The Plant-Based Foods Supply Chain
Both Pope Francis (in Laudato Si’) and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agree that current methods of production and patterns of consumption cause catastrophic environmental harm. The UN body, in a 2019 report, explicitly called for a change in human diet, urging societies worldwide to consume less meat. In its place, the report singled out plant-based foods as a significant opportunity to help mitigate the effects of climate change. What’s more, the plant-based food market has experienced explosive growth over the last 3 years. Consumers are flocking to plant-based food such as alternative meat not just because it represents an environmentally responsible choice; they are also drawn to its promises of healthfulness and ethical eating practice. It is an industry and a supply chain that can serve as an exemplar of sustainability for business students.
1. Sustainability and Laudato Si’
An introduction to basic concepts of sustainability, including the triple bottom line; the particular ways in which the ideas of sustainability are inflected by Laudato Si’; examples of
environmental and social impacts drawn from various supply chains.
2. COVID-19 and Food Supply Chain Disruptions
An account of how the pandemic disrupted, especially, the meat and dairy supply chains, and the underlying reasons why; the environmental effects (e.g. spoiled and/or wasted product) and social effects (such as mass infections among meatpacking workers) of these disruptions.
3. Environmental and Social Impacts of Meat and Dairy Supply Chains
An analysis of the environmental impacts of meat and dairy supply chains, including greenhouse gas emissions, land use for feed sourcing, and large-scale manure processing; and an analysis of the social impacts, which include hazardous workplaces such as meatpacking, and exposure to toxic chemicals in agriculture and factory farms.
4. Health and Safety Concerns in Food Supply Chains
Contrasting the health and safety concerns of meat/dairy products (e.g. the excessive use of antibiotics or the risk of contaminated meat) with that of plant-based foods all along the supply chain, including effects on the consumer.
5. Ethical Concerns in Food Supply Chains
The ethics of animal treatment and use in factory farms; the shifts in society toward a greater consciousness and sensitivity to animal welfare; the rising numbers in the vegetarian and vegan demographics.
6. The Landscape of the Plant-based Food Industry and Market
The major players in the industry; their production, sourcing and branding strategies; analysis of the growth of this market over the last five years, including a close look at the segments which have led that growth.
7. Information Technology in Plant-Based Food Supply Chains
Challenges in tracking and coordination of raw materials because plant-based foods typically tend to contain a much larger number of ingredients than their meat and dairy counterparts. Also: supply chain traceability; and the need to maintain high levels of supply chain responsiveness given volatile demand (as we have seen during the pandemic).
8. Current and Future Challenges for Plant-Based Food Supply Chains
How plant-based food firms are addressing the challenge of satisfying demands relating to the taste, texture, aroma and appearance of meat and dairy; health and nutrition drawbacks of some plant-based foods (e.g. their highly processed nature); countering long-held cultural values and beliefs about the essential nature of meat and dairy in human diets; and finally, how to control costs in a way that makes plant-based foods price-competitive with meat and dairy.