Our Food System is Broken, and it’s Time for the Food Industry to Work Together to Fix It
By Adam Grogan, Chief Operating Officer, Greenleaf Foods
My 10- and 14-year-old sons tell me daily how important reducing our environmental footprint is for future generations. And as it turns out, most consumers agree and their food choices are starting to reflect this view.
A 2020 IBM study found that more than half of US consumers are willing to change their consumption habits to lessen their impact on the environment and the data proves it – eight in 10 consumers surveyed indicated that sustainability is important to them. The pandemic has also had a major effect on consumer’s eating behavior: The Good Food Institute reported plant-based meat sales were 454% higher in March 2020, versus the same time the previous year. While consumers are willing to change, businesses must lead, and I believe that bridging the gap between the meat and plant-based protein industries can have a positive impact on consumers and the environment.
As the Chief Operating Officer for Greenleaf Foods—a US-based plant-based protein company and the proud steward of the Light life® and Field Roast™ brands—I know firsthand that consumers have an insatiable appetite for protein. I also spent 20 years working at Greenleaf’s parent company, Maple Leaf Foods. Maple Leaf is a purpose driven, consumer protein company on a journey to become the most sustainable protein company on earth. That is why Maple Leaf formed Greenleaf: to double down on sustainability commitments by advancing the plant-based protein industry.
The reality is our current food system is broken. Besides negative environmental impacts, there are also not enough healthy, accessible food options to feed our growing population. Getting rid of the meat industry is not the solution. Plus, we know that people want to consume more protein, and in many cases that includes meat. Animal protein has been part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years and it’s not going away. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If consumers choose to eat meat, I respect their decision. At the same time, I believe we should all eat more whole plants and plant-based foods. That’s why I am singularly focused on providing more protein options that are healthier, delicious and accessible.
Our future depends on the meat and plant industries working together. We can learn from one another in areas like supply chain and sourcing, transportation, water usage, manufacturing, packaging, and food waste. For instance, one of the challenges in our industry is that while research, development, and innovations are there, manufacturing is still in its early stages. Plant-based companies can adopt best practices in food safety, quality management, and cost-effective manufacturing from the meat industry. Likewise, developments in the plant-based industry can be transferred to meat processing, particularly at the ingredient level. Learning lessons from other industries will be the catalyst in reducing our carbon footprint and developing healthier products. This is one of the reasons Greenleaf is carbon neutral now.
I believe our food system can change. My perspective might seem controversial, but the reality is, it’s not. Some of the largest and most prominent brands in this space that advocate for the end of the animal protein industry, in fact, are already working with meat manufacturing partners to produce their food. There is no time to waste. We must continue to identify areas of improvement, partner with our peers across sectors, and act now to innovate for a better planet tomorrow.