Protein is essential to the human diet, but the way we produce and consume it is wholly unsustainable. Climate change, deforestation and our health are all connected in some way to our need for protein, and as the world’s population reaches 10 billion by 2050, and the global middle class consumes ever-increasing amounts of protein, the problems are only going to get worse.
At Forum for the Future, we have brought together the global food industry, environmental groups and nutritional health organisations to form the Protein Challenge, to make the production and consumption of protein more sustainable. Leading businesses joining us include Waitrose, Target, Quorn, Hershey’s and Volac.
After a year-long series of workshops, interviews and research involving over 250 experts we have selected six key areas to focus on. These include: increasing the amount of plant-based proteins in diets; scaling up innovation in sustainable animal feed; and, through closed loop solutions, reducing protein loss and waste.
Many companies within the food and beverage sector have told us they are already looking to diversify their product portfolios to include more plant-based options, to meet consumer expectations around both the health and sustainability agendas.
Retailers can play a pivotal role in addressing the question of how to feed billions of people sustainably. Take sustainable animal feed solutions, for example. Some retailers such as Waitrose are already collaborating with their suppliers, academics and other food manufacturing sectors, investing in new solutions to reduce the use of soya for livestock and fishmeal for farmed fish, and other retailers can and should do likewise.
Retailers can also follow the lead of our partners in the Protein Challenge in starting to influence a change in consumer diets. The UK supermarket sector strongly influences consumer shopping habits, so could there be promotions and offers to steer customers towards greener choices while adding benefits to brands?
I believe there are real opportunities for retailers to go even further - and become vocal and positive advocates for change. Retailers are in a unique position to shape the consumer experience, to influence what is and what is not made available, and not only sell products but also influence lifestyles and wider societal outcomes.
Ultimately, retailers can work closely with the foodservice and manufacturing sectors to shape their external context and encourage further changes in consumer behaviour, even influencing government policy on healthy eating. By working together we can ensure there are real opportunities to scale up best practice and innovation across the protein system.
We’re really excited about the Protein Challenge 2040 and are actively looking for new partners - businesses, entrepreneurs and experts who will help us go further and faster. We are beginning a new journey, a challenge that we can only tackle by working closely together. Doing nothing is not an option.
Mark Driscoll is head of food, Forum for the Future