective those have been. Sustainability goes far beyond the issue of litter. One area that works hand in hand with transportation of food is climate change. Governments have been evaluating the current practices and have begun implementing changes designed to positively affect climate change. Some examples include:
- 23 American states and Washington, D.C. limit idling by some or all vehicles.
- The California Air Resources Board adopted the TRU Airborne Toxic Control Measure in 2004 to reduce diesel particulate matter pollutant emissions.
- In 2020, the International Maritime Organization will implement a new regulation for a 0.50% global sulfur cap for marine fuels.
The food and beverage industry is actively embracing other changes that affect sustainability. Electric trucks fit well with the F&B distribution hub model, with clean, quiet, short-run deliveries. Fuel usage during transportation is being considered from every angle. Local and regional food systems, where farmers and processors sell and distribute their food to consumers within a given area, use less fossil fuel for transportation because the distance from farm to consumer is shorter. This shorter distance also can help to reduce CO2 emissions.
Change Starts with Money
During many conversations I have had with my wife about a variety of subjects, especially those that can be considered controversial, one of us always raises the same question which is: “When in doubt, what is it all about?” And most of the time, the answer is money. Regulations around sustainability in food manufacturing are being driven by demands made by the consumer. The purchasers of the finished food product dictate almost every aspect of that product to the manufacturer because, let’s face it, if the consumer doesn’t like it, they won’t buy it. And if they don’t buy it, what will eventually happen to the manufacturer? That’s right—it goes out of business.
Now there is a good definition of sustainability or at least of what is not sustainable. From the transportation side of things, manufacturers in almost all cases pay the freight of shipping their food products to the members of the value chain. This obviously affects the costs of goods sold, which is a direct component of the bottom line and the profitability of the business. And with margins typically low in food and beverage manufacturing, transportation costs are always on the minds of the executives. So as the drive for sustainable transportation practices rolls into food manufacturing, you can bet that in addition to meeting sustainable practices, they will fit into the financial plans of the organization as well.
Sustainability: Just Another Component in a Long Line of Disruptors in Food Manufacturing
Years ago, when the topic of disruption in food manufacturing came up, many would mention things like a customer changing an order, an ingredient not arriving on time, or a packaging line going down for an hour. Today, these occurrences are just part of the day-to-day process and reality of food manufacturing. They are going to happen, and disruptions are the things that will make a food manufacturer have to change their business model and force them to change their philosophy and begin to evaluate their business practices and systems to adjust to the world in which they operate.
Sustainability is another one of those disruptions that will impact the process of food transportation long term. Sustainability will be an area that eventually forces manufacturers to operate within new regulatory parameters imposed on how they produce and ship their food. Through these changes, manufacturers will have to ensure that food meets the current and future safety regulations while maintaining profitability. That is where real sustainability will be measured. Changes to business, movements like sustainability are adding to the disruption of the food industry at unprecedented rates of speed. In order to survive and thrive, and to meet these disruptions head on and be sustainable themselves, global food manufacturers must be able to innovate and adapt their business models.