Food sector has to deal with challenges
7 juni 2012
The food sector has to deal with a variety of challenges.
Firstly securing supplies responsibly while the global population will be growing significantly over the next decades. ‘We can’t keep on consuming meat the way we are used to’ says dr. med. Vet. Anita Idel (ZDF program ‘Bambule’, 2012 May 24). She continues by explaining that ‘if everybody in the world would behave like Germans, 2 ½ planets would be needed to feed everyone’. Recent studies in The Netherlands result in similar conclusions.
Secondly there are challenges about health. Good food is crucial for the well being and productivity of people. Societies depend on people being able to work, take care of themselves and earn their own incomes. Health is not only determined by quality, but also by quantities. The average consumer is generally happy to buy cheap food. And many have difficulties limiting quantities to a healthy level; obesity is an increasing problem in today’s society. Food companies face a dilemma because they want maximum sales, yet they don’t want to be associated with health problems. The government also plays a role. A recent example is the intervention of mayor Bloomberg of New York City, who seeks a ban on super-size soft drinks
The dilemma of ethical food is also on the agenda. NGO’s are challengers and campaigners. A recent example is the current campaign of Wakker Dier: posters stating organic chicken 5 ½ weeks old wait 530 grams compared to ‘plofkip’ of the same age waiting 2350 grams and showing the corresponding pictures. Wakker Dier seems to target consumers aiming to change consumption behavior and consequently by creating a different demand influence supply. And indeed it seems to work out: in the NRC Next article from May 20 called ‘you change a company by the ‘plofkip’ method’, Fleur van Bruggen (Unilever) stated that ‘Wakker Dier managed (with this campaign) to get the sector to move faster’.
The ethical consumer also plays a role, be it still rather small. In his column in the Financial Times (In search of the elusive ethical consumer, June 6th) Michael Skapinker elaborates on the 3:30 paradox: 30 per cent of consumers call themselves ethical shoppers but only 3 per cent are. How can companies encourage more shoppers to buy their ethical goods? He refers to Australian researchers who suggest well-tried tricks: make them visible and do some price-cutting.
So food companies have to navigate in a complex world. They have their own responsibility and so do consumers and regulators. Increasing awareness and transparency seem to be the key to more responsible consumption. Consumers need information to make the right decisions, both in terms of health as well as in terms of sustainability. The price of food should not be the only, maybe not even the dominant decision factor. This should be more than food for thought.
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