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The Top Trends in Food Sustainability

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The ongoing debate over the use of plastic straws made headlines this past year, at the same time that fast food chains vied to be the first to roll out their versions of plant-based “burgers.” All the while, sales of organic foods steadily ticked upward. At their core, all these topics have something in common – and it’s not just social media chatter and family dinner-table discussions. They are among the top trends propelling the food-tech industry toward a more sustainable landscape in the next year and beyond.

The sustainable food industry has evolved rapidly in the past several years, with both companies and consumers driving the changes, and 2020 is expected to be no different. From farm sustainability to food technology, there are a lot of issues on the table as the conversations centered around environmental sustainability continue to stay in focus. Experts know that the upcoming year will be an important one for the sustainable food industry, with a handful of trends continuing as hot-button topics.

Let’s take a look at these top trends.

1. Short Food Supply Chains

Buying food that’s been raised and produced close to your own backyard has been trending for years, but the options continue to expand as more people become conscious of the benefits behind shorter food supply chains. Whether it’s more booths at your local farmers market or more seasonal memberships at your nearby community-supported agriculture venture, an increasing number of people want to know that their food is being grown within their own ZIP code. By embracing short food supply chains, consumers are making choices that not only boost their area’s rural economy, but also spark the creation of new ways to sell local products.

2. Traceability

Consumers have made traceability – the idea of being able to track a food or specific ingredient through all its stages of production and distribution – an expectation when it comes to food safety. Companies see traceability as a way to educate their customers and assure them about the products they are purchasing. By creating and making available a history of a product’s journey through the food chain, it creates a win-win relationship between the sellers and the buyers. All this data behind a product creates a traceable “foodprint” – a trend that is expected to evolve with even more information available to consumers in the coming year.

Some companies have been giving consumers the peace of mind that comes with traceability for decades. One such brand is Nutrilite, which sources some of its supplement ingredients from farm-raised vegetables, fruits and herbs. Nutrilite keeps careful records for each ingredient used to make their supplements – from who sowed the seeds to who harvested the plants. This careful tracking of seeds, plants, farms, water and nutrients far exceeds industry standards. This commitment to transparency is why Nutrilite has become such a trusted brand.

3. Reusing Waste

These days, minimizing food waste not only sits at the very core of environmentally-friendly debates, but it has spurred the creation of a wide range of businesses within the food-tech industry. There are companies whose sole purpose is to help restaurants and professional kitchens minimize waste along different points in the supply chain. Other innovators are recycling waste from food products, turning pounds of coffee grounds or vats of french fry grease into advanced biofuels and biochemicals. Still others have aligned themselves squarely on the social justice side, connecting food producers and transporters with charities to minimize food waste. Because this type of technology is so fluid, it will likely be a fast lane for sustainability growth.

4. Reducing Food Packaging

When it comes to excessive packaging on the foods we are buying, consumer backlash has been growing swiftly. Concerns about the plastic pollution in oceans and landfills have fueled grassroots campaigns that have taken off anew on social media with every picture posted of a dead marine animal found full of plastic items, or a sea turtle entangled in a beer brand’s six-pack ring carrier. Consumer pressure on food companies to address the environmental impacts of their packaging has been ramping up, with no signs of slowing. This has companies moving toward more sustainable food packaging materials. When it comes to this issue, sustainably-minded consumers will likely be the judge of how these efforts are received.

5. Focus on Organic Foods

Interest in organic fruits and vegetables – and organic ingredients in food items – has been steadily increasing and will continue to be buzzworthy in 2020. Gone are the days when you could only find a reliable source for organic items at farmers markets or local roadside stands. Distribution of organic foods is continuing to expand among mass-market retailers, largely driven by consumer demand not only for organically-raised meats, but for organic cheeses and other packaged products. The selection of items is expected to continue to increase, with more private-label organics appearing on shelves in the coming year.

6. Food Education

Consumer education and food awareness is a path that’s only expected to widen over the next year. It’s not just that people are becoming more interested in subjects like food traceability and transparency. They are reading labels more often on the foods they are buying and choosing companies who they believe align more closely with their social and environmental values. Knowledge has turned out to be an impactful way to shape a sustainable food system, and it’s a fresh trend that is just starting to gain momentum.

7. Plant-Based Food Movement

As the growing acceptance of veganism intersects with a segment concerned with ethical consumerism, expect to see big strides in the plant-based food offerings. From fast-food chains to supermarkets’ frozen cases, plant proteins are going mainstream in a big way and are gaining a foothold even with buyers who don’t consider themselves vegan. Consumers are increasingly showing an interest in diversifying their diets. This plant-based food movement is being fueled by people who have reduced their meat consumption and want to increase their intake of vegetables. These are consumers who consider themselves both health-conscious and environmentally-friendly.

Not surprisingly, the top food sustainability trends in 2020 are expected to be driven by consumers who are increasingly confident about their food selections, and equally determined to have enough data and information to make good choices. Key issues like food safety, environmental sustainability and the ability to provide a wide variety of choices will keep this year’s evolution interesting.