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Food and beverage businesses likely to fall short of industry goal to reduce carbon emissions, new research shows

Data published by consulting group AlixPartners suggests commitments aren’t aggressive enough to meet a reduction objective set by the Science Based Target initiative.
plant-based bowl
Reducing carbon emissions has become an area of focus in foodservice, shining a spotlight on plant-based dishes. / Photo: Shutterstock

Top Western food and beverage companies are missing the mark on their aims to reduce carbon emissions, according to new research published by consulting firm AlixPartners.

The research suggests that the Western food and beverage companies with the largest revenues are likely to fall 34% short of an industry-wide carbon-reduction goal set by the Science Based Target initiative, a collaborative effort from organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Global Compact.

This goal to reduce global carbon emissions by 37.6% from 2019 to 2030 is what the initiative says would be required by the industry to ensure Earth’s temperature doesn’t rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The AlixPartners study, named “Net zero: syncing ambition with outcomes across the consumer-packaged goods value chain,” analyzed carbon-emissions commitments of 235 food and beverage companies across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the United States. Additionally, the study surveyed 200 sustainability and operations executives.

Through that process, it found that current carbon-emissions commitments are too low to meet the global industry target.

“AlixPartners estimates that, even if all these commitments are met, the companies will still have only reduced their carbon emissions by 29% between 2019 and 2030,” the firm said in a press release.

The research implies that even reaching that 29% is unlikely, as food and beverage executives lack confidence in their ability to reduce carbon emissions. Their survey found that only 49% of suppliers, 36% of manufacturers and 31% of retailers said they were very confident in meeting their own carbon-emissions reduction goals. 

“Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers alike need to look across their entire value chains to understand and exert influence all the way back to the start of those chains, as well as downstream towards the end-consumer, if they are to make truly exceptional progress on this front,” said Randy Burt, managing director in the consumer products practice at AlixPartners. 

In order to reach the goal of 38%, researchers urged for quick action. “If the industry is going to meet its carbon-reduction goals by 2030, time is of the essence,” said Andy Searle, a managing director in the consumer products practice at AlixPartners. “Consumer-products companies need to determine what they need to do and who within their business needs to act within the next 12 months and then within the next 24 months.” 

Reducing carbon emissions has become a prominent goal for many restaurant brands as consumers and other stakeholders push for eco-friendlier operations. McDonalds, for example, has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its sustainability efforts, Panera Bread is calling out low-carbon options on menus, while the Just Salad chain has taken this sort of initiative a step further by labeling each menu item with its respective carbon footprint.

In addition, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell have partnered with Beyond Meat to provide plant-based protein options. A survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that 65% of respondents have tried plant-based proteins, and 33% of respondents cited environmental benefits as their reason for choosing plant based.

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