The Journey to Net Zero - Festival of Fresh Report
As part of the Fresh Produce Journal’s annual event, the Festival of Fresh, England Marketing undertook a piece of research examining how UK fresh produce businesses are working to achieve net zero, and the associated concerns, costs, measures, and effects on their supply chains of this undertaking. The research was undertaken amongst FPJ Big 50 companies, and those who took part account for around 50% of the fresh produce turnover amongst these major players, across the weeks prior to the FPJ Festival of Fresh event in 2022.
A clear picture of the positions of the companies who participated in the research emerged, with some obvious challenges inhibiting progress, primarily involving a lack of consistency and standardisation in the tools and measures that are available, leading to uncertainty.
Many of the companies involved expressed concern about how they measure carbon, with a lack of standardised measuring equipment lending to a lack of consistency and uncertainty around accuracy. This lack of consistency was a considerable concern for those companies who participated in this research, causing problems beyond the immediate business itself and generating difficulties in the measuring of scope 3 carbon emissions across the supply chain, too, making any data harder to obtain and more challenging to interpret in a meaningful way for benchmarking and use in carbon reporting emissions. This is especially noticeable when companies are bidding as part of the procurement process for retailers, especially regarding variances in transportation or packaging, making it very difficult to compare like with like and meaning that companies are not being reviewed on a level playing field when it comes to their carbon impact.
Communication with shoppers and the wider customer base has also proven problematic in the UK. Notably, the industry largely supplies own label and unbranded products, hugely limiting the information that they are able to convey about their net zero aspirations on their packaging, as well as a lack of consumer understanding of what net zero really means. However, these issues are not insurmountable. Some core consumers, millennials in particular, are beginning to focus on the carbon footprints of the products they buy, and consumer understanding and awareness is increasing all the time. A traffic light system indicating carbon footprint is in very early trials among some fresh produce companies, but more needs to be done to examine how fresh produce companies can get their message across on own label and unbranded products effectively, without the benefits that major brands enjoy.
Ultimately, with the additional difficulties created by a backdrop of geopolitical tensions, such as Brexit, the war in Ukraine, and inflation, many of these issues can be attributed to a lack of consistency and clarity from the highest levels of influence, but there is a clear appetite from companies to do more. The Government’s backing for the introduction of legislation on carbon emissions would generate a standardised measurement and reporting system for companies’ carbon impacts, allowing for fairer comparison and greater accuracy in reporting. All the companies we spoke to have committed to achieving carbon zero between 2030 and 2040, and this is evident at all stages of the supply chain, from growers to packhouses, processing to the packaging and transportation of the final product. It is clear that, despite the uncertain economic climate, many companies are investing heavily in these measures, they just require the support at Government and regulatory level to create a fairer and more consistent environment to facilitate their success in achieving net zero.
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