It's not just consumers who are driving change in the food industry.
For the longest time, discussions around changing the food industry have centered on diets. Whether it was farm-to-fork eating, freeganism or the rise of the vegans and flexitarians, the choices people make have been gradually influencing the food that stores and restaurants offer—perhaps most notably in White Castle's recent embrace of the Impossible Slider.
While I am sometimes skeptical of the green movement's focus on lifestyle change as the relevant lever for change, food is one area where consumers do indeed have a lot of power. And that's for the simple reason that (most of us) eat every day and have to buy that food from somewhere.But consumer choice isn't the only lever we can pull. Just as important in a globalized food system is the power of investors to demand change and manage climate risk. And just as investors have been demanding change of power companies and car manufacturers, a coalition of institutional investors with US$6.5 trillion is now demanding significantly more robust climate action from the world's largest fast food companies.
Coordinated by sustainable investing alliances CERES and FAIRR, a letter was sent to Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Restaurant Brands International (owners of Burger King), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Wendy’s Co. and Yum! Brands (owners of KFC and Pizza Hut). In that letter, the investors demand action from these corporate giants in the areas of climate risk and livestock production, water use and pollution, and land use change.
The letter points out that several major food corporations—including Tyson Foods, Great Wall Enterprises, and Pilgrims Pride—have been called out for what are considered high climate risks in their supply chains, and a poor management of those risks. And it asks these major brands to get out in front of the scientific, public policy and consumer demand threats by beefing (sorry!) up animal purchasing policies; establishing clear greenhouse gas targets and metrics; committing to disclosure on progress; and undertaking scenario analysis and risk assessment.
Interestingly, we've already seen major brands like Tyson and Maple Leaf Foods investing in plant-based meat alternatives, as well as brands like Sonic hedging their bets with part-beef/part-mushroom burgers. I fully expect initiatives like this one to add significant momentum to these trends.