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Food system challenges

Multiple nutritionalsocietal and environmental issues are connected with our food systems, concerning the way we produce food and both how & what we eat: 

  • dual global nutritional challenges of obesity and hunger 
  • poverty and human rights issues across the food industry 
  • 30% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions 
  • 70% of freshwater withdrawals 
  • terrestrial and marine biodiversity loss through land conversion for agricultural purposes 
  • biodiversity loss and land degradation through unsustainable food production practices 
  • antimicrobial and zoonotic disease risk 
  • 30% wastage and loss across the food system 
  • heavy reliance on plastics in packaging 

These challenges are complex and formidable, but not insurmountable. ‘Fixing food’ is possible with a transition that involves the protection and restoration of natural habitats, widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices, tackling global food waste and, crucially, dietary shifts. We need to eat ‘less and better’ meat, more plant-based food, and less energy-dense, nutrient-poor food.  

The role of downstream food businesses

Supermarkets, contract caterers and restaurant chains are in a unique position to influence the required transitions in consumption and production, being both gatekeepers to our diets and the funnel through which most commercially produced food is channelled.

Plating Up Progress focuses on these key sectors, on major UK-operating businesses, of which 21 are publicly listed or owned by publicly listed companies.

Plating Up Progress dashboards

We provide dashboards that can be used by investors, government or the businesses themselves to understand what progress is being made by different businesses, and where the biggest risks and opportunities for change exist.  These issues are discussed in more detail in our reports and publications.

The metrics used have been developed in partnership with the World Benchmarking Alliance, with whom we are working to create a consensus on metrics and indicators to be used across the food industry at both a global and national level.  We are also creating a toolkit with the World Benchmarking Alliance to guide other organisations to create similar dashboards and benchmarks of the food industry in their own countries.

Our 2021 analysis documents the current commitments, targets and performance of these sectors and maps them against specific issues of concernrisks and opportunities.  We provide the following analysis 

  • a sector overview for retail, quick service restaurant, contract caterers, casual dining chains and wholesalers.
  • downloadable detailed company analysis showing the data we found and links to relevant disclosure and reporting.  All companies have had an opportunity to fact-check our data.    
  • a fully transparent methodology.

The key issues we assess in our 2021 analysis are:

Healthy & sustainable food sales

Are companies setting targets and reporting on sales-weighted progress towards healthier and more sustainable food, including fruit & vegetables and plant-based proteins, and away from food that is high in fats, salt and sugar?

Encouraging healthy & sustainable diets

Do companies have clear policies that prioritise marketing, pricing and communication of healthy food?

Climate change

Are companies setting targets and reporting on scope 1 & 2 and scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions?

Biodiversity

Are companies setting targets and reporting on their links to biodiversity loss through land use conversion and deforestation?  (This year we are focusing on three key food commodities: palm oil, soy and beef.)

Sustainable production

Are companies setting targets and reporting on sales-weighted progress towards food that is produced in a sustainable way?  This includes on-farm production of crops and livestock, aquaculture and wild-caught seafood.

Water

Are companies setting targets and reporting on water use and exposure to water scarcity?  This includes operational water use and whether companies are managing risk due to sourcing food from regions where there is water stress or scarcity.

Food loss & waste

Are companies setting targets and reporting on their operational food waste, as well as their actions to help customers and suppliers to reduce food waste and losses?

Plastics

Are companies setting targets and reporting on performance to increase how much of their packaging is recyclable and to reduce single-use plastics?

Animal welfare & antibiotics

How do companies perform on the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare?  Do they report on antibiotic use in their livestock supply chains?

Human rights

Do companies pay their workforce a real liveable wage?  How much of their global supply chain is being engaged and audited for human rights?