Creating a circular economy, organic, plant-based foods and deforestation were among the topics discussed by over a 100 executives at the recent fifth edition of the Latin American Sustainable Foods Summit in São Paulo.

Circular economy
Carla Tennenbaum from Ideia Circular Brazil kicked off the summit with a keynote on the circular economy. According to Tennenbaum, the food industry is the largest in the world, employing over 1 billion people. However, the modern food industry, with its focus on large-scale production is a major contributor of greenhouse gases, the largest user of single-use plastics, and causes around 39 million hectares of soil degradation each year. To make the move to a circular economy, she called for the development of regenerative agriculture, more local sourcing, healthier food, and less food waste. 

Plant-based foods
Thiago Guerra Diniz, managing partner of Tensei, explained how alternative proteins are evolving in the region. His company is marketing plant-based foods with similar texture to meat proteins. Gustavo Guadagnini from the Good Food Institute said technology is changing the food landscape. He believes cultivated meat will meet the protein needs of a growing global population. Seminars were also given from the Vegetarian Society and Veganismo Brasil on the growth of the vegetarian and vegan movements in Latin America. 

Organic food
An update was given on the organic food market in Latin America and Brazil. According to Cobi Cruz from Organis Brazil, 19% of Brazilians are now regular buyers of organic products. Health reasons were cited as major reason to buy organic foods, stated by 79% of respondents. Organic vegetables and fruit were the most popular organic products. Carrefour showed how it is setting up supply chains for organic foods; it stated that organic food sales had increased by 50% in 2018 and that it now had 1,120 items. Alexandre Harkaly gave an update on global organic trade agreements. He showed how Brazil was losing out on global trade since it did not have trade agreements with the major markets of Europe and North America. 

Augusto Freire from FoodChain ID showed how the burning of the Amazon was linked to agriculture. Rising prices of agricultural commodities were causing deforestation, with much of the land cleared for beef and soya production. He called for traceability and chain of custody to ensure sustainable production of commodities. The ProTerra Foundation gave an update on sustainable soya production; there was a call for higher adoption rates since certified products have just 2% percent share of global soya production. Aisla Rutkowski from Roquette gave details on how pea proteins are being used as soya alternatives in food applications. 

Since plastic pollution is a major environmental issue, a number of green packaging solutions were highlighted. TetraPak showed how it is using renewable materials to help contribute to a low-carbon circular economy. Futamura gave details on how it is creating compostable packaging from cellulose-based biopolymers. Fabio Thomazelli from Sealed Air highlighted the role of packaging in food preservation and waste reduction. Heineken gave insights into how it is reducing the carbon footprint of its glass beer bottles. It is working with Brazilian retailers to encourage the return and recycling of its bottles. Henrique Guilherme Brammer Junior of Boomera proposed many solutions to help the industry move away from single-use packaging; these include circular supply chains, lifespan expansion, barter systems, and providing packaging as a service. 

The Summit also raised a wider set of questions about sustainability; thy included:

  • What does sustainable food mean: eco-labelled/organic, ethical, lower environmental impact, and/or plant-based? 
  • What is the role of animals in a sustainable food system? Does sustainable production mean rearing livestock according to organic/ humane/free-range practices? Or, should they not have a role as vegans advocate? 
  • What can be done to translate consumer awareness into sustainable product purchases? Various studies show that Brazilian consumers are concerned about environmental issues, however sustainable food sales are lagging compared to many other countries. 
  • How can we raise adoption rates of sustainable packaging materials? The number of sustainable food products is increasing, however almost still use plastic packaging. 
  • Agriculture and the food industry is a major cause of greenhouse gases, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and plastic pollution. How can operators help resolve these issues by moving to circular systems?
    The 2020 editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit will look to address such questions…

Upcoming Sustainable Foods Summit events:

North American edition – 22-23 January 2020, San Francisco

Asia-Pacific edition – 30-31 March 2020, Singapore 

European edition – 11-12 June 2020, Amsterdam 

Latin American edition – 5-26 November 2020, São Paulo