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[Event Recap] [BASIC Event] The Food Agenda: The Impact and Investment Opportunities Created by Federal Dietary Guidelines

Bjoern P. Stengel

On May 18, 2016, BASIC’s event “THE FOOD AGENDA: The Impact and Investment Opportunities Created by Federal Dietary Guidelines” addressed the intersection of sustainable and healthy food consumption. We were honored to present two guest speakers who are experts in this field, who each shared examples of how consumers and investors alike are helping to shape this movement. Speaker Miriam Nelson is a leading researcher and author on nutrition and physical activity. Miriam has recently been named the Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer and Director of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire, and played a leadership role on the construction of the 2010, 2015, and 2020 Federal Dietary guidelines, leading efforts to draw the connection between diet and sustainability. Our second guest speaker, Lisa Sebesta, CFA, is a Managing Partner at Fresh Source Capital, where she invests in private companies that are rebuilding local and regional food systems. Lisa has 15 years of experience in portfolio management.


Setting the Guidelines 

Miriam pointed out that establishing guidelines for healthy and sustainable food consumption can be a tricky and time-consuming endeavour. Mandated by Congress, her committee applied best scientific evidence in an unbiased manner on what Americans should eat and how eating habits affect the environment. In essence, the study aimed at outlining how a healthy diet can overlap with a sustainable food industry. Instead of advertising a “no fat/no meat” mantra, the commission’s work highlights the need for a balanced diet (e.g. limited amounts of meat, locally produced and unprocessed foods), as well as consumer awareness for products, such as sustainable palm oil, in order to avoid deforestation and other harms to environment, which occur as part of the food supply chain. Despite heavy opposition from the meat lobby, which launched a public relations campaign targeted at questioning the study and its objectivity, the commission managed to create significant awareness for the matter and managed to contribute to a continued discourse involving lawmakers, food producers, and consumers.


Consumer trends = investment trends 

Growing consumer demand for sustainable and healthy food products then creates opportunities for the sustainable investment community, as Lisa highlighted. Her firm finances private food companies, which satisfy demand for local products and transparent supply chains. Farmer markets, for example, show a steep incline in money spent on locally produced food, and dietary guidelines influence schools’ and hospitals’ food plans, leading to an increase in farm-to-school programs, for instance. As the topic is gaining momentum, according to Lisa, many large food corporations have been trying to catch up and buying smaller brands in order to get their piece of the (sustainable) cake. Hence, there exists an increasing amount of shareholder activism targeted at those companies to make their supply chains more transparent and make sure that M&As do not lead to processes of greenwashing. Eventually, local food producers need an appropriate infrastructure in order to keep costs low and meet consumers’ demand. Certain software, for example, can help producers to receive orders beforehand, and then calculate the amount of goods they need to bring to local markets.

Takeaways 

When it comes to sustainable and healthy consumption, consumers as well as investors need to be properly informed and educated about the options they have and the choices they can make in order to support a local food industry and promote healthy eating habits. Both guest speakers agreed that people do not want to be schooled on how to balance their diet, but that objective information and education is the proper way to further raise awareness, whether in terms of people's personal life or in the investment sphere.