Individuals seeking to promote change within the food industry must first overcome the size of the industry itself. All of us can be active participants in the change of a broken food system. These companies do not only directly affect those who consume food, but also the natural environment and local economies. Many people who purchase these products every day do not realize that they have more power than they think over the food industry.
Consumer demand is a powerful tool that can be used to change the way that food manufacturers and suppliers decide to market and develop new foods. When large companies and industries see customers moving away from a product, causing to drop sales; They seek ways to adapt to the social issue. The smart business response is to develop a substitute product that is more in-line with customer needs. An excellent example of the power of customer demand is the shift that has taken place in the dairy industry: due to declining dairy sales, many food companies have invested in developing non-dairy alternative like nut milks and plant-based cheese substitutes. Non-dairy milk substitutes have exploded in popularity; they are now widely found in grocery stores all over the world. The Journal “The Globe and Mail” posted an article by Eric Atkins addressing this change, and he states that “The milk sale continues to slide as diets, society shift away from dairy”. The availability of these substitutes is the direct result of customers deciding to opt for healthier and more sustainable food choices. Another way the dairy industry has responded to customer demand has been the removal of growth hormones in milk and offering organic dairy products. This shift to improved quality of dairy products is due to the buying habits of individuals.
Overwhelmingly, the most difficult and most disheartening problem individuals have is the affordability of healthy food. In order to develop better solutions for this issue the researchers at the health department over at Harvard T.H. Chan explains that “Meta-analysis pinpoints the price difference of consuming a healthy diet, which could be burden for low-income families but is trivial compared with health costs of eating an unhealthy diet”. Unhealthy, packaged food products are cheaper than healthier foods like produce. A boxed meal is cheaper than tomatoes, so some families are drawn to unhealthier options simply due to budget constraints. A solution to this issue would be to lobby government bodies to heavily subsidize produce rather than subsidizing corn, wheat, meat, and dairy. Unfortunately, this would also require a large cultural shift, as all of the aforementioned food groups are pillars in diets all around the world. Social change is required as well: consumers must not only influence the companies that provide their food, but also their neighbors and friends. This is difficult, but grassroots efforts led at the community level can spark positive change. The creation of community gardens in large cities provide unique opportunities for individuals to learn more about their food and understand the importance of health and sustainability. More initiatives led on the local level can spark the changes needed in the system to inspire and empower consumers to make health conscious choices.
There are many practical solutions to feeling overwhelmed in the face of the food industry. Conscious decisions made by consumers shape the industry, and local efforts surrounding food shape communities. Hopefully these positive trends continue as buyers continue to demand higher quality food with little to no negative impact on the health of the world and the balance of Earth.
1. Atkins, Eric. 2015. “Milk Sales.” The Globe and Mail.
2. Dwyer, Marge. 2013. “Eating Healthy vs. Unhealthy.” Harvard T.H. Chan.
3. Figure 1, “United Food Brands”. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.