Regulation and business action – A positive path to a more sustainable food system

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Our world has an environmental crisis on its hands. Our hands. Not something for the near or mid future. It’s here, now. Does anyone remain to be convinced? This summer offered yet more evidence, bringing deadly fires and floods close to home and giving us a hands-on demonstration of where we are heading if we don’t fundamentally rethink our way of living.

But I am also an optimist, and proud European, and am impressed by the policy and regulatory changes that Europe is leading. The system of production, consumption and disposal must change – and is changing. We are heading fast towards a full transformation of the food system thanks to the European values that now embed sustainability throughout supply chains.

I am also proud of the way business is responding to this change, and even prouder that the company I work for is making this transformation the guiding principle of its business strategy. Today PepsiCo launched pep+ (pep Positive), a strategic end-to-end transformation, with sustainability at the centre of how the company will create growth and value by operating within planetary boundaries and inspiring positive change for the planet and people. As the second largest food company in the world, I believe this brings real impact. And in Europe, we have one of the best opportunities to make an impact with supportive regulations that are pushing business and entire supply chains to make a step change in the way we operate.

pep+ drives action and progress across three key pillars:

Positive agriculture – spreading regenerative agriculture practices to restore the earth across the company’s entire agricultural footprint (approximately 7 million acres), sustainably source key crops and ingredients, and improve the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in our agricultural supply chain. To me, this goes hand in hand with the work that the European Commission is doing to ensure that climate-friendly farming practices make business sense for European farmers via the carbon farming initiative. Scaling up farming practices that restore and maintain soil health will be a complex journey, but one that we can embark on also by looking at what European farmers have already achieved throughout these years. They are the experts, and they are the ones that can show us how much the soil can give back if its richness is fully preserved. For example, in Portugal, we have been working with farmers using techniques to naturally build soil health. Crop rotation has proven to be a critical tool to naturally regenerate soil – our local Portuguese potato farmers found that growing peanuts, which have nitrogen fixing properties, improves soil health.

Positive Value Chain: PepsiCo will help build a circular and inclusive value chain through actions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, become Net Water Positive by 2030; and will introduce more sustainable packaging into the value chain. With the ambitious changes that the “Fit for 55” package will introduce in Europe, entire value chains will be supported in the shift to zero emission operations. We want our manufacturing facilities to be at the forefront of that.  In Poland, PepsiCo is investing 1bnl PLN in a new food manufacturing plant based on green design principles, set to be our most sustainable factory yet in Europe and carbon neutral by 2035. Alongside on-site electricity generation, heating, cooling and water at the site will also be reused and rainwater will be collected for use in the facility. Even the potato waste from manufacturing will play a key role. The leftover peelings will be used in a special biomass generator to help power the plant and will afterwards be converted into a low carbon fertilizer which will be provided to farmers to help grow PepsiCo’s next crop of potatoes.

Positive Choices: PepsiCo continues to evolve its portfolio of food and beverage products so that they are better for the planet and people, including by incorporating more diverse ingredients in both new and existing food products that are better for the planet and/or deliver nutritional benefits, prioritizing chickpeas, plant-based proteins and whole grains. This is part of the transformation of the food system that the European Green Deal has kicked off. Accelerating the reduction of added sugars and sodium across our portfolio and cooking our food with healthier oils has been part of PepsiCo’s response to the European Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices earlier this year. In Europe, PepsiCo has announced its commitment to reduce the average level of added sugars in its beverage portfolio by 50% and to build a $1 billion portfolio of foods rated Nutri-Score B or better by 2030.

It is an incredible challenge to operationalise change in such a short term, yet one that PepsiCo is ready to face, and one that the EU is ready to trigger and support. But to really deliver positive outcomes for people and the planet, it is not just about one company – the scale of the challenge is too great.  Yet as I said, I am an optimist, I think business and regulators are at the right place at the right time to transform long term societal ambitions into operational changes today.

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