Food Industry Faces Challenges Communicating with Consumers

Pressure from consumers is shaping how grocers and other retailers seek food from the farmers who supply them, and a lack of understanding about production agriculture could threaten the supply chain, says Chad Gregory, CEO of United Egg Producers.

“We need this definition of sustainability answered,” Gregory said during a panel discussion on the protein supply chain at the 2017 Global Sustainability Summit in Nashville, Tenn. The event is jointly organized by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Many grocers have asked egg producers to move to cage-free production by 2025, he says. That means the egg industry must add 200 million or more cage-free laying hens in less than a decade. He argues “massive two-way communication” is needed to get on the same page about expectations and costs.

There’s no question protein demand is shifting, and the industry needs to stay in tune with consumer needs, adds Jill Kolling, sustainability leader with Cargill Protein. A year ago, the company dropped the word “animal” from the title of its protein division to reflect growing interest in food products with plant-based proteins. Cargill recently invested in Memphis Meats, which seeks to grow meat in the lab.

“However, we know global demand for [conventional] protein is going to grow,” Kolling says. “The global population will increase by 2 billion between now and 2050.”

Speaking as a scientist, says Roger Cady, senior technical consultant and global sustainability lead at Elanco, consumers and other supply chain stakeholders need to realize humans have evolved to be omnivores. Consumers can enjoy a mix of animal- and plant-based products in a healthy way, he says.

“A black-and-white world doesn’t solve sustainability issues,” he says.

Farmers and other supply chain stakeholders need to partner with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as World Wildlife Fund, Gregory says. “You have got to open your doors up,” he says. “Consumers expect you to find solutions together.”

 

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