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Food brands partner with public sector to boost sustainability

Article-Food brands partner with public sector to boost sustainability

From large multinationals like PepsiCo to small-scale startups, several food brands are utilising public-private partnerships as a tool to boost their sustainability efforts and support the sustainable food system transition.

Industry leaders and experts gathered recently at the World Food Forum in Rome to discuss how such collaborations offer potential for actionable change, sharing best practice insights and strategies.

Cross-sector collaboration is key in growing sustainable food systems  

Innovation, data, and technology are three key areas where private and public actors can effectively collaborate in the agrifood sector, said Beth Bechdol, deputy director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking at the World Food Forum in October.

Challenges of cross-sector collaboration in the past have acted as barriers to innovation across the food value chain, yet in the current climate, it is more important and feasible than ever to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors, Bechdol said.

“We haven’t always made it easy to find real ways to work together,” she admitted.

“But imagine the change we can create when we put youth, the private sector, the FAO, and the weight of the entire United Nations (UN) network behind the food system and the issues of climate change.”

As progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) slows, the need for stakeholders across the food system to align and create actionable solutions to growing challenges is rising.

“We are only on track to achieve 15% of the SDGs by 2030 and many are backsliding. Hunger is growing and agrifood systems aren’t quite delivering at the capacity, scale, and level of certainty that they need to,” Bechdol said.

PepsiCo: Sharing knowledge and best practices

Enter PepsiCo, a multinational food manufacturer that in recent years has set ambitious sustainability goals, such as eliminating at least three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by the end of the decade, improving the livelihoods of more than a quarter of a million people in its agricultural supply chain, and sustainably sourcing 100% of its key ingredients.

Given its size, scale, and geographical footprint, PepsiCo and similar large food brands have an undeniable opportunity to transform agrifood systems. However, they cannot act alone, Darci Vetter, senior vice-president and head of global public policy at PepsiCo, said.

“PepsiCo sources more than 70 commodities from more than 60 countries on more than seven million acres of land. This type of scale can only be achieved by partnerships,” Vetter said.

“Sustainable transformation of the food system is not something we can do alone.”

One way the company is collaborating with the public sector is by creating best practice examples of sustainability projects and sharing knowledge and learnings across sectors. PepsiCo recently created an eight-hour self-paced virtual learning course on the topic of water efficiency that is openly accessible to all online.

Partnering with local governments and grassroots organisations that understand the specific needs and constraints of the areas where food is grown is also key in advancing the speed, adoption, and effectiveness of sustainable practices, according to Vetter.

"We need solutions that are huge in scale and are hyper-local; high-tech in scale and rely on indigenous knowledge,” she said.

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Connecting farmers and consumers directly

Despite being smaller in scale, several innovative startups and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also working to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors, to advance the sustainable food transition.

Spanish foodtech company CrowdFarming has created a digital platform to connect farmers and consumers directly, allowing farmers to better manage the price and supply of their produce. The consumers, of whom there are currently over 400,000 across Europe, can select the specific product they wish to purchase from a database of around 300 farmers in 13 European countries. The procurement, logistics, marketing, and operations are managed by CrowdFarming.

By shortening the producer-to-consumer supply chain and removing the need for intermediaries and warehousing, this solution results in fresher untreated food, as well as lower rates of food waste, CO2 emissions and energy consumption compared to traditional practices.

“Caring is the seed for transforming the system,” said Cristina Domecq, head of impact and sustainability at CrowdFarming.

In September this year, the company partnered with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to sign a venture debt loan of €15 million, backed by the InvestEU programme. This loan will be used to fund the research and development activities of CrowdFarming and will help to drive the transition to a more sustainable, efficient, and fair food supply chain in Europe.

Buy one, give one free

Berlin-based startup Share is another company tapping into the power of public sector partnerships to boost the sustainability of the global food industry. The company’s business model operates on a “buy one, give one” principle, whereby for each product or service sold, an equivalent is provided to someone in need.

“At Share, we want to use power of consumption to share. For every service, we offer an equivalent service to someone in need. For example, one beverage sold equals one day of drinking water given to someone in need,” said Yvonne Lowenstein, head of social impact and sustainability at Share.

Transparency and tangibility are at the core of Share’s strategy, with products featuring QR codes that allow consumers to track the impact of their purchases. Lowenstein explained: "We want to create more awareness about how we consume and make purchasing decisions."

The startup partners with various public sector organisations, including the World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, and Help Alliance, to support social impact programmes across the world. To date, the company has delivered over 68,000 days of clean drinking water, donated almost 40,000 meals, and provided close to 4,000 lessons to school children in disadvantaged regions, it says.