Global Food Summit 2011: call for engagement post-recession

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Lars Olofsson, CEO of Carrefour and Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, co-chairs of The Consumer Goods Forum, opened the 2011 Global Food Summit with a call to action; urging members to engage with both the challenges and opportunities of a world emerging from financial crisis.

Trust and transparency were essential to achieving both, they said.

“People are searching not only for greater GDP but for greater dignity,” said Kent.

Earlier Olofsson announced three new resolutions adopted by The Consumer Goods Forum around health and wellness: there would be concerted action around access to healthier products and services, resources to help consumers make informed decisions and a series of communication and educational programmes. All of these would raise consumer awareness of healthier diets and lifestyles.

The new resolutions were in addition to existing commitments on climate change for zero net-deforestation by 2020 and the phasing-out of HFC refrigerants by 2015.

Bob McDonald, chairman, president and CEO of Proctor & Gamble told the 2011 Global Food Summit retailers and manufacturers had an inescapable responsibility to build better lives through better business practices.

McDonald said: “What industry has a bigger responsibility than ours?”. McDonald pointed out if Forum members were a single entity, they would collectively represent the fifth largest economy in the world.

McDonald set out priorities in three areas affecting consumers: providing significantly enhanced performance, reducing the physical burden of shopping and product use as well as making better use of their time and energy.

Motoya Okada, president of AEON and Makato Kigawa, president of Yamato Holdings, gave the 2011 Global Food Summit a first hand account of their experiences running leading Japanese companies in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011.

Okada explained how AEON’s network recovered rapidly. That was partly down to straightforward, custom-built technology solutions, which allowed vital communication to take place.

But it was also because of the bold, autonomous actions of local managers, sometimes in spite of terrible personal loss. “People are everything,” said Okada.  “Our single biggest lesson is that there is no training manual for such a big disaster.”

Kigawa, who runs Japan’s leading courier network, explained how Yamato’s management team had been inspired by local personnel to develop a comprehensive response to the disaster, including a donation of ¥10 for every one of the parcels the company delivers for a year – an exercise projected to result in a donation of $160m or some 40% of profits.

Lester Brown, founder & president of the Earth Policy Institute, told the Global Summit there was a fundamental disconnect between the view of the world offered by natural scientists, and by the majority of economists.

Consensus forecasts of global growth – of the order of 3% a year – assumed away critical resource problems, he said.

Brown argued the global economy was only one poor harvest away from chaos in the grain markets, with stocks now significantly depleted and with a series of structural problems which would continue to exert a relentless demand and supply side squeeze on food production.

Even so, the technology and resources for a dramatic change in practice were already at hand and Brown urged Consumer Goods Forum members to play a leadership role in bringing this about.

Brown illustrated the scale of the challenge by citing Roosevelt’s challenge to the US automobile industry in the Second World War – combining unprecedented production of tanks, aircraft and ships with a three-year moratorium on new car sales.