Exploring a resilient and sustainable future for food retail

The Sustainable Food Retail Business Forum, convened by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in Warsaw on 16 April 2024, brought together industry leaders to consider best strategies to strengthen the sector in the face of current and future geopolitical and environmental challenges.

More than 60 key food industry players including from international, local, and online retail chains met in Poland last month to explore the future trajectory of the food retail sector and chart a course for resilience and sustainability. The climate emergency, geopolitical tensions, and economic volatility are presenting unprecedented challenges to growth, for example, through disrupted supply chains, in a sector still recovering from the downturn caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, while the challenges are increasing, so are the opportunities to transform the sector into a sustainable and resilient industry, for example, through the rapidly evolving digital tools that can speed up innovation and help boost efficiency, transparency, and collaboration. This was the focus of the EBRD Sustainable Food Retail Business Forum.

Key stakeholders, including senior-level food industry representatives from Europe and emerging economies, shared good practices in navigating sustainability regulations and embracing digital technologies, deliberating on how best to build future resilience across value chains in the shifting global context. The EBRD provided valuable insights into the importance of green investments in the agri-food sector to help bring transformational change.

Three main interconnected themes emerged from the presentations and discussions:

Going digital for a more efficient sector

Rapid advancements in digital technologies are starting to reshape the food retail landscape, ushering in an era of efficiency, improved data analytics, artificial intelligence, automation, and e-commerce platforms. Speakers and discussions focused on investing in these technologies to drive operational excellence, minimize waste, and enhance profitability and sustainability. An example is the way traditional brick-and-mortar stores are evolving, incorporating innovative tools like self-checkout kiosks and interactive displays to elevate the in-store experience for convenience and accessibility.

Serving up sustainability

Sustainability emerges as a cornerstone of the future food retail sector, from procurement practices to employee training and customer education on why sustainability matters for long-term viability and operation resiliency. Good practices highlighted at the forum include strengthened links with local, responsible suppliers and consumer incentives to buy green products, as well as a more concerted effort by stakeholders to affect change across the entire agrifood system, for example, by adopting climate adaptation and mitigation practices such as introducing more vegetarian and vegan product lines to meet shifting consumer dietary preferences.

Securing the supply chain against the unforeseen

Participants agreed that in an age marked by global disruptions such as conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain resilience is non-negotiable. Strategies to strengthen the sector’s ability to thrive in the face of unforeseen events highlighted at the Forum include diversifying suppliers, local sourcing, forging robust partnerships and community support, as well as investments to mitigate risks.

Looking ahead to a resilient future

As food retailers navigate uncertainties, investing in digital innovation, workforce development, community resilience and sustainability initiatives is not merely prudent but imperative for long-term success. The Forum highlighted how these should not be considered separate strategies but part of a holistic Environment, Social and Governance approach.

The EBRD remains steadfast in its commitment to driving positive change in the food retail sector, catalysing innovation and investment, and fostering partnerships that pave the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future. Supporting initiatives like the Sustainable Food Retail Business Forum creates spaces to build shared visions and to find innovative solutions to shape the future of food retail for generations to come.

Learn more: Event summary.


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