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Demand for specialty beverages is not slowing down

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Sustainability and environmental credentials of speciality drinks manufacturers has long been discussed but public expectations have shifted. Edward Lynch, managing director at NIRAS Australia shares his views.

The past decade has seen a vast, dynamic and ever-growing diversity of food and drink offerings making it easier than ever for health and environmentally conscious consumers to firmly establish themselves and specialty beverages in the mainstream having previously been a relatively niche choice.

Demand for specialty beverages is showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

Clearly more than a passing fad, manufacturers are now looking to the future, either by retrofitting existing facilities or developing new ones to meet changing consumer tastes.

Historically, many boardrooms have looked at sustainability as a box-ticking exercise that can be used by their marketing teams to sell the CSR credentials of the business.

But consumer and market awareness has now reached a tipping point where the sustainability agenda must be incorporated into every area of a drinks manufacturer’s business – influencing decision making on everything from capital projects to operational philosophy and engineering execution.

Sustainability is non-negotiable for any manufacturer embarking on a major capitalisation.

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Consumers are also more aware of where products come from and demand quality practices.

Far from being a ‘nice-to-have’, a facility that supports sustainable production processes not only creates a commercial advantage, especially in a market where green credentials go a long way, but it is a license to operate into the future.

Consumers are increasingly questioning whether all products are sustainable, and it’s not just the raw materials that are under scrutiny but as much production processes, energy sources, social impacts, and supply chains.

Where to start with sustainability is a huge challenge because it’s potentially an expansive brief. It can seem like a daunting prospect and may be a reason why many business leaders choose to prioritise other objectives where they feel more comfortable making decisions.

This is where creating a culture of sustainability within organisations becomes vital – if every department in a business has their own sustainability objectives and criteria, a critical mass begins to build, and change can really come into effect.

Improving the sustainability of food and drink manufacturing facilities is not limited to reducing the carbon emissions and the use of green power such as wind, solar or biogas.

The location of a factory and the sustainability benefits it can bring are often overlooked, which is a prime example of why it’s important to involve sustainability experts from the conception of a project.

Reducing transport for deliveries and the supply chain, making use of renewable natural resources in the vicinity of the factory site and having a close population base to reduce emissions from the commuting workforce must all be factored into the environmental credentials of a factory.

Water wastage is a huge issue for the drinks manufacturing industry but there’s been good progress in this area.

At NIRAS we have recently worked with Carlsberg to help deliver water saving initiatives that increase the amount of water that is recycled within their factories.

Recently completed, the Carlsberg Brewery in Frederica, Denmark, enables Carlsberg to recycle 90 per cent of all process water and halve its overall water usage.

While Carlsberg’s sustainability objectives reach beyond just reducing water waste, this is a great example of a drink’s manufacturer assessing their environmental impact and working on a single issue that is relevant to their operations.

In this way NIRAS work with some of the world’s largest drinks manufacturers, and when it comes to capital projects, sustainability drives decision making in the planning of new factories and upgrading existing facilities.

The sustainability credentials and carbon output of any project should be an influencing factor from day one of any project.

While every food and drink manufacturer is different, and much depends on what’s being produced and the raw materials used.

It’s important to understand what element of sustainability a business should focus on, and ultimately where they can make the biggest positive impact.

When sustainability is recognised as a core objective, it’s important to take a long-term view and to look beyond the initial period of the factory being operational.

The right location, design, equipment, and technology implementation can all ensure factories are sustainable from day one of operation. Building a factory is a big investment, so it’s critical they are future-proofed from both an operational and sustainability perspective.

Technology and our understanding of sustainability is advancing at a rapid pace and choosing systems and equipment that can be easily adapted, upgrade or replaced makes upgrading the factory a simpler process, reducing any operational downtime and the costs involved.

Factories should be designed and built to last decades and need to be designed and built in a format which allows for the upgrading of machinery or technology as it develops.

The decision to focus on sustainability is a sensible, and forward-thinking approach that will deliver benefits beyond being able to present a robust CSR policy.

There are also long-term financial savings that can be made by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and driving efficiency in the use of raw materials.

Attracting and retaining the best industry experts will also be easier.

In such a competitive talent market, graduates and young jobseekers are increasingly looking to work for businesses that mirror their own views and beliefs, and environmental concerns are often high on their agenda.

As the public and government become more aware of their own carbon footprints, there is a growing movement towards more transparency and openness from businesses, consumers want to be informed of how their purchasing decisions are impacting the environment and society.

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The specialty beverage space shows sustainability and commercial goals can be achieved side by side.

In a future where consumers can select products based on a sustainability rating, or retailers may not stock items which do not meet their own CSR standards, food and drink manufacturers who are ahead of the curve and have implemented sustainability strategies into their factories will be best placed to take commercial advantage of these changes.

We are moving towards a food and drinks market where operating sustainable factories won’t be a USP or ‘nice to have’ – it will become a de facto license to operate.

All businesses, across every sector will face similar challenges and be forced to rethink how they operate and serve their customers and clients.

But, given the appetite for change, I believe that the food and drink manufacturing sector can lead the way.

Carbon neutral plants are now a reality, as NIRAS have demonstrated in our recent collaboration with Innocent, producing the world’s first carbon neutral juice plant in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

As public sentiment about climate change grows stronger, there’s a real incentive for food and drink manufacturers to make this their ambition when planning a new site, since it will enable them to future-proof their operations and scale up successfully.

The food and drink industry, like every other, has to play its part in mitigating the impact of climate change, and manufacturers are making great strides.

Sustainable and transparent practices are becoming a minimum requirement – a license to operate – and genuine producers cannot afford to cut corners.

What’s clear too, is that sustainability is not at odds with commercial goals. Indeed, strategic investment in plants and processes can deliver strong returns in the form of reduced energy consumption and waste, and larger and more loyal market share.

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