Addressing the challenges of sustainable food retail

By Nibal Zgheib

Sustainable food retail: delivering shareholder value

Finding responses to changing consumer demands, tackling waste and plastics

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Plastic is the ubiquitous material of our age and has become indispensable in food packaging. Plastic has changed our lives for the better, but it is not disposable. Today, plastic threatens the oceans -- microplastics are being identified throughout marine animals -- and after decades of intensive use plastic has started changing the world’s environment – for the worse.

This is just one example of the huge challenges that the food retail sector faces. Other challenges include the introduction and impact of new technologies, changing consumer demands and attitudes and the rapid development of new products thanks to innovation. These challenges also highlight the growing interdependence between producer and consumer who increasingly recognise the need for action.

This is why the EBRD, with the support of TaiwanBusiness Technical Cooperation Fund, organised today’s conference in Warsaw, “Sustainable Food Retail: Delivering Shareholder Value”, which brought together senior business representatives and experts to discuss concerns, share experiences and exchange views on the future of food retail.

Natalya Zhukova, EBRD Director, Agribusiness, said: “Food retail is a vibrant and dynamic sector which is undergoing almost unprecedented changes and challenges. This poses certain risks, but it also offers exciting new opportunities. If managed responsibly and introduced with care, we are confident that significant progress is possible. For this we need the active engagement of all stakeholders and our conference today was an important step in this direction.”

A series of workshops covered four key opics: consumer-driven innovation; technology and innovation; evolving supplier relationships; and environmental and ethical impacts. Many businesses around the world now understand that sustainability is a must for their operations and within their supply chains. So, businesses now also engage in collaboration: producers and retailers jointly act and invest to tackle global issues such as climate change.

All of these are important topics for the EBRD as many countries where the Bank invests still lag behind the standards set in advanced markets, such as the EU, notably:  in the participation of suppliers in higher value-added food chains; the safety, certification and quality of local food products; and energy and resource efficiency. Identifying ways forward to achieve sustainable food retail was one of the key ambitions of today’s conference.

The EBRD Agribusiness team has been on the forefront of these changes for many years. In the last five years alone the Bank has provided over €840 million in funding across 36 investment projects in the food retail sector, working with international retail chains as well as with local retailers. The EBRD combines investments with policy reform, supporting the development of an institutional and regulatory environment that allows businesses to prosper and grow.