Every week our inboxes and social media feeds fill up with exciting news and developments from high-impact foodtech startups tackling important issues related to human health, planet health and animal welfare. With the rapid growth and progress that startups are demonstrating, it’s easy to forget that some of the world’s largest food corporations are also working on various initiatives (to show that they are contributing) to make the world a better place.
One could be cynical and say that most of the initiatives are largely driven by CSR greenwashing, and that they should take way more responsibility than they do. On the other hand, one could argue that all progress in the right direction is at least better than no progress and that even small actions by big corporations have a noticeable effect. Either way, we think it’s worthwhile to highlight some of the ways they are working with product development, public goals and pledges as well as other initiatives within these areas. We’re already covered how some of them are working with or investing in startups in this post.
The global alternative protein food market is set to reach $290B in 2035. Health is a key consumer concern, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, with one in four US consumers cutting back on meat in the past year. Sustainability, including food waste, carbon footprint and environmental impact, continues to be at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, with 11% of consumers shifting their spending habits based on environmental claims and 83% considering the environment when making purchases. Corporates need to shape up their acts, and while investing in future-focused startups may be the right route for some, others are keeping things in-house.
We’ve delved into some of the biggest global corporations who are doing their own thing. As always, it’s a non-exhaustive list, so feel free to get in touch if we missed any.
Nestlé: dove straight into plant-based fish last year with its own brand of vegan tuna called Vuna. It took nine months to develop the product which contains just six ingredients: water, pea protein, wheat gluten, rapeseed oil, salt and a natural flavor blend. According to Ulf Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé, “It’s now one of the best-selling plant-based items in select European markets, and we’re still scaling it up and can’t make it fast enough”, and the firm intends to expand into other plant-based products. In December, it also launched its plant-based Harvest Gourmet range in China, marking its first plant-based foray into the country. Otherwise, having been named alongside Coca-Cola and PepsiCo as the top plastic polluters for the third year in a row in December, it also announced its plans to invest $3.58B to achieve net zero by 2050, including $1.34B which it will apportion to regenerative agriculture within its supply chain.
Coca-Cola European Partners: announced, shortly after the above ‘award’, a €250M investment to meet its target of attaining net-zero status by 2040, starting with a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases across its entire supply chain by 2030. It plans to engage with and set targets for its strategic suppliers across all areas of business, from ingredients to packaging. In fact, it just announced an upcoming trial of new paper-based bottles in Hungary, co-developed with Danish startup The Paper Bottle Company (Paboco), marking the first time it has launched bottles of its kind on the market.
PepsiCo: recently pledged to diminish its greenhouse emissions and reach net zero by 2040, a full decade earlier than the Paris Agreement demands, by focusing on agriculture, packaging, distribution and operations. It plans to scale its sustainable agriculture and regenerative practices, and manufacture with renewable energy where possible. Plus, it has committed to using recycled plastic for Pepsi brand beverage bottles by 2022, which will eliminate over 70,000 tons of virgin plastic per year and lower carbon emissions by 40%.
Unilever: set itself a ‘Future Foods’ ambition late last year, in line with Knorr & WWF’s Future 50 Foods report which outlines 50 plant-based foods which purport to have a lower impact on the environment — in terms of emissions, soil health, water use and yield — than animal products and most other plants. The corporate giant has set itself a new annual global sales target of €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, within the next five to seven years. While some of this growth will come from acquisitions such as The Vegetarian Butcher, some of it will come from plant-based product development within its existing well-known brands.
Danone: pledged, way back in 2018, to triple its plant-based food business by 2025. It’s doing this in part through acquisitions, such as its recent purchase of Earth Island, the company behind plant-based brand Follow Your Heart. However, it’s also working on its own product development and, in January, expanded its So Delicious Dairy Free range to include plant-based shredded and sliced cheeses, as well as creamy spreads, capitalizing on its cheese-making credentials to convince consumers, who may assume that plant-based cheeses taste inferior to dairy-based, to give them a try. It is also working on waste reduction, and in December partnered with Full Harvest, which rescues imperfect produce, to launch a yoghurt made from food which would otherwise have been wasted due to cosmetic imperfections, overproduction or a lack of secondary markets.
Müller: in December, Müller announced its plans to launch a program in the UK to help farmers improve their supply chain collaboration, herd health and sustainability, with an earning incentive for participants. In March, it is launching Müller Vegan, four products made with rice and coconut, to capitalize on the growth in the alternative dairy sector.
Marks & Spencer: the UK supermarket launched its very own ‘Innovation Hub’ in January to focus on ‘disruptive innovation’, part of its ambitious plans to respond to rising consumer demand for sustainable and healthy food choices, and which could give it an edge in the market. It is partnering with various startups and tech firms such as 3F BIO, whose mycoprotein technology will form part of a new vegan range, but has also assembled a crack team of colleagues to track emerging trends and insights, drive product development and address sustainability concerns. M&S has had its own plant-based range, Plant Kitchen, for a while, and reported in January that its New York Style No Beef Pretzel Roll was selling at a rate of two per minute.
Mondelez: its innovation hub has developed a French cracker brand, NoCOé, which it claims is both nutritious and carbon neutral. The crackers are made from plant-based ingredients that contribute to ‘dietary diversification’ and are nutritionally dense. The ingredients are locally-sourced and organic, to reduce their carbon footprint, and the product packaging is cardboard, to minimize its environmental impact. Any carbon emitted in production is measured, calculated and offset through buying carbon credits and planting trees.
Tesco: the UK’s largest supermarket chain announced its plans to target 300% growth in plant-based meat by 2025 in September. It is aiming to grow its plant-based offer through new product development, making its range more affordable and innovative to attract more consumers.
IKEA: the Swedish behemoth is not only known for affordable flat-pack furniture and bags of 100 tealights that are just irresistible, it is also one of the world’s largest food providers. In November, it committed to making 50% of its restaurant meals and 80% of its packaged food plant-based by 2025, to ensure its consumers can access affordable, sustainable and healthy foods.
Lidl US: launched a private label chocolate bar, made from 100% traceable and sustainable cocoa from Ghana, in December. The new chocolate bar contributes to a living income for cocoa farmers, as part of its plans to build a supportive and sustainable supply chain.
Walkers: is marrying beer with crisps to reduce the CO2 emissions from its manufacturing process by 70%. The firm’s technique involves capturing the CO2 from beer fermentation and mixing it with potato waste, then turning it into fertilizer and using it for next year’s crop.
Diageo: the booze giant has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions, 100% recyclable or reusable/compostable packaging and 100% recycled content in plastic packaging by 2030. Moreover, it’s embracing new trends in low and no alcohol with the launch of an alcohol-free version of Guinness in October, after a four year development process, and a new alcohol-free Tanqueray gin this past week. And, earlier in February it introduced Baileys Deliciously Light, made with 40% less sugar and calories than its Original Irish Cream, backing the trend for healthier versions of consumer favorites.