The 5th European edition of the Sustainable Food Summit offered by Organic Monitor took place 6-7 June at the Mövenpick Hotel in Amsterdam, with nearly 140 attendees: Food industry representatives, agricultural producers, marketing experts, retailers, distributors and researchers. The majority came from EU countries, a few from North America and a couple from Australia. The main points of discussion were sustainability on food production, the future of eco-labels and how to achieve mainstream sales for organics.

Sustainable packaging advances for food and drink products were presented by Henk Gerbers, CEO from the Dutch company, BIO+, which has jointly developed with universities alternatives to plastics. The head of sustainability & private labels, Conradin Bolliger-Maiolino, from the Swiss retailer Coop mentioned evolved strategies for packaging waste reduction, recycling systems for plastics and improvement in water resources. Delhaize Group from Belgium presented its joined sustainable initiatives with suppliers, retailers and large associations such as WWF. The Finnish firm Raisio Group is the first initiative in the world to develop a water footprint for its products.

Commercial director of Bunges, Karla Canavan made remarks about the challenges that the world is facing for sustainable agriculture and its increasing population. While there are still limitations for small farmers in terms of supply chain, lack of infrastructure and access to credits, the overall balance of trade is positive for them. She also highlighted that the cost of transport is not the most important factor in terms of balance but the use of fertilisers and that the footprint is not coming mainly from transportation, but from processing.

Sustainability programs have a price and farmers are not receiving minimum wages, mentioned Veronica Rubio from BSCI. “Currently there are more than 200 eco-labels for food products on the market, even some products are having more than three labels”, said Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor. Social labels have increased to be double than organic labels in the past years.  Retailers like Coop have also created new private social and eco labels. The question overall raised was, how to prevent consumers’ confusion with so many labels on the market. Whether there should be a new label that encloses them all still remains open.

Marketing experts from Ketchum and Ogilvy Earth pointed out the importance of social networks and active discussions on media changing people’s behaviour; it is also a way of encouraging responsible consumption. Consumers are the only ones who could change market trends, demanding more sustainable and healthy products. Bringing consumers closer to products and producers is also a strategy to involve shoppers’ awareness to choose sustainable products, said Gerbers.

The environmental journalist, Simran Sethi emphasized the importance of building trust within the food sector, as an essential factor for consumers to make decisions on their purchasing choices. Since food producers are responsible for offering healthy and safety products, consumers expect transparency and responsibility from them.

The Sustainable Food Summit will continue to take place annually in Amsterdam and San Francisco. More information at www.sustainablefoodssummit.com