Consumers concerned about food footprint: report

A new Conference Board report shows retailers need to improve efficiencies in transporation and packaging

Consumers who buy into the “eat local” trend may not understand that just because foods are produced close to home doesn’t mean they are more environmentally-friendly than those transported over long distances.

That’s one of the important messages that retailers have an opportunity to communicate to their customers, said Vijay Gill, the author of a new research report from the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada.

Fast and Fresh - A Recipe for Canada’s Food Supply Chains is the latest report to come from the Centre for Food in Canada and one of 20 research projects being undertaken during a three-year initiative to come up with a Canadian food strategy.

In Fast and Fresh, Gill explores the economics of and recent developments in Canada’s food supply chains and works through the implications for industry, policymakers and consumers.

While supply chain improvements have provided Canadians with more variety and better prices than ever before, the report noted that some consumers have shifted their attention to other attributes like the environmental footprint of their food.

But, research shows that on average 83% of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food were generated during the production phase.

“For most foods there is much more energy consumed during the production and processing stage than there is in the transportation stage,” explained Gill. “So if we take advantage of transportation efficiencies in order to get the most out of the highly productive areas then we may be minimizing energy consumption overall even if we’re transporting the food over larger distances. At the very least, consumers should be more aware of the fact that ‘food-miles’ is a highly simplified metric in itself and is likely of little use as a result.”

Retailers also have a role to play in improving transportation efficiencies, Gill said, adding that most of the large retailers, at least, have been squeezing as many efficiencies as possible out of the food supply chain. “But there are probably still some opportunities in areas such as packaging, both for minimizing the volume of foods that are shipped in order to lower transportation costs as well as to increase the shelf life of foods. We’re seeing more retailers using real time information for temperature controlled foods in order to minimize cold chain breaks as well. This is still a growing area.”

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