Food industry holds key to sustainable future says Compass CEO

The City Food Lecture is one of the most prestigious events in the food industry’s calendar. Held annually at London’s Guildhall food marketing and PR expert Pelican Communications is proud to be a sponsor.

The 2019 Lecture was delivered by Dominic Blakemore the Chief Executive of Compass Group (pictured) one of the world’s leading catering businesses.

In his thought provoking speech he said that the food industry, more than any other sector, holds the key to achieving a shared sustainable future. He outlined the challenges of population growth and increasing food inequality and discussed the way technological advances and building consumer trust will help the food industry adapt.

Here’s an overview of what he said. You can view the full Lecture here.

All of us working in the food industry know that we have a deep responsibility to both consumers and the world in which we operate. No industry has a greater impact on the environment and public health than ours. And as the global population grows at a rapid pace, the pressures on us to adapt and change how we operate and how we source food will become ever greater.

The challenge of sustainable future food supply is an issue that we at Compass are acutely aware of. As the world’s biggest food service business, we provide over 5 billion meals a year to people in their workplaces, their schools, the stadiums of the sports teams they support.

It is a privilege to be asked to deliver the City Food Lecture this year and I plan to use it to look forward to the future of our industry, not because I think for a moment that we at Compass have all the answers, but because I believe that through working together as an industry, we can turn the pressures and challenges which the food supply chain faces into opportunities and solutions.

To put the scale of the challenge into perspective, the population of the world is expected to grow to 9 billion people in 30 years’ time, a 25% increase on today. Demand for protein will increase by 80%. Even today demand for food is putting enormous pressure on global resources. So it is clear that we will need to do things differently to create a sustainable future.

Behind these headline numbers, the trends shaping our industry in the UK and beyond are complex. For today’s generation of millennial consumers food is about more than simply what keeps you alive. They are looking for experiences, occasions and see food as a way to express their personalities, to be adventurous. For all of us in the industry, this is an exciting development.

But at the same time, there are trends we should all be worried about, with growing inequality in access to food, and bad diets leading to an obesity epidemic, with one in three 10 and 11 year olds being classed as obese.

I believe a big part of the answer to both the macro pressures and the consumer trends we are seeing lies close to home. To have healthy cities in the next decade and beyond, we need to embrace locally produced food in a far more extensive way then before.

Increasingly for consumers, small is big. They are looking for a closer connection with the farmer or producer with whom their food originates. Simpler, less complex food where the ingredients are the hero are now what consumers are looking for, as opposed to complex, more processed meals where they have no idea of how they are sourced or produced.

Today we see how much clean eating, freshness and localism matter in the rise in vegetarianism, veganism and meat free Mondays. And some of the best examples of how these trends are playing out can be found among the most progressive corporate clients which Compass works with.

These organisations see food as a vital part of their employee proposition –what they serve, where it comes from, how it is prepared, and how their colleagues come together to enjoy it. I fully expect this more considered and thoughtful approach to consumption to become more widespread in years to come – consumers and employees will come to expect it.

As CEO of Compass I have to try to take a step back and think about what the driver is behind these trends, and I think it can be summed up in one word – trust. Future generations of consumers will only interact with and buy from those organisations with which they feel there is genuine trust. Trust is the currency of the future.

Trust can’t be bought, it needs to be earned. And the way we will build trust is through transparency, having a supply chain we can have total confidence in and where consumers can be confident in the sustainable methods used to produce their food. That requires us to be fair with farmers, pay them an appropriate price which enables them to reinvest, and having a shared commitment to the environment, animal welfare and workers’ rights.

Genuine partnerships will be key to future success in the food industry. No one business can tackle these issues alone, but by working together we can turn the significant challenges we face into the opportunities that will drive sustainable future growth. Technology will have a key role to play and I will explore that more fully in my lecture, and we will need to be bold in exploring the use of new ingredients and new forms of proteins to feed the growing number of mouths putting pressure on our planet’s resources.

We’ve already started this process within Compass. I see our future as being less a food service business, and more what I call a ‘food lifestyle’ business. Since taking over as CEO a year ago I have challenged the organisation to ensure we have the right culture, capabilities and outlook to thrive in our fast-changing world, and this has driven the creation of our simple strategic framework that we call the three Ps – Performance, People, Purpose.

This is a journey we are embarking on and we have a lot to do. And as I said at the start, we don’t think for a moment we have all the answers. But what I am confident about is that those businesses which will flourish in the years to come will be those which have an intrinsic link between sustainability and strategy, and those willing to work in partnership to create a successful shared future for our industry.

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