Food producers across the UK will have to prove their “environmental credentials” to win supermarket contracts in future, according to a survey of food suppliers.

Ignoring the environmental impact of produce will no longer be acceptable as supermarkets place more importance on carbon footprints and food miles, the survey by accountant Grant Thornton found.

Of the 70 food suppliers questioned, 36% had explained their environmental performance when tendering for supermarket contracts in recent months.

And with a further 46% approached by big multiples to discuss ways of making their trading greener, suppliers were certain environmental performance was set to become vital when tendering for contracts.

Ian Carr, agribusiness expert at Grant Thornton, said supermarkets were aware of growing public interest in food miles and carbon footprints, making environmental responsibility a key concern for businesses.

“The industry is changing,” he said. “It is no longer acceptable to supply goods from field or factory to the kitchen table without thinking about the impact this has on the environment.”

Pristine environmental conduct alone would not win contracts, but it was becoming a way to stay ahead of the competition and establish long-term relationships with retailers, Mr Carr said.

And with environmental standards becoming increasingly important for supermarkets, the government had to set standards for the correct measurement of food miles and carbon emissions, he added.

“Among the 23 businesses claiming to measure food miles in our survey, 15 did not know what the average amount travelled by their produce was.

“The lack of clear standards and the complexity of certain aspects of measurement is adding to the confusion and making real progress slow.

“But while standardisation will inevitably take time, companies should look at improving environmental policy as a real business opportunity,” he said.

“Introducing greener practices can put that company at the head of the farm, overturning short-term costs into long-term economic benefits.”

GREEN RESPONSIBILITY

Steps food suppliers had taken to improve environmental responsibility

  • Recycling
  • Turning off computers when not in use
  • Sourcing goods from renewable sources
  • Offsetting emissions
  • Reducing the amount of paper used in offices