By Cathryn Higgs, Head of Food Policy 

As we approach the end of 2020, we’re all reflecting on a year of continuous change and challenge. We’ve had to be resilient, adaptable and change our ways of working as we’ve needed too. 

One thing that has remained unmoved has been our commitment to the Future of Food – Co-op’s recipe for sustainability to 2030. We’ve faced into the urgent humanitarian crisis here in the UK and on a global scale with our suppliers and producers. But throughout these challenges, we’ve kept focused on making incredible progress on our ambitious goals. I wanted to take this moment to pause, reflect and share some of this work with you today from each of our Future of Food chapters. 

Of course, this isn’t everything we’ve achieved, and our plans are underpinned by strong foundations. To learn more on how we are progressing with our targets, read Co-op’s 2019 Sustainability report

Chapter 1: Sourcing and creating with care 

Our first chapter in the Future of Food focuses on creating products with respect for people and the planet.  

As part of this commitment, we continue to protect our most important ingredients and this year we published our 30 Key Ingredients list. This includes our work to source them responsibly and how we protect them. Our next priority is to share our sustainability action plans for ingredients such as soy, segregated palm oil, and how we’ll take further action on deforestation.  

We’ve progressed our ‘Action on plastic’ ambition this year, launching a 50-store trial of our film recycling scheme. Next year, we’ll extend this to provide a collection point in every community, which’ll significantly help our members and customers to recycle all their Co-op packaging with us. We also removed all the plastic toys from our Christmas crackers and made our gifting range completely recyclable, which you’ll see in store now. 

We’ve remained focused on the climate crisis, reporting our complete end-to-end carbon footprint and setting Science Based Targets to reduce our overall product emissions by 11% and those associated with our operations by 50% by 2025. We’ve also signed up to the UN Global Compact ‘We mean business’ coalition which commits us to net zero by 2050 at the very latest.  

Chapter 2: Treating people fairly 

Cocoa Fairtrade co-operative Cat-Tocache in Peru

Our Future of Food ambition is clear: everyone who produces our food will get a fair deal. 

We’ve supported thousands of workers, farmers, producers and suppliers throughout the pandemic with our Global Wellbeing Charter. A part of the charter we re-purposed £310,000 of Fairtrade funding to provide emergency relief for Fairtrade communities impacted by coronavirus. With The One Foundation, we also donated £647,000 from sales of Co-op water to fund clean water and sanitation projects to tackle the spread and impact of coronavirus.

We worked collaboratively with suppliers and other retailers to understand and address the impact of coronavirus on workers, including labour shortages, restricted travel and paused audits. We took a leadership role in building a coalition of supermarkets to deliver supplier webinars, providing support for workers and are developing long-term projects to address challenges faced by the most vulnerable in our supply chains. 

On top of that, our commitment to Fairtrade remains stronger than ever. This year, we celebrated 25 years, of championing Fairtrade with members, customers and producers.  

Chapter 3: Learning and celebrating together 

Above anything, 2020 has been a year of co-operation, collaboration and support. We’ve worked together with our local communities and members to make a real difference, including donating five million meals to those going hungry through FareShare. We also raised £1.54m for the National Emergencies Trust, which is being distributed to grassroots projects via 46 Community Foundations across the UK. The grants provided will be between £2,000 – £10,000.   

We’ve also continued to champion free school meals as part of Marcus Rashford’s ‘Child Food Poverty Taskforce’, providing £2.6m in food vouchers for free school meals for over 6,000 Co-op Academy students. This has been extended throughout school holidays to help ensure no child at our Academies have to go hungry. 

These are just some of the snapshots of what we have achieved. There’s a lot to be proud of this year, especially throughout these difficult times. As we head towards 2021, we must recognise how we all have a responsibility to protect people and the planet. Together we can make a real difference.

If you’d like to find out more about our achievements, the complete update can be found in the document below.