downing street

The election of a new political leader is a chance to ask questions. And if the main one is whether and when to lower tax amid soaring inflation and a worsening economy, there’s increasing noise questioning whether the government should crack on with its sustainability targets, from subsidising electric vehicles to taxing fuels, from plastic taxes and DRS plans, to net zero itself.

We’ve already seen some dilutions in policy affecting the food and drink industry, notably delaying the ban on multibuys. And there are no shortage of siren voices in the Conservative Party (not least Nigel Farage) calling for the government to go further.

The picture is as mixed as it is fast moving, with the leading candidates (pxx) apparently committed, while outsiders have broken ranks. But these questions are also being asked in the food industry. This weekIceland quietly disclosed it would not meet its voluntary plastic reduction targets  blaming the cost of living for a reprioritisation within the business as it struggles to control inflation. 

It’s not alone in its agonised decision making. Amid the dysfunctioning plastic tax, the shortage of rPET and its prohibitive price means some are already taking the tax hit, but as we report this week, PepsiCo has also watered down its 100% rPET pledges.

On the government side, Defra secretary George Eustice also told FDF members at its Parliamentary reception this week that the government was prepared to look again at the timetable for DRS and EPR because of the cost of living crisis – a day after assuring farmers that net zero would not be abandoned.

And what of consumers? It’s been a given through covid and the early stages of the cost of living crisis, that shoppers are still increasingly concerned about climate change. But a long-running Ipsos poll shows it was at a similar level in 2005 before falling back in the post-Lehman banking crash of 2007/8, but with the economy tumbling, will interest wane and priorities change?

A new report from Kantar shows the green agenda is still massively important to ‘eco-conscious consumers’ but it’s a nuanced picture: 54% are cooking more at home; 41% are buying less fast food; 48% are recycling more; 26% are eating more plants in their diet; 24% are buying more second-hand items.

But against long-term concerns for the survival of the planet the fight for individual survival is more immediate. And if shoppers lose their interest then what? Will industry commitments in 2025, 2030, 2035 and 2040 also go? We’ve seen Brazilian food giants delay, push back. We’ve not really seen it closer to home so much. Will we now?

Maybe the trickle signalled by Iceland and PepsiCo will become a flood. With record temperatures here and across the globe at the moment you rather hope not. But when politicians are accusing Defra’s potentially next secretary of state of “our very own little Bolsanaro” you do rather fear where we’re heading.