Food businesses are falling short on their sustainability commitments

Sodexo scored the highest in the restaurant and foodservice section of the 2023 Food and Agriculture Benchmark and McDonald’s rounds out the top five.
recycling logo
The 2023 Food and Agriculture Benchmark scored 350 food and agriculture businesses on their environmental, nutritional and social impacts. | Photo: Shutterstock.

While many food businesses have established sustainability goals of some sort, they seem to be falling short on actually reaching their commitments. That is, at least, according to the World Benchmarking Alliance which scored 350 food and agriculture businesses on their environmental, nutritional and social impacts. The World Benchmarking Alliance recently published the second edition of its Food and Agriculture Benchmark, as well as its Nature Benchmark. Overall, the first report found that many of the businesses studied appeared not to be on track to reach their goals.

“While climate shocks are increasingly impacting the most vulnerable and hunger is still above pre-pandemic levels, the data shows that the vast majority of companies fail to recognize their responsibility to protect the planet and feed the world in an equitable way,” the report said.

According to the report, 35% of the 350 companies studied score 10/100 or lower on the benchmark.

Here’s a look at five key takeaways from the Food and Agriculture Benchmark and a glance at the foodservice and restaurant companies that scored the highest.

1. Companies are not closing farmers’ living income gaps

The World Benchmarking Alliance argued that food businesses must address farmers’ income challenges as many source products from countries impacted by poverty. The report found that 27% of companies support farmers' income stability through procurement and pricing practices, however less than 4% identify living income benchmarks.

2. Food companies are not prioritizing health

The research found that only 18% of consumer-facing companies share progress on their efforts to improve the nutritional quality of their products. In addition, only five companies set targets to increase sales of healthy foods.

3. More companies have set climate targets but progress remains low

Forty-six companies have adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that are in line with keeping global warming below the 1.5° C benchmark for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, according to the report. In addition, 13 companies have set a science-based Scope 3 target, up from seven companies in 2021. Yet, 165 companies have not announced any sustainability commitments.

4. Regenerative agriculture is gaining traction except when it comes to input use

The Food and Agriculture Benchmark states that regenerative agriculture is a way to restore soil health, increase climate resilience, protect water resources and biodiversity, and enhance farmers’ productivity and profitability. The research found that the approach is gaining traction—51% of companies referenced it while 27% are implementing strategies to improve the livelihoods of farmers and fishers through sourcing and pricing strategies.

5. Lack of corporate accountability hinders meaningful change

The research found that more than half of the companies studied have done assessments to identify their sustainability impacts but only 27 companies have followed through with a comprehensive set of targets. The report argues that corporate accountability could be a factor in the lack of progress in this avenue.

The ranking

Companies were given a score out of 100 with the following avenues considered: governance and strategy, environment, nutrition and social inclusion.

Sodexo scored the highest out of the restaurant and foodservice category but came in 59 for the overall list. The foodservice provider earned a score of 31.1/100. It ranked highest in governance and strategy due to its stakeholder engagement strategy, sustainability impact prioritization and trade association membership disclosure. The research found that Sodexo has an opportunity to further emphasize its sustainability commitments and targets in the environment and nutrition avenues.

Compass Group came in second in the restaurants and food service segment but ranked  72 overall with a score of 27.4. The report stated that Compass shows higher levels of disclosure in the governance and social inclusion measurement areas. The company has set targets to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, but it lacks time-bound commitments for other key environmental areas.

Thai Beverage, a beverage company that also operates Japanese restaurants and franchises for larger fast-food chains such as KFC and Starbucks, came in third for the ranking in the foodservice and restaurant sector but ranked 89 overall with a score of 25. The research found that the company scored higher due to its engagement and prioritization of sustainability impacts, yet it could disclose more on its governance structure, trade affiliations and progress towards its set targets.

SSP Group, an operator of branded catering and retail units at airports and rail stations, followed closely behind with a score of 23.1. The company has set Scope 1 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets but has not established other timed goals for other environmental areas such as food waste.

Next in the ranking is McDonald’s which earned a score of 22.3 and ranked 113 overall. The company has committed to reducing plastic use and setting a timed target to reduce Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, but it has not disclosed information about water withdrawal, food waste reduction and Scope 1 or 2 greenhouse gas emissions.



More from our partners