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Local heroes: Why reducing food miles doesn’t only benefit the planet

Food miles have been getting a lot of attention from business leaders and consumers, but 2020 showed that many companies still have work to do to secure local partners and locally sourced products. Why should they bother? It’s better for the environment, of course, but local supply chains also have social, health and business benefits.

The Covid crisis has resulted in massive acceleration in demand for local and organic produce, according to Hind Bendaoud, Head of Sustainable Sourcing at Sodexo. “Definitions of local sourcing vary based on local culture and sustainability maturity,” she says. “In several countries, though, there’s a clear evolution of the concept of local sourcing – toward what is being called ‘ultra-local’.”

What’s driving this trend? How are organizations responding? And how are they benefiting?

New demand for local

The Covid-19 crisis has shown up vulnerabilities in global supply chains and encouraged many of us to rethink the way we spend.

“For consumers, wellbeing is a key driver,” says Sodexo’s Hind Bendaoud. “As consumer attention turns to quality, health and the role of food, supply chains are being enhanced.” Employees hold a similar sentiment. According to a recent Sodexo survey, 73% of business leaders believe sustainability policies and practices have become more important to their employees in the last 12 months.

More than 15% of companies, meanwhile, plan to invest more in localized production to safeguard their business against future risks, according to Euromonitor research. A PwC study found, for instance, that 27% of CFOs are looking at community and societal engagement to improve resilience in future crises. This is a trend that is likely to increase, says Bendaoud.

Businesses get active

Businesses are responding to make this vision a reality. That’s a welcome change, says Maria Outters, Group SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility at Sodexo. “Today, we can link local sourcing with concrete plans to have a positive impact,” she explains. “That’s something that didn’t exist three years ago.”

In France, for instance, Sodexo gets all of its dairy products, yogurt and eggs from French partners. That doesn’t just reduce food miles, it also enables the firm to develop strong relationships with local suppliers; the average duration of these partnerships is over 10 years.

In addition to increasing corporate resilience, opting for locally produced products can change the way value is distributed along the supply chain and shorten traceability paths on products.

Benefits beyond the boardroom

The business case for choosing local goes well beyond environment, economics and supply. It can also yield social and health benefits.

“Wild and local foods will typically be more flavorful, as they are presumably fresher or picked at the peak of ripeness when both nutrition and flavor of produce is at its highest,” says holistic nutritionist Maria Marlowe.

From a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective, engaging with local partners has also shown to improve inclusive growth that extends beyond the business and into the community, providing employment, training and local investment.

For example, Australian Indigenous Coffee (AIC) joined forces with Sodexo to transform from a small family business to the largest Aboriginal-owned coffee supplier in Western Australia. In addition to increasing its presence across the continent, AIC now offers barista courses for community members and supports Indigenous literacy in remote Australian communities.

Examples like this illustrate how local partnerships can help businesses to meet their CSR and community engagement goals, says Bendaoud. “By giving access to a range of quality diverse suppliers that are already part of our network, we can also help our clients meet their diversity objectives.”

Where to from here?

There are three steps that will help businesses make the most of this opportunity:

  • First, make sure their actions match their words – and that they can measure this.
  • Second, make sure that restructuring supply chains doesn’t force them to compromise in other critical areas, such as quality and food safety.
  • Third, for real sustainability, their local partnerships and local sourcing need to happen at the same time as other CSR efforts.

“Local sourcing is not only about reducing your carbon footprint,” warns Bendaoud. “The main challenge is to ensure that, through local sourcing, we also have a positive impact on all dimensions, such as health and nutrition, local communities and the environment.”

Sodexo’s Supply Chain Inclusion Program was launched in North America in 2001. Its goal is to include and promote more small business in our ecosystem of suppliers. For more information on how Sodexo helps clients with responsible sourcing practices, click here.

For insights and actionable strategies that will help you accelerate change and operate with purpose, download our report, Sustainability Shifts from Business Imperative to Mission Critical.

April 23, 2021

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