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Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum Recap: Invest in Sustainability Now

July 11, 2021
By Elizabeth Mulligan

The global food system impacts everyone — from the farmers at the start of the food production system through to the end consumers shopping at their local supermarkets. But that global food system is up against a series of important challenges: global warming, changing consumer demands, international trade deals and more.

Wall Street Journal recently hosted its Global Food Forum which brought together a group of global experts and executives for honest conversations tackling the critical issue of sustainability across the food and agricultural industries. As the world’s population grows and production is impacted by the climate crisis, there were learnings that are relevant for nearly every sector. Key highlights included:

  • Emphasizing smart, impactful sustainable agriculture: From carbon capturing incentives to regenerative agriculture practices, leaders in the food space universally acknowledge that more needs to be done to bring sustainability to the forefront in agriculture. While there are significant up-front costs, general consensus was that the focus for farmers should be demonstrating the positive return on investment that sustainable agriculture can bring to everyday farms — rather than focusing on the higher price tag that is associated with establishing sustainable systems.
    • What it means for you: When touting the importance of investing in sustainable agriculture, marketers and leaders should focus squarely on the fact that ultimately most farmers will have a better bottom-line down the road by implementing these practices today. Not only will this help the environment, but it also creates a more compelling story for the target audience.
  • Invest in better packaging: Similarly, leaders agree that more needs to be done to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in the ocean and our environment. But they also acknowledge that we haven’t yet found a perfect, reusable, easily compostable solution. While paper straws currently face the brunt of consumer frustration, food leaders are well aware that significant investments in effective sustainable packaging solutions are absolutely needed to not only help the planet, but also meet the requests of their consumers who are demanding better options.
    • What it means for you: Ensure that improved packaging is a priority in your future plans. If your organization is reticent to take the leap into packaging research and development, remind them of the growing consumer demands.
  • Plant-based meats show no signs of slowing down: Plant-based meat alternatives were a constant presence throughout the Global Food Forum. From debates on how meat alternatives should be labeled to ground meat alternatives dominating both restaurants and kitchens, many organizations are considering how to develop new and improved plant-based meat alternatives to meet the growing demand from consumers across the globe while still meeting the growing global needs for animal protein.
    • What it means for you: While plant-based demand is on the rise, most plant-based meat eaters also still eat animal products. Organizations with either or both plant- and animal-based optionsneed to understand the demands of their target customers and adjust their communications to showcase how their products meet their needs.
  • Renewed opportunities from the USDA: The event concluded with a conversation with President Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas J. Vilsack, who emphasized the importance of building systems in the government that support sustainability built for farms, not investors. Secretary Vilsack aims to make the United States the most sustainable food producer and healthiest population on the globe. To do this, the USDA is taking a fresh look at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, opportunities to incentivize sustainable agriculture and focusing on food and nutrition insecurity, among others.
    • What it means for you: Proactively begin considering how governmental changes and priorities may affect the brands or organizations you support.

The next few years mark a pivotal time in the fight against climate change and the world’s growing population. This event explored new ways in which the food and agriculture systems can support a better and healthier future for everyone. While making large, sustainable changes requires significant investments in the short-term, these changes will not only help the environment but also give those in the food and agriculture space an opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors and meet consumer demands — prompting better long-term success.