Kraft Heinz executive says tradeoffs needed to reach sustainability goals

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Perfect choices may not exist as the food and beverage industry strives to operate more sustainably.

Plant-based meat alternatives show promise in providing environmental benefits, but recent criticism has focused on the alternatives being overly processed with a long ingredient list, said David Shaw, ESG director, international zone for the Kraft Heinz Co., Pittsburgh.

When the meat industry replaces plastic packaging, the alternative packaging may not work as well, said Alon Cohen, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tel Aviv-based Tastewise.

“Then the shelf life will be way shorter, and we’ll end up with a lot more pollution,” he said.

Both executives spoke Nov. 16 in a webinar put on by Tastewise, an artificial intelligence-powered platform that helps food brands bring products to market based on consumer data.

“There are only better choices, and hopefully we’ll innovate and improve from that,” Mr. Shaw said. “Sometimes that scares people because they’re searching for perfect, and they won’t take a step in the right direction.”

Industry needs to make choices that are best for the overall environment and accept that the choice may not be perfect, he said.

Increasing bean consumption in developed countries could benefit the plant protein movement, Mr. Shaw said. Beans are more of a staple food in developing countries, particularly in the southern half of the globe.

“The cuisine is ‘mind blowingly’ tasty,” Mr. Shaw said. “It’s fantastic. What we need to do is bring that exploration and cuisine into the diets of the developed world. That’s how we start the transition. We can’t tell people not to eat meat and dairy, but what we can do is bring the ingredients that are good for the planet and healthy, the flavors into part of their lives.”

In packaging, Kraft Heinz has tried reusable and refillable options, but the efforts have failed so far, Mr. Shaw said. He said he remains a “big fan” of deposit returns.

“We just need to price it right,” he said.

Kraft Heinz focuses on regenerative agriculture, but a transition from conventional farming will come with a cost.

“We’ve created industrial farming that as an industry has been optimized for cost,” Mr. Shaw said. “It’s been optimized for price and yield. It’s been optimized for production qualities.”

Should industry pass on the extra costs of sustainable agriculture to consumers by raising product prices?

“If we’re serious about the transformation required, whether that be in nutrition or whether that be in the environment, we have to make it affordable,” Mr. Shaw said.