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Why it's time to shift thinking about food processing sustainability

3 min read

It’s time to flip the script on food processing sustainability.

While going green is the new reality in all sectors, including food and beverage processing, the reality for many processors is concern about increased costs that may come from increased sustainability.

But Peter Chapman of SKUFoods says it’s time for a shift in thinking. He works with food companies to help them differentiate their products and grow their business. Chapman says while there is certainly an investment needed for increased sustainability, there are also opportunities. Instead of being held back by worry, consider how creating a sustainable product may ultimately benefit your business – and the environment.

With sustainability practices in place, doors to major retailers with similar philosophies may be easier to open.

Major Canadian grocery retailers, including Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys and Walmart, for example, have all committed to a 50% reduction in food waste within their organization by 2025 and are looking to their suppliers to institute similar policies, Chapman says. With sustainability practices in place, doors to major retailers with similar philosophies may be easier to open.

That’s not to say that sustainability comes cheaply or easily.

“For small to medium-processors, it’s usually a higher percentage of costs because their volume is lower,” he says. “And they don’t always have the expertise because they have six balls in the air, and they’re adding another layer of complexity.

“If you’re a Maple Leaf, you’ve got a sustainability department; if you’re a small or medium-sized processor, you’ve got a sustainability hour in each week.”

Isabelle Lam and Jamie Lee at Remix Snacks decided to bake sustainability into their food from the very beginning. To make their snacks, they use imperfect fruit - the stuff grocery stores can’t sell because it is misshapen or not the right colour.

“At the end of the day, you don’t really notice the difference when it’s dried and cut up into pieces,” says Lam, who adds that Remix has saved more than 9,500 pounds of fruit from being wasted since launching in April 2018.

According to a report from Second Harvest, 58% of the food produced in Canada each year is wasted, and imperfect fruit represents a large portion of that total. In the early days of Remix, Lam and Lee deliberately sought out fruit they suspected finicky customers would never buy to make their snack product.

Remix also uses a black bean blend rather than nuts to make their snacks. The beans are grown in Canada, so don’t need to be shipped long distances and require up to 50% less water than nuts to grow.

Key areas

Chapman says companies need to address three key areas when it comes to incorporating sustainability into their operation:

  1. Environmental impact of producing and transporting their products

  2. Food waste

  3. Packaging

When it comes to waste, Chapman advises processors to shift their perspective to look at it not as reducing waste, but instead potentially boosting their marketable yield.

“If last week you made 100 units, but only 85 met the right standard, your shrink [product purchased but not sold] was 15,” he explains. “If you can change that to 90, you’ve not only reduced your food waste, but you’ve made more money because now you have 90 units to sell instead of 85. That to me is a big opportunity.”

Sustainability can be a giant topic for food processors. But as consumer demand for more environmentally sustainable products continues to grow, it’s important to change processing methods, whether it’s upcycling food or switching to more environmentally friendly packaging.

Food processing sustainability resources

  • Second Harvest Guide to Food Waste Audit

  • Anthesis Provision Coalition has an extensive library of resources, covering everything from greenhouse gas management and energy management to responsible sourcing of ingredients and water management

  • Second Harvest resource library. Click “food businesses” in the column on the left for industry-specific information.

Article by: Chris Powell

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