What's on the agenda for Sustainable Food and Nutrition in 2020?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Boonyachoat
© Getty Images / Boonyachoat

Related tags: Sustainability

As we move into a new decade, the environment and the food economy are at the top of the agenda for brands and consumers. We take a look at the key insights from the recent Latin American summit on sustainable food issues with founder and president of Ecovia Intelligence, Amarjit Sahota.

Over 100 executives from the sustainable food and nutrition sphere joined the fifth Latin American edition of the summit in São Paulo, Brazil, on 28-29th November 2019. The industry insiders gathered to discuss the main sustainability issues that are facing the region’s food and nutrition space.

Leading trends facing sustainable nutrition in Latin America focus on plant-based foods, biodiversity, traceability, organic food supply chains, veganism and vegetarianism and the development of a circular economy.

The deforestation of the Amazon, loss of biodiversity, plastic pollution, and food fraud and authenticity were also raised as key concerns in Latin America at the Sustainable Food Summit, Ecovia Intelligence’s Founder and President Amarjit Sahota revealed.

Achieving a circular economy

Building a circular economy and its subsequent impact on sustainable food and nutrition was the subject of the summit’s keynote address by Carla Tennenbaum, Co-Founder of Ideia Circular Brazil.

The food industry is the largest in the world, with 1 billion people committing its efforts to its many segments, Tennenbaum noted. Yet as its modern-day reality is one of large-scale production, the food and nutrition industry is starting to look to its natural heritage for guidance and inspiration. To successfully create a circular economy — whereby we eliminate waste and continually use resources — Tennenbaum highlighted in her keynote speech the importance of local sourcing, healthier food, less waste, and regenerative agriculture.

“The circular economy is a key issue for sustainability (and not just for the food industry),” ​Amarjit Sahota, Founder and President of Ecovia Intelligence stated. While “circular economy is a relatively new concept”, ​it is seeing “new initiatives taking off”.

Plant-based consumption

Focusing on sustainability and eco-labeling in the food and nutrition world, plant-based foods are a vital area of focus and growth for nutrition brands. Thiago Guerra Diniz, Managing Partner of food manufacturer Tensei revealed that the alternative protein market is now going through a period of evolution. The positive impact of technology was also highlighted by Gustavo Guadagnini from the Good Food Institute, who believes that cultivated meat — using animal stem cells to create meat —  will grow and increase in appeal to consumers seeking a push towards protein.

Organic food and nutrition are catching the attention of consumers in Brazil and the wider Latin American region. Cobi Cruz, Director of Organism Brazil, revealed that 19% of Brazilians are now regular buyers of organic products. Of those asked, 79% of respondents said that health reasons were a major driver to purchase organic foods, with organic fruits and vegetables the most popular organic food category.

“Vegetarianism and veganism are taking off in Brazil,”​ Amarjit Sahota, Founder and President, Ecovia Intelligence, added. A total of 14% of Brazilians claim to be vegetarian and in recent years there has been a 75% rise in the vegetarian population in big cities, the Vegetarian Society of Brazil revealed at the summit.

While “there is no official data on the number of vegans in Brazil”​, Sahota added that “Google Trends show that there has been a 1566% increase in searches for the word ‘vegano’ in Brazil from January 2012 to December 2018​”.

Trade and politics in Brazil

However, Alexandre Harkaly, Managing Partner of organic certification company, IBD Certificações Ltda, revealed that as Brazil does not have trade agreements with significant markets in both Europe and America, it is restricted in its ability to conduct global trade. 

With continued commitment and improvement to attaining sustainability goals at the heart of the food and nutrition industry,  Augusto Freire Executive Director Global Sustainability Market of FoodChain ID also demonstrated how the burning of the Amazon was connected to agriculture.

Striving for traceability and chain of custody to guarantee the sustainable production of commodities, Augusto highlighted how the increasing agricultural commodities prices were causing deforestation, as a proportion of the land was removed for beef and soya production.

Questions in 2020

The 5th Latin American Sustainable Foods Summit raised a number of significant questions

on sustainability in food and nutrition. Amarjit Sahota revealed the core questions formed as part of the conclusion of the summit, which industry executives now aim to address in upcoming sustainable food summit editions:

  • What does sustainable food mean: eco-labeled / organic, ethical, lower environmental impact, and/or plant-based?
  • What is the role of animals in a sustainable food system? Does sustainable production mean rearing livestock according to organic/humane/free-range practices? Or, should they not have a role as vegans advocate?
  • What can be done to translate consumer awareness into sustainable product purchases? Various studies show that Brazilian consumers are concerned about environmental issues, however, sustainable food sales are lagging compared to many other countries.
  • How can we raise adoption rates of sustainable packaging materials? The number of sustainable food products is increasing, however, plastic packaging usage remains high.
  • Agriculture and the food industry are a major cause of greenhouse gases, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and plastic pollution. How can operators help resolve these issues by moving to circular systems?

Shaping sustainability in 2020

Sharing insights on what needs to happen to enable consumer demands in sustainable nutrition to become a reality, Sahota emphasized: “This is a general issue for sustainability, not just specific to Latin America. Awareness of green issues is very high in Europe and North America, however, it does not always translate into sustainable product purchases and responsible behavior.”

Turning attention to 2020 goals and expectations, Sahota expects “consumer awareness of green issues to continue to rise especially in light of environmental disasters like Australian bushfires, Amazon deforestation/fires, and climate change.”

However, “at the same time, there is becoming less political will e.g. rise in populism in Brazil, the USA, and other countries.”

Looking at sustainable foods, Ecovia intelligence predicts that “adoption rates will rise for plant-based foods and eco-labeled products like organic and fair trade” ​along with “more sustainable packaging options for plastics”,​ in the food industry. 

For more information about the Latin American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit, please click HERE​.

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