Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by Asda

About Asda

Asda is one of Britain’s leading retailers. We have over 180,000 dedicated Asda colleagues serving customers at 385 stores, as well as 25 depots and seven recycling centres. We serve over 18 million shoppers a week in store and our growing home shopping business reaches 98 per cent of UK homes.

We are focussed on developing quality products which are healthy, sustainable and affordable. Our approach is to work in partnership with our customers and suppliers to make these improvements. To achieve this we have established a series of initiatives, set out below, which we believe have created step changes in the way we source and retail food sustainably.

How can the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we choose to eat best be reduced?

In order to reduce the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we eat, retailers can work with their suppliers in two main areas – responsible sourcing of materials, and carbon reduction throughout the supply chain. In 2010 at Asda we re-focussed our sustainability strategy to put greater emphasis on our work to improve the sustainability of our supply chain and the products it generates. This work has been in partnership with other Walmart companies, and suppliers, globally to make best use of our knowledge around the world. One such example is the launch of our Sustainable Agriculture initiative in October 2010 that heralded a new focus specifically on sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable Agriculture

This initiative has set three clear areas of activity:

1 - Support farmers and their communities

2 – Produce more food with less waste and fewer resources

3 – Sustainably source key agricultural products

We know that our customers really care about where their food comes from and rely on us to ensure that it meets all their expectations; not just on taste but also that it is environmentally sustainable. Not only will this initiative support our farmers but will also help deliver on our core purpose of making sustainable products ‘affordable for all’, and not just for the small section of society that can afford to pay a premium. For example, our ‘Respectful Eggs’ are our best-selling free range eggs; and we also sell low-carbon beef (see case studies below). Our specific goals and examples of previous work these build on are below:

Global Goals

Asda’s Specific Targets

Asda examples of work to date

Goal 1: Support farmers and their communities

1.1 Increase products sourced from local suppliers by the end of 2015

1.2 Expand existing initiatives inc. Farm Links and education schemes by the end of 2015

1.3 Improve health and livelihood of women in agricultural communities by the end of 2015.

· Increase sales of locally sourced products from current 6,000.

· Offer of British Apples has more than doubled in the last 3 years

· Established Asda Farm Link schemes (partnership groups with suppliers) for liquid milk, beef, lamb and pork.

· Asda dairy bus visits 160 schools every year.

· Asda has contributed £50,000 to the building of a Day Care Centre in Ceres in South Africa to allow the children of women working in the apple industry to have access to care for their children.

Goal 2: Produce more food with less waste and fewer resources

2.1 Reduce fresh food waste and utilise unavoidable waste using sustainable methods by 10% farm to fork by the end of 2015

2.2 Invest £99m in perishable supply chain by the end of 2015

2.3 Deliver program disseminating R&D for beef, pork, lamb, dairy, produce, poultry by the end of 2015

· Build on Courtauld 2 depot to retail target of 5% carbon reduction.

· The additional 5% comes from focus on farm to depots operations.

· Dutch Salad suppliers have reduced water usage by 95% by capturing water from the glasshouse roofs.

· Continued drive to ensure our customers get the highest quality fresh food.

· Independent consultant employed to support Asda’s dairy farmers to share best practice.

· Asda Agriculture Development Centres created in two key agricultural colleges.

Goal 3: Sustainably source key agricultural products

3.1 Sustainable palm oil in Asda brand products (oil by end 2014; kernel by end 2015)

3.2 Develop sustainable beef programme with clear targets by the end of 2015

3.3 Sell only sustainable fish (as assessed by the Sustainable Fish Partnership) by 2011

· All café oils are from sustainable palm oil.

· Asda leading the Walmart Global Palm Oil Project.

· We sell beef with 30% less carbon through changing breeding practices.

· Asda has been working to this target since 2005.

· We have taken on the Sustainable Fish Partnership to independently verify achievements.

Case studies - Respectful Eggs and Low-carbon Beef

Asda has been selling low carbon eggs since 2006/7. We worked with our supplier, Noble Foods, to source these from free range farms which are powered using renewable energy (wind and solar). To help customers choose and to aid the assessment of demand for the product we sell the eggs in a distinctive package, branded as ‘Respectful’. Using renewable energy and local food means that the eggs have half the carbon footprint in production as a standard free-range egg.

To the end of last year, Respectful had sold 31,565,640 eggs. This is equivalent to a carbon saving of 88 tonnes.

We also worked with our supplier ABP to develop low-carbon beef which has a third less emissions in production than standard beef. In contrast to Respectful Eggs, we do not brand this product – it simply forms part of our standard own-label supply.

Supply Chain Carbon Reduction

In addition to responsible sourcing, it is also important to reduce the carbon impact of food by working with our supply chain. In 2010 we set a goal with Walmart to eliminate 20 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from our global supply chain by the end of 2015. Because GHG emissions from our supply chain are many times larger than our direct footprint, the most economical GHG reductions are often not at the retail level, but rather in the value chain of consumer products. Such examples include raw material extraction, product manufacturing, transportation, customer use and product end-of-life.

Our buyers and energy experts are working with suppliers in more than 20 product categories to identify GHG reduction opportunities, launch new projects and implement changes. At Asda we’re leading Walmart’s global project in beef sourcing and production.

At Asda we recognise that packaging plays an important role in the environmental impact of food. We have done more than any other UK retailer to reduce our packaging, educate consumers on how they can recycle it and work with government and the waste industry to enable better recycling of packaging. Whilst the rest of the retail sector recently went for a 10% reduction in food packaging weight, we achieved a 27% reduction. We also worked with WRAP and the BRC to create the on-pack recycling logo, now adopted across the sector, that informs customers on the packaging material type used and whether it can be recycled locally.

Packaging is often criticised, but we must remember that without it, enormous amounts of food would rot before reaching the mouths of our customers and their families. We do though agree that it must be optimised, i.e. reduced as much as possible whilst still carrying out its primary purpose – to protect the product.

We have reached a glass ceiling with weight reduction, where this approach is leading to adverse impacts on the product. For example, a block of cheese where a thin plastic film once cut by a customer leads to the ingress of air and so the deterioration of the product, whereas a re-sealable pack makes it far more likely all the product would be consumed. However, this re-sealable device adds weight to the packaging. To help identify the solution to this issue in 2009 we created an expert body comprising of Government, NGOs, academics, major brands and the packaging industry. We called this group a SVN – Sustainable Value Network – and they offered their time to help us configure a new system that will enable future further packaging optimisation. Our new packaging scorecard will be rolled out this year to both question the packaging used on our products by our suppliers and also to allow them to model different formats to ensure they select the more environmentally preferable option.

What are the land-use trade-offs that affect food production and supply and how should these be managed?

Conflicts over the use of land arise from the multiple functions required from it. These do not just the include fuel versus food debate (important though that is) but also demands for recreation, landscape and biodiversity. An example of one conflict would be polytunnels which are positive for food production as they extend domestic seasons to create healthy crops of soft fruit, and also provide increase demand for labour; but suffer from public and planning authority concern about their appearance.

One aspect that hasn't yet received adequate discussion by government and industry is a joined up approach to land use. Asda’s view is that a discussion needs to take place as to whether we should blend all these issues across the nation or move to a mosaic of high biodiversity and high productivity. Already the concept of conservation corridors has been proposed to allow adaptation and species movement and we support this approach in principle. We believe that greater discussion is needed on these issues.

How can the Government help to deliver healthy food sustainably, whilst also delivering affordable food for all?

We agree in principle with the BRC response that "The Government could play a role in defining what a healthy, sustainable diet is. There has been discussion on this issue but the work on the topic which was begun by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has now stopped. Defining what is a healthy, sustainable diet is extremely complicated when all the various factors are taken into account and balanced and we believe only the Government could take this forward."

The Government could help to develop healthy, sustainable and affordable food by providing a consistent messaging and advice framework. It could be argued that healthy eating and nutrition advice has failed in the past, demonstrated by the rising number of people suffering from degenerative diet related conditions. Therefore education is key and a consistent message is vital for customers’ trust and to change behaviour. At Asda we play our part in communicating health messages and information about products to consumers. For example, in 2007 we launched a dual front-of-pack nutritional labelling system, combining colour-coded information with guideline daily amounts (GDAs) on our own-brand products.

Consumers should be encouraged to take a holistic view about the food they eat. For example, diets consisting of local foods can have a reduced environmental impact due to the lower transportation requirements of the products. However, as transport is usually a small part of a food’s life cycle, it would be sensible for any messages around the environmental benefits of local food to also note that nutrition advice is to consume a varied, balanced diet regardless of location.

Similarly, media reporting often links reduced animal food intake to sustainable behaviour due to the carbon footprint of livestock agriculture. However, this may also have dietary implications since milk and related products provide the diet with essential amounts of calcium and some of the B complex vitamins. Meat provides a significant source of protein, iron and zinc. Again education would be key to help consumers choose alternative supplies of such nutrients.

We welcome and have been closely involved in programmes such as Change4Life and Love Food Hate Waste in which retailers and suppliers contribute to the communication of a simple, central message crafted by Government. Future opportunities could include the promotion of the Eatwell Plate and cooking skills. Additionally, more research is needed in terms of healthy and sustainable food, to build on work such as the Livewell Report devised by WWF which aimed to create a healthy, sustainable and affordable list of foods. Crucially, this report also took into account practicalities and acceptability for customers.

How can consumers best be helped to make more sustainable choices about food?

Asda is continually looking for ways in which we can help our customers make informed choices about the products and services we sell. Transparency is at the heart of our business and sustainability presents us with a great opportunity to engage with our customers on the heritage and source of our products.

Asda does not have plans to label our products with carbon or other sustainability information with the exception of a key limited set of certification logos, such as FSC, MSC, Fairtrade etc. The reason behind this decision is that we do not believe such a label will assist customers in making a sustainable choice at this current time and would more likely cause confusion.

Our approach to sustainable products does not require that a customer necessarily make an active choice at the point of purchase. Customers want us to help them do the right thing and we believe that choice editing the products on our shelves, to replace those less environmentally preferable with greener products, is the most effective and simplest way of doing this.

Clearly before even considering labels it is important to use a consistent metric to calculate the environmental impact of the product so that it is possible to genuinely claim that one product is ‘greener’ than another. This area needs far more consideration which is why Asda is engaged with WRAP in the Product Research Forum, a cross-industry group reviewing common sustainability metrics.

Asda is very engaged in this area. We have carried out a lifecycle assessment across milk, lamb, potatoes, chicken and eggs and have plans to continue this work under a new Walmart project to eliminate 20 million tonnes of supply chain carbon by the end of 2015. For our fresh food supply chain analysis we did not use the Carbon Trust’s PAS 2050 metrics as it was not in place by then, however the work that we did now forms part of the knowledge base in the Carbon Trust's Carbon Footprinting Tool.

Notwithstanding the above, due to our wide customer base there is undoubtedly a small number of customers to whom this information might be useful. In this instance we would envisage not on pack symbols but rather other mediums such as a website or smart phone application where the customer can scan a barcode and get the information they need.

Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food industry?

We are already working in our supply chain to improve efficiency and to reduce our impact on the environment. However, with complex issues and thousands of suppliers, one of the biggest challenges we all face is measuring the sustainability of a product. Asda believes a research-driven approach involving universities, retailers, suppliers and non-government organisations (NGOs) can accelerate and broaden this effort.

We also believe that this approach needs to be on a global rather than a local scale. In this way we do not use PAS2050 (one measure of life cycle GHG emissions), but instead are an active partner in the Sustainability Consortium that is seeking to develop a global Sustainable Products Index. This consortium involves many academic institutions, Walmart, Marks & Spencer, Ahold and a wide range of global brand producers. Details of the Sustainable Products Index are as follows:

The Sustainable Products Index process

Index Step 1: Supplier Assessment

We will provide our suppliers with a survey of fifteen simple, but powerful, questions to evaluate their own company’s sustainability. The questions are divided into four areas:

Energy and Climate

Natural resources

Material efficiency

People and Community

Under these categories are some familiar questions on greenhouse gas emissions and location of factories, but the list also includes some new areas, such as water use and solid waste produced. These are not complicated questions, but we have never systematically asked for this kind of information before. This is an important first step in assessing the sustainability of suppliers, but for true transparency, we also need a tool for the sustainability of products.

Index Step 2: Lifecycle Analysis Database

As a second step, Walmart is helping create a consortium of universities that will collaborate with suppliers, retailers, NGOs and government to develop a global database of information on the lifecycle of products – from raw materials to disposal. Walmart has provided the initial funding for the consortium, but it is not the intention to create or own this index. The company will also partner with one or more leading technology companies to create an open platform that will power the index.

Index Step 3: A Simple Tool for Consumers

The final step of the index is to provide customers with product information in a simple, convenient, easy to understand rating, so they can make choices and consume in a more sustainable way. How that information is delivered to consumers is still undetermined, but could take the form of a numeric score, colour code or some other type of label. The sustainability consortium will help determine the scoring process in the coming months.

How might the changing powers of local authorities and the localism agenda hinder, or be used to encourage, more sustainable production and supply of food?

More localised-decision making is a challenge for the food industry, particularly food retailers. Unlike many other industries we have a large presence across the whole of the UK, but this is combined with highly efficient national practices and operations. We of course seek to meet the needs of our customer in each community, but we also aim to achieve lean and consistent non-customer facing operations. We believe our approach to local sourcing, in which small producers – often supplying only a few stores in one area of the UK – can still interact with a national retailer, offers a model for the food sector of how to adapt to local demands in a workable way. We anticipate that more localised decision making will contribute to the increasingly local identify of communities and therefore encourage further demand for products and services which are tailored to an area.

We already sell over 6,000 local products from 600 suppliers. We define local products as those that are made locally, grown locally and reared locally; are a local taste or delicacy and recognised by customers as local and for which there is significant customer demand.

Clearly there are particular challenges of local, often small producers interacting with a national retailer. To overcome these challenges over 10 years ago we developed the concept of the local sourcing hub. We now have nine of these local sourcing hubs around the UK which manage the relationships between local producers and our business. The hubs’ primary focus is to support producers through the Asda accreditation process and then offer ongoing technical and development assistance as well as the facility to deliver to the one central hub in their area, reducing food miles and costs. We also allow producers to use our buying ability to secure cheaper supplies, such as packaging, and group with other producers to purchase raw ingredients in bulk.

We have a dedicated local sourcing and buying team whose aim is to identify local products and work with small suppliers to enable their products to reach stores. The team enlists the support of regional food groups, the Asda local hub network and customers and store colleagues to discover what the essential local brands are in each area.

Finally, we have introduced a range of measures to make it as inexpensive, simple and low-risk for small suppliers to do business with us. These include: no costly technology requirements; regular progress checks between Asda and the supplier; support on processes such as ordering and invoicing; and local supplier days which bring together producers to discuss issues.

We believe our unique hub model, alongside the other support we offer, brings sustainable benefits for the retailer and producer, and ultimately the consumer who gets access to a greater range of products. The hubs offer a sustainable approach to local sourcing. We have shared our model with Defra and other outside groups so that the wider food sector can benefit from our knowledge of working in a more localised environment.

31 March 2011