Food and drink manufacturing sustainability: a journey, rather than a destination

The FDF's head of climate change and energy policy Stephen Reeson and environment policy manager David Bellamy provide their take on the key findings from edie's recent sector insight report which explored the state of sustainability in food and drink manufacturing.

Food and drink manufacturing sustainability: a journey, rather than a destination

As highlighted in edie’s recent sector insight report, the food and drink industry is the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK. It is also very diverse, in terms of the different sizes of businesses, their geographical spread across the country, and the very nature of the manufacturing they do. Finally, it is critically important sector, as every person interacts with food and drink several times a day.

By virtue of these aspects, the industry is supported by a complex and interlinked value chain, spanning from scientific research and innovation to agricultural inputs, labour, distribution, retail, hospitality, and waste processing. However, it is worth noting despite their close links, there are distinctions to be made between the manufacturing sector as a whole, food and drink manufacturing, and the food supply chain, that must be recognised for any detailed discussion.

The food and drink manufacturing industry has an essential relationship with the environment, on which it relies for a continuous, adequate supply of safe, high quality raw materials. As such, manufacturers recognise the fact that a sustainable value chain is a business imperative that must be addressed. This joins the also critical aspects of delivery of safe, high-quality food that satisfies consumer demands. These interwoven facets highlight the fact that the industry works in a complex environment, interacting with a range of actors, structures, and regulatory frameworks.

In particular, in addition to the environmental impact, businesses increasingly recognise and measure the cost of waste to their business. However, a number of factors come into play in manufacturing a product, including food safety, packaging design, and waste management systems. Therefore, change may be incremental and constrained by the various technical and regulatory requirements involved. How businesses choose and optimise their packaging systems is one illustration of the need to take a holistic approach in order to improve the resource efficiency of the total product system and avoid unintended consequences. This is detailed more in a recent sustainability checklist jointly produced by FDF and INCPEN.

That said, the food and drink manufacturing industry is aware that the challenges it faces will require a transformation in the way it currently does business at all levels – from the ingredients used and products made, to how they are packaged and transported. The industry is committed to working closely with their supply chain and with the authorities in order to tackle these challenges in a sustainable manner. Collaborative structures, as mentioned in this report, are driving an unprecedented movement of private sector action.

Despite the challenges, including political uncertainty, FDF believes the industry can play a positive role in building resilient and sustainable value chains into the future. Sustainability is a journey, rather than a destination.

Sector insight: The state of sustainability in food and drink manufacturing

edie’s latest exclusive insight report explores some of the key drivers, challenges and opportunities facing sustainability in the UK’s food and drink manufacturing sector.

Read the full report here.


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