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Notes & comment...reposted from yesterday afternoon’s update...

LONDON - The subject was sustainability, and the afternoon’s marquee speaker was the Prince of Wales, who has had a long interest in sustainable agriculture, even to the point that he has cerated his own line of food products - Duchy Originals - reflecting his priorities.

The speech by Prince Charles was not nearly as dry as this Colonist expected; he had a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor. (The Prince seemed amused that his competition in the time slot was the World Cup game between England and Slovenia, conceding that most of the Brits in the room were probably far more interested in what was going on in the football game ... which, as it happened, England won 1-0.) But the passion behind the Prince’s words was unmistakable.

In his comments to the retailers and manufacturers attending the Summit, Prince Charles focused primarily on sustainable fishing, noting that there have been estimates that all commercial fisheries will collapse by 2050 unless the industry takes a more responsible approach to how they are nurtured. And, he said, the impact will be broader than just seafood availability, since the collapse of commercial fisheries also will affect villages and towns and people who depend on fishing for their livelihoods.

The Prince urged the food industry to become a “formidable force for good,” suggesting that “the health and stability of the world economy depends on the health of the world’s ecosystems.” And, he said, these problems won;t go away “if companies just paint their products with a brighter shade of green.” To do otherwise, he said, “is not sustainable, and also is not moral ... I wonder why we are dogged by collective hubris” that makes people think that these problems need not be dealt with.

The issue of sustainability - and climate change - was also at the center of a joint presentation given by Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, in which they pledged to help guide CGF toward a strategic and cooperative approach to these issues that affects production, packaging, and even the end use by the consumer. This is good business, Leahy noted, saying that shoppers are concerned about climate change and want to patronize companies with a responsible approach to the issue. Polman agreed, saying that “to say their is a choice between growth and cutting carbon emissions is just wrong,” and he emphasized that his goal is to double the size of Unilever’s business while still cutting total carbon emissions.

In another presentation, Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive, IGD, made the same point: “Over a trillion dollars of food is traded between countries each year. We draw on a big share of the world’s resources, including 70% of fresh water. We shape the landscape, and diet has a big influence on human health and vitality. So we’re the world’s most important industry and society is asking more and more of us. We need new and sustainable strategies for growth.”

Essentially, all of these executives were making precisely the same point, albeit from different directions - that while there may be some barriers to making a more sustainable approach to business a reality (such as price, education of the consumers, and even a sense of hopelessness that citizens actually can have an impact), food retailers and manufacturers have both an ethical and economic mandate for change...and to ignore it is to run the risk of irrelevance in the eyes of the consumer population.

Other random thoughts ...

• Not sure if anyone else noticed, but I thought it was interesting that in an afternoon of speeches focused on things like sustainability, energy savings and seafood, the name ‘BP” was not mentioned. Not even once.

• Gareth Ackerman, chairman of South Africa’s Pick n Pay Stores, noted that one of the challenges facing the food industry is the high rate of consolidation, and he pointed out how much of American supermarket sales are generated by the top five retailers there. What he didn’t point out was that only one of those top five - Walmart - is in attendance here.

In fact, there are only four US retailers here, and three of them - Walmart, A&P, and IGA - have international connections that explain their presence. Only one US retailer - Price Chopper, of upstate NY - has seen fit to send a delegate here (though there are other Americans from various manufacturers, trade associations colleges, etc... and then there’s me).

It seems to me that for CGF to be a truly global organization, they’re going to have to do a better job of speaking to and attracting US retailers to conferences like this one. There’s nothing wrong with being a Europe-centric organization, or being both Europe-centric and Asia-centric. But you can’t be really global without the US at the table.

My Web Grocer

BTW...I’ve finally posted some retail pictures from the Australian leg of my trip on our MNB Facebook page.

Thanks, as always, to TCC ... which is sponsoring “The Content Guy On The Road.”

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