Sustainability in Business - Fresh Produce Futures
Al Gore challenged us all in 2018 when he said that the current Sustainability Revolution “will have the magnitude of the industrial revolution, yet the speed of the digital revolution”. We have taken this urgency and importance as a core motivation behind our model. Sustainability for business is now imperative, not only for economic viability, but for the future of our planet’s highly dynamic ecosystem.
As consumers become more environmentally conscious, purchasing decisions are changing towards sustainably sourced goods. To encourage a similar change on the B2B level, modern producers and providers must follow suit and integrate sustainable practices into their processes and these practices must be at the core of the business not as an accessory.
The global food supply industry has a rich heritage of problem-solving to meet growing consumer needs. Sometimes this has been with the planet, sustaining it (e.g., crop rotation, organics and now, vertical farming), and sometimes against the planet, damaging it (e.g., monoculture farming, soil leeching and processing food waste).
We, like many others, understand that increasing efficiency is the logical step, allowing us to do more with the resources we already have.
Put succinctly by economist and author Hendrith Vanlon Smith Jr:
“In nature, waste does not exist. There is only production and consumption; there is only creation and utilization. Everything that’s produced is efficiently consumed. Everything that’s created is efficiently utilized. And this cyclicality results in growth and in profit. The same should be true of each business, and the same should be true of an economy.”
I co-founded FruPro with the aim of making an impact in the wholesale fresh produce market by expanding the trade reach of businesses and reducing waste in the process. Having previously worked in our local foodbank and run an annual charity event that packed 50,000 meals for the homeless, I saw a desperate need for access to basic food.
I decided that the best way I could enact change on this was through understanding businesses and re-engineering their processes. On this pursuit, I spent several years learning financial accounting and studying business processes as a management consultant. My family background was also in farming so naturally, I had access to some of the perceptions of fresh produce industry conflicts between profit and planet.
Then came 2021 when I met Will Hill, the latest in five generations of fresh produce traders. He told me about his vision of disrupting the Fruit & Veg wholesale market by making the B2B industry efficient on a grand scale and reducing waste as part of the process. It felt like the perfect partnership.
Together with the rest of the FruPro team, we have built an online platform that aims at radically increasing trade reach, modernising communications and enhancing the networks of all our clients. As a combined approach, these core elements will allow businesses to thrive in a way that takes less from the planet and results in more profits.
What is Sustainability in Business?
Sustainability in business is often summarised by the acronym ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance. For a business to be sustainable, it must take no more than it uses and offset its harmful ESG effects with positive ones. This allows for a sustained situation rather than one that is constantly worsening. One step further is a regenerative business, which aims to leave a situation in better condition than how it started.
In fresh produce, most people jump straight to the Environmental aspects of sustainability because fruit and vegetables are associated with farming and the natural environment. However, anyone in this sector will know there are many interdependent links that take fruit and veg from farm-to-fork such as importers, wholesalers, transport and logistics, packaging companies, retailers, hotels and restaurants.
To improve the whole chain requires seamless interaction of the parts. When these parts become disconnected through poor communication and are inefficient due to antiquated trading practices or waste food because of limited opportunities, the result affects every aspect of ESG.
Sustainability Problems for Business
A recent valuation put the UK’s food waste at £1.8 billion from farms each year. Also in the report is the environmental footprint of on-farm food waste, which accounts for around 10% of emissions from UK farming.
A dramatic labour shortage is further contributing to dire waste early in the supply chain. According to a report in August this year, labour shortages were responsible for £60 million worth of fruit and veg being wasted in the UK. The report, carried out by the NFU found that growers also expected a further fall in fruit and veg production by 4.4% in 2023.
This comes at a time when the number of people experiencing food insecurity in the UK is rising.
Speaking in that article, Tom Bradshaw, NFU deputy president said: “It’s nothing short of a travesty that quality nutritious food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to make ends meet because of soaring living costs.”
The first part of this problem is linked to the Governance aspect of ESG, since part of the labour shortage is due to seasonal worker restrictions caused by Brexit. Despite many unforeseen aspects of the Brexit legislature, many businesses were not resilient to change. Having resiliency and prioritising efficiency at all costs are core to effective sustainable governance.
Therefore, the second aspect is that long term change comes from embedding sustainable and best practices into the core workings and decision-making process of business within the fresh produce sector.
Environmental and Social
Environmentally, the carbon footprint of food waste is high because it produces a lot of greenhouse gases. The key one to mention here is the methane that’s produced in the process which, according to the UNECE, is 28-34 times more polluting than CO2.
Also, when food is wasted, every resource that went into growing it is wasted and any negative impact on the climate, including the burning of fossil fuels for energy or leeching of soil, was pointless.
Socially, the impact is critical, since more people need to eat, and fewer people are accessing regular nutritious food. Yet, we are disposing of perfectly good food due to an inefficient, disconnected supply chain. Since April 2022, there has been a 50% increase in food insecurity, meaning 14 million people in the UK are experiencing it and 1 in four households with children are affected.
So, what is the solution?
Making the Change
An inefficient supply chain, combined with soaring energy prices and limited food production demands only one thing – Change. The work we are doing at FruPro aims to help solve this problem.
Our platform radically improves matchmaking, trade and networking opportunities at a time when the sector needs it most. By creating an online networking platform, we are uniting a siloed industry and helping food to make it from the ground to plates all over the continent, with the least waste and lowest costs for businesses.
Businesses are often expected to sacrifice their resources and profits to be the change needed for sustainability. This works when businesses have a client base of consumers that are willing to pay more, but when their client base is another business, whose survival depends on the ability to turn a profit, the story is different. We try to offer a cost-effective way to make this change and boost your income by doing so.
What to do differently?
Simply – doing more with the same or less and putting a concerted effort into reducing waste.
A 2021 study found that every £1 invested in reducing food waste, including working with a redistribution partner, generates an average return of £14.
Businesses should aim to reduce their surplus produce. This ties in with improving their ESG processes, particularly on the level of Governance and enforcing efficiency at all costs. FruPro steps in when this has not been possible, because even highly efficient businesses still have a surplus.
By creating a donation function with charity partners FareShare and City Harvest, our clients save costs on stock that can’t find a buyer. The key social bonus is that people with little or no access to food can get nutritious fresh produce at no cost.
Donating has three major positive effects:
When it comes to tracking the impact at FruPro, we have helped our clients to donate 100,000 meals worth of food.
Last year, it was found that 110,00 tons of food were available for redistribution, but only 26,000 tons were redistributed. Working in this industry and relying on 5 generations of fresh produce trading, we have seen time and time again that limited trade reach is preventing surplus food from getting to the right buyer. Therefore, connectedness in the supply chain is key and was a core motivation when building our business.
Monitoring and Matchmaking
By tracking specific company types on our platform and their trading preferences, stock, demanded products and more, we see who has what, who needs what and when it’s needed.
Efficiency therefore comes by connecting the right businesses at the right time, hence our matchmaking service. We help ensure that our clients have options to sell and redistribute their stock so that less is wasted in every sense from time, to money, logistics and resources.
Why Sustainability for Business is So Important
The food supply industry is receiving increasing attention and a straining pressure to improve and the results of COP27 will also be an interesting part of this. This month, our global population spilled over into 8 billion humans and these mouths need to be fed without further damage to our climate.
At FruPro, we welcome the Sustainability Revolution that Al Gore proposed. Our response has been to build sustainable practices into our business structure and make them easily accessible to others in fresh produce. We are aware that there are many other areas that need to be improved across the industry, including maximisng returns to farmers and working on sustainable packaging and logistics solutions. Therefore, these will be the focus of our next features.
However, with the experience we have and the current gap in the market, connecting the supply chain is an essential starting point and we welcome collaboration to work on solving further issues.
To see how you could benefit from what we are doing, follow this link and find the ‘benefits’ heading at the top of the page.
If you are keen to find out more, or just have an informal chat, fill out the form below and let us help your business.