The net-zero opportunities served up in the food and beverage sector
With major F&B organisation Carlsberg Group setting a net-zero target, how vital a role does this sector play in fighting climate change?
In August, major food and beverage (F&B) company Carlsberg Group announced it was setting a net-zero target of 2040. This would involve reducing carbon emissions across its entire value chain – from farming of raw materials right through to consumption of the final product.
It remains to be seen how successful Carlsberg is in reaching this goal, but the announcement made it clear the F&B sector has a role to play in reaching net zero from a societal perspective. As well as concerns over water waste and land use, the F&B sector produces a significant amount of the world’s emissions. According to ESG consultancy planetly, F&B activities account for 36% of global emissions.
“I think it is fair to say that the focus of food and beverage companies has been more on the ‘Social’ side of ESG than on the ‘Environmental,’ but this is changing,” says Nigel Yates, portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers, who is not the only investor becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of F&B practices.
Making F&B net zero
F&B has a climate impact throughout the value chain, but it is clear that agricultural practices play a huge role in this – accounting for over 40% of global methane emissions according to the World Bank.
Statistics like this are forcing F&B companies to review their reliance on agricultural practices, with new technologies gaining attention. Aleph Farms is an Israeli cultivated meat company that grows meat from cells isolated from living cattle. Founder and CEO Didier Toubia explains the company has been able to commit to net-zero targets (Scopes 1 and 2 emissions by 2025, Scope 3 by 2030) due to its less resource-intensive footprint.
“Food systems solutions exist, and momentum is building,” says Toubia. “Now is the time to scale action. Governments, investors and global food and meat companies realise the role that food systems play in the transition to a net-zero economy. Investors have been accelerating investment in food systems innovation, which, together with sustainable animal agriculture, can help achieve some of the most impactful climate goals of our times.”
Solutions do not have to be as drastic as meat made in a laboratory. Agriculture accounts for 38% of the planet’s land surface, which is also encouraging investors to think about how this is used more efficiently. Jaz Singh, founder and CEO of the Innovation Agri-Tech Group, specialises in vertical farming – as the name suggests, this involves vertical rows of crops growing all year round.
“Putting it frankly, the world is currently in turmoil. Globally, our food systems are broken due to a number of factors including conflict and climatic conditions,” says Singh. “All this highlights a need for a fundamental shift in how we produce food and our priorities when it comes to food production.”
For this reason, vertical farming is attracting more attention, though critics point out it can be energy-intensive due to the need for indoor light, heat and water all year round.
Singh concedes this is a challenge he and his colleagues are working to overcome, but that vertical farming can still play a role in minimising agricultural emissions.
“We are looking into ways to actively mitigate the energy used through on-farm renewable energy systems which will have huge benefits for both the planet and also for growers on a commercial basis, especially with energy prices on the rise and only predicted to increase further in the short-to-media term,” he says.
“In combination with the right set up and investment, [vertical farming] can be a method which doesn’t just hit but exceeds net-zero targets.”
Satisfying transition demand
Though start-ups in new F&B solutions may innovate and excite, it is clear by the size of the sector’s emissions that these need to be embraced by established global names.
Carlsberg Group is a household name engaging with net-zero targets, but others are also reviewing their own practices. AXA Investment Managers’ Yates, who manages the AXA Framlington UK Sustainable Equity fund, gives Treatt as an example – an established extracts, flavouring and fragrance ingredients provider for F&B and consumer goods companies.
Here, the portfolio manager explains that net zero has become a key tenet in their corporate engagement: “On the environmental side, they have started to consider reduction targets for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and they are looking to develop a longer-term net-zero strategy.
“We have engaged with them on a number of ESG areas, including pushing them for more explicit carbon-reduction targets. In response, they indicated that once they have completed a full energy audit, they hope to get an emissions-reduction plan approved by SBTi [the Science Based Targets Initiative]. Our role as responsible investors is to ensure they put the plan in place and meet these targets.”
Elsewhere, Aleph Farms is working with established F&B groups to supplant their existing suppliers for meat. Achieving greater recognition in the industry will help accelerate cultivated meat from a novelty to a mainstay, says CEO Toubia.
“Leveraging the expertise and infrastructure of leading food and meat companies will drive a faster scale-up of cultivated meat and eventually lead to broader positive impact,” he says, arguing that F&B brands are under greater pressure from consumers and shareholders to cut emissions.
“Stakeholders, like conventional meat corporations, see cultivated meat as an opportunity for new production streams alongside core conventional production and as an enabler for meeting their countries and organisations’ respective ESG goals.”