Supermarkets: end of an empire?

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“Listing all the potentially destructive or unethical features of this dominant food retail model would be a lengthy process. But in brief, supermarkets created a food monoculture in which most people buy and eat the same food across Britain. With their global, long-chain sourcing model, they undermined the age-old cycle of seasonal eating. They were the midwives of the ‘no-time-to-cook’ processed food revolution, which now looks to be a key driver of ill health and obesity. The supermarket business model works on a juggernaut of food miles, and has escalated food and packaging wastage to previously unthinkable levels. Supermarkets also denuded urban landscapes, blighted traditional high streets, put independents out of business all over the country, and bullied their way into communities while creating food deserts.”

Extract from Sustainable Food Trust article, found here.

Space to Grow – Edinburgh

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Just discovered this project, Space to Grow, working on the grounds of Lloyds bank in Edinburgh – blurb and more info below.

We are a group of colleagues with a mission to transform land across our company’s UK offices into working gardens that enhance community and environment.

Space to Grow aims to strengthen community connections and promote long term sustainable development and social impact by encouraging colleagues to work together to create valuable garden spaces through the use of responsible and sustainable methods. We will work with local communities to decide how each garden would create the greatest benefit.

Our first garden is well underway and will be in Edinburgh, with a second garden being developed in parallel in Copley.  We are also continuing to work on identifying local charitable and community organisations who can benefit from these and other sites in future.

Exposed: top Scots universities dealing in arms and fossil fuels

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This seems shameful – Edinburgh Uni votes on divestment tomorrow, let’s demand change #EdinburghUniFossilFree.

Article can be found here.

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​NUS Scotland exposes top universities’ unethical investments

Scotland’s universities are making millions on the back of unethical investments, a freedom of information (FOI) request has discovered.

Leading universities continue to invest in what the National Union of Students Scotland (NUS) deems harmful industries, such as fossil fuel exploration and arms.

In its FOI request it found nearly £16m is invested in companies involved in oil, gas and coal extraction, over £6m is invested in fossil fuel services and almost £3m is invested in the arms industry.

The University of Edinburgh, which at £291,806,852 has the largest investment portfolio in Scotland, invests almost £8.6m in fossil fuels, a further £5.9m in fossil fuel services, and £675,000 in the arms industry.

At the moment, many of them either don’t know or don’t care what companies their investments are supporting

The University of Strathclyde invested 10% out of its overall endowment of £27,040,000 into fossil fuel companies and 3% into arms.

And the University of Glasgow invested 5% out of its £43,327,918 endowment into fossil fuel extraction, and 3% into the arms industry.

It also discovered the University of Dundee, with an endowment of £21,039,968, invested 9% of its fund into oil, gas and coal.

Most of the institutions who responded recognised the need for socially responsible investment principles in their investment policy, but have no formal exclusions in place for companies that cause environmental damage or contribute to armed conflict.

NUS Scotland is now calling on universities and other publicly funded institutions to ensure they are investing their money in a socially responsible way.

“It’s shameful that Scottish universities are still pouring so much money into industries that are destroying the planet and fuelling conflict,” said Kirsty Haigh, NUS Scotland vice president communities. “Our institutions should be working to benefit not just their campuses but wider society as well, and we should expect more from them.

“At the moment, many of them either don’t know or don’t care what companies their investments are supporting.

“None of the reasons for divestment are contentious, and universities should recognise that and take action.

“Burning fossil fuels is causing disastrous climate change, and arms companies profit from conflict and human rights abuses. Our universities—who are at the forefront of world leading research, innovation and social progress—should know this better than anyone.”

Last year, the University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to commit to fossil fuel divestment, and the University of Edinburgh are taking a decision on fossil fuel divestment later this month.

Is the era of Big Food coming to an end?

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Published in The Guardian here.

Consumers want to eat healthier and processed-food brands are scrambling to repackage themselves. Is the tide turning against junk food?

Consumers still want food to be convenient, but their desire to eat healthy poses a problem for the huge multinationals known as Big Food. 

As consumer demand for local, organic and fresh foods continues to grow, the enormous multinational firms that are collectively being called Big Food are in the position of having to rework, reshape and reimagine themselves. Although this changing consumer landscape has contributed to lackluster growth among some of the industry’s major players, the consensus among producers, analysts and healthy food advocates is that the major food companies – and their influence – are still going strong. For now.

“These companies make billions of dollars every year. The issue isn’t profits – these are massive – it’s growth,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, and an advocate for healthy food policy.

Indeed, growth has been a challenge for many in the industry over the past year.

Net sales at Kellogg – maker of Cheez-Its, Pringles and Keebler cookies in addition to its well-known cereals – decreased by 1.4% to $14.6b in 2014, a performance CEO John Bryant called “disappointing” in the company’s fourth quarter earnings call. Declining sales of breakfast foods and snacks contributed to the downward trend. At Kraft – home of brands including Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and Velveeta – net revenues edged down 0.1% in 2014.

Consumers’ growing appetite for foods that feel healthier, fresher and less processed is one of the significant obstacles to growth. In remarks at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in February, Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison said: “we are also confronting profound shifts in consumers’ preferences and priorities with respect to food”, pointing to an “explosion of interest in fresh foods” and “a mounting distrust of so-called Big Food”.

Sales on the perimeter of the supermarket, where fresh produce, meat and dairy are generally sold, have risen about 5% over the last year, while sales of the more processed and packaged items sold in the aisles have increased only 1%, says Erin Lash, food industry analyst for investment research firm Morningstar.

“Consumers just want to overall feel like they are eating healthier,” Lash says. “That’s one of the biggest trends, especially in the US.”

Big food companies have seen some of these changes coming and attempted to prepare for them. Kellogg acquired whole-grains-focused Kashi in 2000, the same year General Mills bought organic food company Small Planet Foods, which produces Cascadian Farms vegetables and Muir Glen tomatoes.

“We have a strong portfolio of natural and organic brands, which has been growing double digits since [the Small Planet acquisition],” says General Mills spokeswoman Bridget Christenson, valuing the company’s natural and organic portfolio at $600m.

The trend shows no signs of slowing, with plenty of examples of big companies redoubling their investments in healthy food initiatives.

Nestlé USA announced last month that it will stop using artificial colors in its chocolates by the end of 2015. ConAgra has been expanding its “all-natural, gourmet-inspired” Alexia brand, adding frozen vegetables, side dishes and breads to the line. Campbell’s launched an organic soup line last month, and Morrison, in her remarks at the analyst conference, promised an investment in “packaged fresh” foods.

“People who don’t consume Chef Boyardee might comment on the processed nature of it, but when we talk to people who depend on that product, it’s something that they dramatically love,” says Thatcher Schulte, ConAgra’s director of insights and analytics.

The future, as always, is uncertain. And it’s unlikely all the companies’ efforts will share the same fate. After all, some companies have done a better job of positioning themselves than others. Lash points to Kellogg and Campbell’s as two companies that have struggled. Kraft, on the other hand, has been doing a good job refocusing its marketing efforts, and General Mills is getting some traction with its Greek yogurt offerings, she says.

Lash says that the future looks bright for those that are willing to adapt: “The companies that you see that are focused on innovation, focused on bringing to market new products – they have the opportunity to continue to realize decent growth.”