Climate change is a global challenge that poses significant threats to various aspects of human life. Among the sectors significantly impacted by climate change is the food and beverage industry. As extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, food production, distribution, and consumer behaviours are being reshaped. Growing scientific research explores the effects of climate change on the industry, changing consumer preferences, and highlights innovative product developments aimed at helping consumers adapt to the realities of a warming planet.
Impact of Climate Change on the Food and Beverage Industry
The repercussions of climate change go beyond the increasing catastrophic phenomena that impact our immediate way of living. The impact is seen across the expansive international network and poses a severe threat to global food security. The World Bank estimates the need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion people. Erratic weather patterns and extreme events are expediting crop failures, loss of livestock, and disruptions in food supply chains, exacerbating food insecurity in vulnerable regions.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, global crop yields are projected to decline by up to 25% by 2050, primarily affecting staple crops such as wheat, rice, and maize. Changing agricultural zones are forcing crops to adapt or relocate to new areas, negatively striking traditional farming practices and regional economies. A comprehensive review published in the journal Science, outlines the altered nutritional value of crops, asserting that increased CO2 concentrations can lead to reduced protein content in grains and can lead to a 3-17% decrease in essential nutrients such as zinc, iron, and protein in staple crops.
Consumer Sentiments on Sustainable Products
Climate change has begun to shape consumer behaviours and preferences, as people seek more sustainable and climate-friendly food and beverage options. A recent report by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that Gen Z consumers have a significant influence on sustainable shopping choices, even impacting their Gen X parents and Boomer grandparents. Over the past two years, Gen X consumers’ preference for sustainable brands increased by nearly 25%, and their willingness to pay more for sustainable products increased by 42%. In fact, across all generations, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z, nearly 90% of Gen X consumers are now willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products. This aligns with the finding that two-thirds of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, while two-thirds of retailers believe consumers will not pay more. The report emphasises the importance of retailers understanding consumer preferences, pricing sustainable products accordingly, and aligning with consumers on sustainability demands for long-term success.
Innovations for Resilience
According to Mintel’s 2023 Global Food and Drink Trends Report, food and beverage must respond to the harsh effects of climate change with innovative products that address the challenges associated with extreme weather events. The report states, “Consumers will look for products that help their bodies withstand the varying temperature extremes from polar vortexes to heat waves.” Mintel highlights Japanese products as examples of this response – Suntory’s Lemon Soda Flavoured Alcohol-Free Drink as an ideal beverage to pair with a post-sauna heat stress, and Lotte Koume Salted Ume Plum & Lemon Candy Assortment candies said to provide a cooling aftertaste and supply key nutrients for hydration.
In addition to extreme heat, climate change has led to an increase in catastrophic floods and other weather-related disasters. To address these challenges, food and beverage innovations are being called upon to provide easy-to-use nutrition in emergency situations. Drawing from the experiences of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Kewpie developed more shelf-stable and long-life food products – from 19 to 25 months. These advancements aim to ensure individuals and communities are adequately prepared for and more resilient to weather-related disasters.
The food and beverage industry is not immune to the far-reaching impacts of climate change. From declining crop yields and changing agricultural zones to increased food insecurity and altered nutritional value, the industry faces significant challenges. This presents an opportunity for innovation, collaboration, and sustainable practices that match new consumer sentiments. Moving forward, further research, investment in sustainable practices, and collaboration between the scientific community and food and beverage industry are crucial to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and ensure the long-term health of consumers.
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