Emerging Themes From the 2016 Food Tank Summit

May 3, 2016

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Food Tank Summit held in Washington, D.C. The summit, hosted by Food Tank in partnership with American University, brings together more than 70 speakers from across the food, nutrition and agriculture industry to foster conversations on pressing issues facing the food system. Panel topics ranged from the future of organic agriculture to improving food security in areas of conflict.

After two days filled with great discussions, three areas stood out as themes that will become increasingly more prevalent as we continue the need for innovation to improve our global food system.

  1. Uncommon Collaborations

The Uncommon Collaborations panel began with a keynote address from Jeff Dunn, President of Campbell Fresh Division at Campbell Soup Company, who set the stage for why a diverse group of people (policymakers, NGOs, corporations, etc.) must come together to solve the problems we’re facing today and will face down the road. Every group brings a unique capability to the table, whether it’s robust supply chains, relationships with local communities or political influence. Finding the common goal amongst the organizations and being able to communicate that as a united front is crucial to solving globally based issues with varying challenges. It takes a multi-faceted approach, using strengths from each organization to create a path forward that is not only successful, but also sustainable, fair and cost-effective.

What is more, how uncommon collaborations are now reaching audiences is changing. In the last decade, conversations have moved from face-to-face to digital and social, providing an easier outlet for people from across the globe to connect and share ideas. Taking a closer look at how your target audience members communicate with each other, and developing a communications strategy around that, is vital to making your voice heard within a crowded digital space.

  1. Consumer Power

As consumers become more interested in the foods they eat, they are beginning to demand that companies reformulate to improve the healthfulness of their products. While change begins at the consumer level and works its way up to restaurants, corporations and retail establishments, it ultimately lands in D.C. with a need to create or adjust policies to keep up with the changes. This can be seen with the Nutrition Facts Labeling and Menu Labeling rulings, both stemming from consumer demand for more information and transparency in our food supply.

What does this mean for communicators? It means we need to have a deeper understanding of consumers’ mindsets and what drives their ideology for food and nutrition. Holding focus groups, tracking what’s popular in top media outlets and even monitoring social media are all means for getting to know consumers better.

  1. Reducing Food Waste

In America, 40 percent of all food is wasted each year, costing approximately $162 billion annually. Moreover, consumers are responsible for 40 percent of that waste, highlighting the strong need for more consumer education around food waste. Food waste was a hot topic at this year’s conference, and a multitude of stakeholders are taking action to reduce the waste.

  • Representative Chellie Pingree spoke about her efforts in the House to reduce food waste. In fact, there’s a hearing next month for the Food Recovery Act which addresses food waste on four levels (consumer, retail, farms and institutional). Rep. Pingree also mentioned that she is getting ready to introduce a uniform labeling bill that will reform and standardize “best buy” labels on food to reduce consumer confusion and increase use of products on the shelf.
  • Two organizations leading the charge to reduce food waste are the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Ad Council. Together in partnership these organizations recently launched a national campaign, “Save The Food,” to encourage consumers to reduce their food waste. The campaign has information on a wide variety of food products, informing consumers on how to properly store, freeze and use food products.

Reducing food waste has become a priority at every level, starting with consumers and ending with the development of federal policy to address this issue. Stakeholders from all sectors of this industry can get involved in this effort and work together (uncommon collaborations, perhaps?) to solve this issue.

The Food Tank Summit provided a forum for stakeholders across the food spectrum to come together and discuss how we can improve the food system. We at FleishmanHillard would welcome the chance to partner with you and help your business keep a sound pulse on all things food, nutrition and agriculture.