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Industry’s first carbon label: Foodsteps helps restaurants and food businesses quantify CO2 impact

August 8, 2021
Food & Drink

Foodsteps, a food-tech start-up established by Cambridge University scientists and alumni, has formally launched in the UK. It’s the first British tech firm to provide carbon tracking and impact labeling to restaurants, caterers and food businesses. This initiative helps companies calculate, reduce and label the environmental impact of their food.

Building upon a first-of-its-kind “food impact database,” the labeling scheme was created in response to the challenges facing food businesses looking to improve and communicate their action on sustainability.

In light of endemic net-zero ambitions, the start-up has stressed that a widespread carbon labeling adoption across the industry should be made mandatory by the UK Government.

“Restaurants, caterers, and food providers are increasingly looking for ways to review, improve, and demonstrate their action on sustainability,” says Anya Doherty, founder and CEO of Foodsteps. “Foodsteps allows them to do that, by giving them access to the latest technology and data, without the commitment and fees associated with traditional carbon assessments.

“With our platform, consumer tools, and carbon labeling capabilities, brands can differentiate themselves in the market and communicate with customers in ways they never have before,” she highlights.

“If we can make assessing and communicating environmental information in the food industry more accessible and standardized, there is no reason why it won’t become as widespread as nutritional information.”

Mind the knowledge gap
Historically, food companies have lacked access to a standard database where they can easily find out the environmental impact of their recipes and ingredients. This was one reason why Tesco’s ambition to introduce carbon labeling across the food sector failed in 2012, Foodsteps underscores.

In a recently published report, Oxfam has stressed that many governments and businesses are still “hiding behind unreliable, unproven and unrealistic carbon removal schemes.” The charity argues that net-zero benchmarks are often a “greenwashing exercise.”

FoodDrinkEurope, in separate analysis, found that food production from farm-to-fork represents 30 percent of total carbon emissions within the EU, with the manufacturing process accounting for 11 percent of this share, or 3 percent of the total.

Foodsteps’ British-specific impact database for food covers over 1,000 ingredients and incorporates carbon footprint, pollution, water use and land use impacts. The system leverages cloud-based software, labeling capabilities and QR code scanning.

Food businesses working with this platform can upload recipes and view the sustainability impact of each ingredient they produce. It can be used to monitor targets, develop new recipes and improve a menu or product’s sustainability.

From there, companies can choose to print their own labels to clearly communicate the environmental impact of a product. These labels provide a traffic light rating from A to E (A meaning low environmental impact, E meaning high environmental impact) and have been deemed the most effective in influencing consumer decision making.

The labels were developed following the world’s largest study into carbon labeling conducted by Cambridge University, and co-led by Foodsteps founder Anya, that tested labels on 85,000 consumers.

Food companies can also make use of Foodsteps’ virtual education tools, with each label containing a QR code that buyers can scan to learn more about the products’ impact and what the company is doing on sustainability.

Foodsteps’ labeling scheme rollout for food closely follows that of Amcor, which recently introduced printed “Reducing CO2 Packaging” labels for the packaging sector that are accredited by the UK-based Carbon Trust.

Rising demand for a new way of measuring environmental impacts
Foodsteps is one of the UK’s first cloud-based food sustainability platforms to launch widely to the market, meaning businesses no longer need to pay expensive one-off consultancy fees traditionally required with carbon assessment and certification projects.

Before Foosteps’ official launch, the start-up observed rising demand across the industry – from restaurants, catering companies and food delivery services – looking to work with the firm to improve and communicate their action on sustainability.

Clients include leading universities and caterers, such as UCL caterers CH&Co, recipe box delivery services Gousto and Detox Kitchen, as well as healthcare company BUPA.

Previous projects have spanned from calculating and benchmarking food waste against competitors to measuring carbon footprints to help inform net-zero targets.

The formal launch of the company and its platform follows the completion of its pre-seed funding round backed by Techstars and COREAngels.

Last week, Foodsteps was selected as part of Bupa’s Ecodisruptive start-up search in the UK, receiving £25,000 (US$34,000) to develop a product with Bupa. It is now looking to expand its work in the sector by targeting the UK’s largest food brands and manufacturers to help them achieve their net-zero targets.

By Benjamin Ferrer


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