From Sustainability to Purpose: Realigning Corporate Priorities in Food and Nutrition

November 2020

There are few aspects of how we shop and eat that have not been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same is true for corporate sustainability efforts in the food industry. With efforts set to accelerate in the long-term, understanding how the pandemic has reshaped interest in sustainability will be critical to future business success. This briefing assesses key purpose-driven trends and how they are expected to be impacted by the pandemic in the short-, medium- and long-term.

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Key Findings

Coronavirus (COVID-19) shakes up sustainability priorities in the short- to mid-term

Sustainability has taken a back seat to health during the pandemic. While concerns over food waste, animal welfare and food security have been front-lined, many environmental initiatives have paused in the short-term. In particular, activity around the development and launch of sustainable products and initiatives related to waste and recycling has dropped.

Interest in sustainability will normalise in the long-term

Corporate sustainability efforts are set to accelerate in the long-term, in an outcome mirroring the pre-pandemic approach. Post-lockdown saw global food businesses re-state sustainability pledges on pre-pandemic themes such as climate action, sustainable packaging and food waste. The continued scrutiny of areas such as employee welfare, food security and traceability may see these more COVID-19- related themes become permanent features of future sustainability pledges.

Investment in traceability is key

Manufacturers should invest in providing transparency. As the pandemic is seeing a second wave of infections, consumers are expected to shop more cautiously, choosing brands that align most closely with their personal values. Digital traceability solutions such as blockchain or sensor-based product tracing and locally-sourced products with shorter supply chains can play a role in rebuilding consumer confidence.

Value proposition is critical to sustainable offerings

As the pandemic continues, recession takes hold and spending power weakens, welfare products, often sold at premium prices, are expected to see demand slow. Brands will need to adapt by reassessing the added value of sustainable offerings or by delivering propositions at inclusive prices.


Key findings

Key Sustainability Themes

In-home eating surges; health concerns grow amidst COVID-19
Food manufacturers adapt sustainability efforts to the “new normal”
Immediate business needs and health overshadowing sustainability
PHG Lock redirects tech to create rice ATMs amidst food shortages
Restaurant supplier New Covent Garden Market embraces e-commerce
Immediate business needs and health are overshadowing sustainability
Four out of five sustainability themes set to accelerate post-pandemic
Sustainability themes: what should businesses focus on?

New Consumer Values

Younger consumers drive interest in brand sustainability online
Employee welfare prioritised in purpose-led agenda
COVID-19 re-orients consumer sustainability values in the short-term
Employee welfare prioritised in purpose-led agenda
Five key areas for purpose-led innovation
Neolix offers contact-free green deliveries in China
Danone moves to become a purpose-orientated company
Global food players quick to restate sustainability agenda
New consumer values: What should businesses focus on?

Digital Innovations

E-commerce accelerates digitalisation of consumer shopping habits
Three emerging purpose-led digital innovation areas
Ninjacart tracks fresh produce using RFID tech in India
Passporting food as COVID-19-free through blockchain
Singapore’s vertical farms: a glimpse into the future of food security
Traceability and food security for now, climate action for the future
Climate-friendly innovations pause as desire for traceability front-lines
Digital innovations: what should businesses focus on?


Purpose-led trends set to accelerate in the future
How to interpret the impact of COVID-19 on purpose-led trends
Sustainability efforts to remain largely intact
More corporate sustainability investment expected by 2025
What to focus on in Q3 2020 and beyond?


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