Good data key to give consumers the information they want about sustainable food choices

Consumers — especially younger generations — are demanding more information and more climate-friendly food choices, and plant-based organizations are working to try to better understand those needs and how to meet them.

“Consumers want to understand more about what they are buying from the sustainability standpoint, especially food products,” Steve Savell, director, external affairs & sustainability with Bush Brothers and Company told the sustainability panel at our Summit + Expo Plant-Based Foods & Protein Americas 2021.

“The other key driver is we are getting the same questions from retailers in the U.S. — retail shopping partners like Wal-Mart, Krogers and all along the list. They, too, want to understand what is happening.”

Tim McGreevy, CEO of the American Pulse Association, noted a recent study that showed 74 per cent of Americans are thinking about how their food choices affect the environment.

“That’s big and we have to respond to that,” said McGreevy. “We have to give food companies what they need.”

Denis Tremorin, director of sustainability with Pulse Canada, told the panel chaired by Bridge2Food’s CEO Gerard Klein Essink that his organization has been laying the groundwork with a big data project doing a lifecycle assessment of pulses and soybeans.

“A big part of that environmental footprint sits at the farm.”

You need good data to represent the production system, Tremorin said. The database has been created to ISO standards and built to be useful to the food system. It can now be populated with more crops and more sources.

The beauty of lifecycle assessment is its flexibility, said Tremorin. It can be built out and used however needed, in geographic regions or in specific areas such as nitrogen content, nutrition and human health.

McGreevy said his organization has also been doing lifecycle analysis for pulses in a joint project with the University of Arkansas and just got that preliminary data last week.

“We really have a lot of work to do on gathering data that will have an impact on the climate. I’m confident in getting in the findings but if we’re going to put a label on goods we need the proper studies.”

There is a lot of collaboration on data and studying the impacts of pulses across North America, said Tremorin.

That collaboration is essential, said Savell, as the discussion is bigger than any one organization or company.

“We need the whole spectrum involved. We need everyone or we won’t have good data,” said Savell.

“The idea is for us to come together and do it collectively.”

There’s also the next generation of data that will be both interesting and a challenge, noted Tremorin.

“Innovation platforms are where it’s going,” he said. “Whatever attribute the end user needs will have to be built in.”

That could include traceability, food safety, protein levels, functionality, nutrition, etc.

A lot of that data is already there, it’s just not being captured, Tremorin said. “It’s being talked about all through the supply chain.”