There will certainly be a strong focus on sustainability in the next few years. Food manufacturers will be no exception to this, as issues like carbon footprints, emissions trading and fuel prices will continue to present challenges to management teams in many industries.
However, there will be some challenges that are more particular to the food industry. Water consumption in processing, sourcing of adequate agricultural raw materials from the driest continent, and water allocation rights to the agri-food industries, will have greater impact on business practices.
Consumers will be looking not just for the best product at the right price, but will increasingly seek to reward manufacturers and marketers who present the most convincing ‘green credentials’ and the smallest carbon footprint while punishing those who don’t seem to care.
The good news is that the response to these challenges will come via something that the food industry has been very good at for a long time: innovation. In short, the most sustainable food businesses in the next few decades will be those who adapt best to these challenges through innovation.
This might mean innovation in the sourcing of raw materials; innovation in processing to use less energy or water to produce the same product quality; innovation in branding and marketing to hit the right notes with consumers; or innovation in ingredient chemistry and formulation to reduce reliance on less sustainable raw material supplies. What is certain is that innovation, and the intellectual assets that deliver this innovation, will become more, not less, important to the industry.
Sustainability will not just mean efficient use of the planet’s resources, but will also come to mean the ability to innovate to sustain market appeal in the face of rising expectation of consumers. Most importantly, it will also mean the ability to sustain competitive advantage once this has been achieved.
There’ll be some, hopefully many, food processors who understand that new consumer demands offer new opportunities for differentiation, and that investment in innovation will be rewarded, if managed carefully.
Adam Hyland is a senior associate of Watermark Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys.