More about our work in the food system

We want to create a sustainable global food system. We want to transform it so it feeds the world’s population without exhausting our ecosystem, so the price of food reflects the true cost of producing it, and so all players in the system, in the developed and developing world, are rewarded fairly.

Our current system is unsustainable. It suffers from a range of factors including: unsustainable patterns of consumption in the west; prices that fail to reflect the true environmental and social cost of production; significant waste at all stages between the farm and the table; unfair relationships between retailers, manufacturers and farmers; and consumers who are disconnected from the food they eat.

Our activities in the food system fall within three themes:

Rethink value creation and equity in food chains

Power and profit are unfairly distributed along the food value chain. Producers and growers bear a disproportionate burden of risks and costs so that, for many, food production is not a sustainable economic activity. We aim to rethink value creation so that the food system enables sustainable livelihoods, pulls people out of poverty and the industry becomes an attractive place to work. This will create more stable and resilient food value chains.

Key projects: creating sustainable value chains

Our flagship projects bring together key players - from producers to retailers and beyond - to explore what a sustainable value chain would look like in a specific food sub-system. We explore issues such as: how the value chain operates; what sustainability issues it faces and where the risks and opportunities lie; how well the chain addresses these issues and whether it can be re-oriented to do this more effectively, for example by operating as a closed circle. We define what a sustainable value chain means for that sub-system and set out a roadmap to achieve it.

Tea 2030 explores what a sustainable tea sector could look like in the future. The project will use future scenarios to drive collaboration and innovation across the whole tea value chain (from farms to leftover teabags). 

Our Dairy 2020 project explores the challenges facing the dairy industry up to the end of the decade.

Our work with the Shell Foundation explores how to develop and scale up sustainable value chains.

Reconnect people with the food they eat

Around the world growing numbers of city dwellers have lost touch with where their food comes from. Increasingly, they value food more for its convenience and low cost than for its environmental and social value, and they are unaware of how it is produced and the impacts this has on people and the environment. We aim to help reconnect people with the food they eat, so they recognise it as a source of wellbeing, nutrition and social capital and are willing to pay a fair price. If we value our food properly, it will benefit the whole food supply chain.

Key projects: sustainable branding

We believe household brands can become agents of transformative change. We want to use them to reconnect mainstream consumers with the food they eat and to drive mainstream demand for sustainable food. We plan to convene a group of marketing and branding experts to collaborate around one or more critical sustainability challenges in the food system, and find innovative ways to deploy brands and marketing communications to drive sustainable food production and consumption.

Our Sustainable Brands Roundtable brings together leading brands from across the Forum Network to generate new ideas and find practical ways to address various challenges and opportunities for brands on sustainability.

We have worked with Unilever to train marketing professionals in sustainability, and our Consumer Futures project explores how patterns of consumption and consumer behaviour may have changed by 2020. 

We've worked with Cadbury on mainstreaming sustainability into brands and we've run a series of seminars for Tesco on emerging trends in sustainability.

Restore resilience to the food system

The food system is over-reliant on non-renewable resources, is degrading our natural environment and is a significant contributor to climate change. It also creates huge volumes of unnecessary food waste. We aim to increase the system’s resilience, help it make more effective use of resources and eliminate unnecessary waste. We want to work with organisations which are pioneering these approaches.

Key projects: Urban food growing

How can we feed cities in the future, while also connecting people with the way their food is produced? There are some strong examples internationally of urban food growing from models of shared production (CSAs) to hydroponics. We want to involve city dwellers in food production, reimagine the urban landscape, and communicate a vision of a food-growing city. We will use our experience of working on urban food growing in Bristol to inform the project, and innovate around the most successful models.

Our work with Pepsico on developing scenarios for 2030 helped it to identify the major sustainability risks and opportunities that it will face and what it can do now to ensure it is successful in decades to come. The project led the company to set up a new sustainable agriculture team to manage the risks that climate and water crises pose to its supply chains.

We also developed and ran Farming Futures, an industry-led collaborative project to communicate practical action on climate change to farmers and land managers in the UK.