New Zealand livestock farmers are well ahead of what is needed to meet the environmental and social needs of consumers, a Sainsbury’s executive said.
“You are leading the way,” Gavin Hodgson, the director of agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture at the United Kingdom supermarket chain, told 700 farmers attending the Silver Fern Farms (SFF) Plate to Pasture Farmer Conference in Christchurch.
He said he had noticed a substantial difference, since his last visit in 2019, in the approach of farmers to meeting these standards.
“As a country you are years ahead and SFF is also well ahead and that is an important message.”
Sainsbury’s accounts for 15% of UK supermarket sales and Hodgson said NZ farmers are aligned to the retailer’s sustainability values, which are enshrined in its Plan for Better strategy.
That strategy sets out three goals: providing a product that is better for the individual, better for the planet and better for everyone.
Each goal comes with specific targets that address diets, reducing carbon emissions and food waste, less packaging, more recycling and protecting and regenerating nature.
They also include human rights, community and partnerships, working conditions and animal health and welfare.
A 20-person agricultural team is charged with integrating those goals and sustainability into the Sainsbury’s supply chain and it has introduced a payment structure that rewards suppliers who meet those values.
Hodgson said the strategy is based on research that found consumers believe Sainsbury’s needs to focus on human rights, food waste, plastic use, animal welfare, protecting nature, carbon emissions and water use.
Recycling, health and safety and sustainable sourcing were considered strengths.
Sainsbury’s has a large retail footprint, operating more than 800 convenience stores and in excess of 600 supermarkets that turn over $64 billion a year from customers conducting 26 million transactions a week.
While sustainability is important to its customers, Hodgson said, price means some of those values are compromised when economic conditions tighten.
Plant-based alternative proteins are no exception. Demand has not been as rapid as expected and as prices have increased, consumer spend has not grown.
Research shows the segment has issues. It found 54% of respondents found alternative protein meals too repetitive, 53% said vegan and vegetarian alternatives were too expensive and 49% feared that meals based on these products did not provide the nutrients they need.
“I am not saying it will disappear, but it is very price sensitive,” he said of alternative proteins.
While praising NZ farming systems, Hodgson said farmers need to continue to evolve and prove their efficiencies, which includes knowing their baseline carbon emissions.
Retailers will increasingly become integrated with consumers and they want to know that the food they eat meets their values and expectations.