Food Industry Faces Communication Gulf

02:46PM Aug 10, 2017
Last fall these JBS Five Rivers' steers at the Kuner Feedlot would have entered the traditional JBS packing plant system. With the Fed Cattle Exchange there is a chance for some JBS Five Rivers cattle to be purchased by competing packers, aiding in price discovery for the beef industry.
( Staff photo )

Pressure from consumers is shaping how grocers and other retailers seek food from the farmers who supply them. But a lack of communication and understanding about production agriculture could be a threat to all supply chain stakeholders, says Chad Gregory, CEO of United Egg Producers.

“We need this definition of sustainability answered,” Gregory said Thursday during a panel discussion on the protein supply chain at the 2017 Global Sustainability Summit in Nashville, Tenn. The event is jointly organized by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

For example, many grocers have asked egg producers to move to cage-free production by 2025, he says. That means the egg industry must add 200 million or more cage-free laying hens in less than a decade. The average number of layers per farm is 1 million, Gregory points out, and the estimated cost of making the switch to cage-free would be $45 million per operation. He argues “massive two-way communication” is needed between suppliers and groceries to get on the same page about consumer expectations and associated investments of time and money.

There’s no question protein demand is shifting, and the industry needs to stay in tune with consumer needs, adds Jill Kolling, sustainability leader with Cargill Protein. A year ago, the company dropped the word “animal” from the title of its protein division to reflect growing interest in food products made with plant-based proteins and other ingredients. Cargill is actively investigating alternative proteins. “However, we believe and see global demand for protein is going to grow.”

Speaking as a scientist, says Roger Cady, senior technical consultant and global sustainability lead at Elanco, who holds degrees in animal breeding and genetics, consumers and other supply chain stakeholders need to realize humans have evolved to be omnivores. Consumers can enjoy a mix of animal- and plant-based products in a healthy way, he says.

“A black-and-white world doesn’t solve sustainability issues,” Cady says.