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B.C.'s food processors make sustainability a priority

BC Hydro's Tony Ceh (left) and BC Food Processor Association's Nico Human.

Nina Winham
For bchydro.com

Across all industrial sectors, the need to understand efficiency and sustainability is on the rise. This month, food processors in BC tackled the topic, making it the theme for their annual FoodProWest conference.

"Everything that is done in food processing is done for the consumer. You won't make money if you lose touch with your clients and customers," says Nico Human, Executive Director and CEO of the BC Food Processors Association (BCFPA), host of the conference. "There's such an awareness of sustainability these days, especially amongst younger consumers – people are so educated and have so much information at their fingertips – the food industry has to be able to adapt very quickly.

"The successful company is the company that can be proactive and become an industry leader and show the way."

The BCFPA's Energy/Sustainability conference included presentations from sustainable food luminaries such as Yves Potvin, who founded Yves Veggie Cuisine and has now launched a new company, Garden Protein International which promotes a meat-free diet; Lloyd Bernhardt,
CEO of Ethical Bean Coffee, which sells fair-trade, organic coffee; Gay Hahn, CEO of Avalon Dairy, a leading provider of organic milk; and Arran Stephens, founder of Nature's Path, North America's largest organic cereal company. All are based in B.C.

Human says efforts towards sustainability in the sector take many forms, but the most obvious are based on reducing cost.

"Members are working to save on operational costs, cut back on energy consumption, and make their operations more cost-effective," he says. "They're also doing things like co-packing. Instead of designing another packing line and building another facility, if they can work together to keep one packing line 100% utilized, they save a lot of costs.

"It's similar with transportation. We all know these trucks on the highway take a lot of energy and have a footprint on our planet, so if you can team up to do your transport together that's a major saver."

Packaging is another area of focus, with companies targeting package sizes and materials to reduce waste and over-consumption.

The BCFPA has worked to support its members in their efficiency and sustainability efforts through programs such as the Energy Manager for Associations in partnership with BC Hydro – see the bchydro.com story – and by launching a website where members can find others who want to partner on co-packing or shared trucking.

The industry association has also launched a new Energy/Sustainability award, offered for the first time this year. Finalists included Sunrise Soya Foods, Nature's Path and Vantage Foods, with Nature's Path taking the top honour. "We want to show inspiring examples, to encourage and help people move forward," says Human.

Human says issues related to sustainability, food security, and consumer tastes are evolving faster than ever, creating a complex playing field for food processors. He says even issues such as obesity and eating a diet that helps reduce health risks are linked to sustainability, with their implications for public health and long-term health care costs. It's a challenge he says B.C.'s food processors are well positioned to accept.

"We see a diversity in our membership that is different from other parts of Canada," he says. "We have so many products we can process, and our members are so entrepreneurial – there's so much going on.

"Plus, this is the home of the David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace, and a leader in the organic movement. All of those things make B.C. a trend-setter. And when that's here in your province, people want to eat that product. So we're supplying it."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and regular contributor to bchydro.com.