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Why your food company needs to speak the language of sustainability

  • 3 min read

Former NHL player TJ Galiardi totalled 44 goals and 105 points during his decade-long hockey career, but his most important assist might ultimately arise from his work in food processing sustainability.

Along with business partner Dr. Darren Burke, Galiardi created Outcast Foods, a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based company that upcycles surplus or past-date fruits and vegetables it sources from food processors, grocers and farms.

When consumers are increasingly attuned to everything from a company’s carbon footprint to where the materials for its products are sourced and how those products are made, Outcast is becoming a champion for sustainability.

The company flash-chills the fruits and vegetables to trap micronutrients, then dehydrates the food, converting it to protein powders sold online and at national retailers and into the United States. The company also sells ingredients such as beet, carrot and broccoli powder to companies ranging from pet food manufacturers to cosmetics makers, who incorporate the powders into their manufacturing process.

Outcast is currently building a 46,000 square-foot plant in Burlington, Ont. that Galiardi says will enable it to process 1.5 million pounds of fruits and vegetables per month between its Ontario and Nova Scotia operations.

Sustainability as a bedrock principle

Sustainability has become something of a bedrock principle, driving the food processing sector to consider how they do business.

“If you’re a brand in the market today if you don’t have something around sustainability - whether it’s your packaging, your ingredients or the product itself - you’re going to be off the shelves before you know it,” Galiardi says.

A 2019 PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada report (English only) states that sustainability is becoming “the way of doing business” for companies, with 34 %of consumers willing to pay a premium for brands that are known for their sustainable practices.

Coming of age

Cher Mereweather, president and CEO of Provision Coalition, works with companies throughout the food system to create a circular food economy. She agrees that the issue of sustainability has finally come of age for food processing and manufacturing.

The increased emphasis on sustainability from grocery retailers - particularly as their focus has shifted from internal operations to outside the organization - leads them to ask questions of their processor partners. Yet many operators continue to regard sustainability with a degree of skepticism, seeing any efforts as a potential drag on the bottom line rather than a potential profit centre.

Embedding sustainability

Provision Coalition works to create a safe space for clients to experiment to prove the viability of sustainability. Look at areas such as food loss and waste prevention or operational efficiencies to see financial returns and embed sustainability into your business model, Mereweather says.

Mereweather says a good sustainability strategy needs to start with the “why” and the answer should come from looking outward. A solid sustainability vision isn’t about your company, but the world it’s trying to create and be a part of. Knowing the “why,” she says, will ultimately impact every area of the business.

“A solid sustainability vision isn’t about your company, but the world it’s trying to create.”

Etobicoke, Ont.- based Club Coffee, for example, built its approach to sustainability around reducing some of the more than 12 billion single-serve coffee pods used each year in North America.

That led to the 2015 introduction of the PurePod100, the world’s first fully compostable single-serve coffee pod. It was a way for the company to take a stand on something that mattered to them and their customers.

Last year Club Coffee celebrated the production of its one billionth PurPod100, representing the diversion of more than 3,000 tonnes of plastic single-serve coffee pods from landfills. It has since forged relationships with coffee companies, including Ethical Bea and Kauai Coffee.

But Mereweather says that sustainability is still a new language  many companies are just starting to explore. Which means there are still many companies out there in need of an assist.

Article by: Chris Powell