INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Guests today are increasingly aware of what they put in their bodies and their impact on the world. Sustainability comes in many forms, and responsible food sourcing is a key way that hoteliers can be stewards of society and show guests that their values align.
Elissa Lane, CEO of Global Food Partners, which works with the food and hospitality industries to support them in developing and executing their responsible sourcing goals, with a focus on cage-free egg policies in Asia, highlighted what the average guest expects from hotels. “When it comes to responsible food sourcing, guests increasingly want to know their food was produced in an ethical and sustainable way and that brands are taking leadership to make this happen,” she said. “It’s not about perfection. Rather, it’s about seeing that brands are committed to proactively engaging in actions to drive, through their sourcing choices, a positive impact on society, the environment and animals.”
Concerns for guests include sourcing locally, sustainable packaging and human rights issues. “We’ve seen responsible sourcing of animal proteins become a priority over the past five years or so, with a major focus on moving supply chains away from eggs produced in conventional battery cage systems to cage-free,” she added.
Lane noted that more than 300 food and hospitality companies have pledged to go cage-free by 2025, with many of these commitments extending to Asia. However, they have had some challenges in implementing these policies in regions like Asia.
“Hospitality industry leaders including Marriott International, Hilton, Accor, Wyndham, InterContinental and Hyatt are just a few of the brands that have committed to 100% cage-free sourcing globally, including in their Asian markets,” Lane said. “Animal welfare, especially cage-free egg sourcing, has become an important issue for businesses to remain competitive globally. We saw a huge wave of cage-free egg commitments in the United States about five to seven years ago, and this movement quickly spread throughout Latin America and over the past two to three years to Asia.”
Lane said that Asian industry leaders are starting to make similar pledges, with the most recent coming from Minor Hotels. “With these cage-free policies in place, our focus at Global Food Partners is to provide support to businesses and their local suppliers in Asia to carry out a successful and sustainable transition to cage-free procurement and on-farm production,” she said.
Lane highlighted some of the challenges companies face when implementing cage-free policies. “Implementing cage-free egg policies and transitioning from cage to cage-free production is a challenging task that requires ongoing innovation, especially in regions like Asia,” she said. “Businesses truly care about meeting their cage-free egg commitments and want to provide the highest quality product to their clients, but the reality is that the vast majority of egg production in Asia is in battery cage systems. Some of the greatest challenges companies face include higher costs, lack of cage-free supply in the region and knowledge gaps on cage-free management and production. Our role at Global Food Partners is to help businesses navigate these complexities of their egg supply chains in Asia, meet their cage-free commitments and improve both profitability and sustainability.”
She added, “To us, helping food and hospitality businesses meet their animal welfare sourcing goals means innovative partnerships and innovative strategies; thinking outside the box to create the solutions we need to generate long-term transformation of supply chains.”
Step one when working with a client is to conduct a supply chain assessment to identify roadblocks and develop an actionable, localized roadmap for cage-free implementation in Asia.
“We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that each market in Asia has its own unique challenges,” she said. “The roadmap typically includes providing on-farm technical support to suppliers transitioning to higher welfare cage-free systems and supporting existing cage-free suppliers to improve standards on their farms. In order to create large-scale change in Asia, we recently announced a partnership with Netherlands-based Aeres University of Applied Sciences to establish an Indonesia-based training center and model cage-free egg farm focused on management and production for Asian farmers. The goal of the center is to bring together egg producers and other industry stakeholders to improve the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the egg industry in Asia by providing practical training in best practices in cage-free management and production. We’ve also partnered with Impact Alliance to help companies fulfill their cage-free commitments and accelerate cage-free egg production in Asia.”
The Impact Alliance brings together leading sustainability standard owners and organizations, and enables hospitality businesses to purchase cage-free Impact Incentives and participate in Impact Partnerships, which help them advance their cage-free egg commitments, accelerate the production of cage-free eggs and provide financial incentives to farmers who meet heightened animal welfare standards.
“The idea of incentives has been around for years, modeled after other established credit trading platforms such as RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and RTRS (Roundtable for Responsible Soy). We’re now applying that technology and those learnings to other commodities, including cage-free eggs,” Lane said.
“What excites us most about Impact Alliance are the benefits it offers to companies who are serious about meeting their responsible sourcing goals, including speedy implementation of cage-free policies, key stakeholder endorsements (leading global animal advocacy groups support this as a means to fulfill cage-free commitments), operational efficiency and, most importantly, a path forward to the eventual physical sourcing of cage-free eggs,” she added.
COVID-19 hasn’t had a negative impact on cage-free goals—if anything, the opposite is true.
“Companies are more committed than ever to meeting their responsible sourcing and animal welfare goals, despite various challenges around COVID-19, particularly considering its origin,” she said. “In fact, what we’re hearing from companies is that this issue, as well as sustainability in general, has become even more important for their clients, and, in turn, for their businesses’ long-term sustainability. Consumers are paying more attention to where their food comes from and want ethically sourced products. Ultimately, responsible sourcing and higher welfare supply chains are now part of many businesses’ core values and something they are committed to doing right. In working with our clients, we see repeatedly that the question hasn’t been whether they will implement their higher welfare sourcing standards, but how to do so right now. Despite travel and budgetary restrictions, there’s still so much that can be done right now to advance responsible sourcing goals.”