ARTICLES How food and bev companies are using their "why" to make more money: A Q&A with Cher Mereweather

Cher Mereweather is the founder of Provision Coalition, a collaboration of 17 provincial and national agri-food associations that helps food and beverage companies create value, realize savings and positively impact the environment and society. We were asking Cher about the circular economy, but we quickly learned that uncovering a company’s reason for existing (beyond making money) is actually the key to increasing your profit and reducing your costs. The good news? You’ll create value from waste along the way.

Wessuc:

What’s your definition of the circular economy?

Cher:

Our current economy as very linear: take, make, dispose. With the circular economy, there’s no more “dispose.” If we’re talking about food and beverage manufacturing, we’re ensuring there’s no waste from the point where we grow the food all the way through the supply chain to consumption. Waste has either been eliminated or used somewhere it has value.

Wessuc:

Can you give us an example?

Cher:

Let’s say you’re a food processor that produces peels. Those peels still have nutritional value. Instead of landfilling them, you could send the peels to Oreka, where black soldier flies eat them. Those flies (or their larvae) then become a protein source for animal feed and organic fertilizer.

 

Wessuc:

Why is the circular economy important?

Cher:

We don’t talk to companies about sustainability or the circular economy. Instead, we talk about what they’re doing to manage their costs, increase their profitability and elevate their brand, because these are the outcomes of driving waste out of their processes. Our clients are also finding that their key customers are starting to ask, “How are you managing your environmental impact?” and “What technology are you using to give waste new life?” and they have to be able answer those questions in a clear and verifiable way.

Wessuc:

Can you share some stats on the business benefits of eliminating waste?

Cher:

On average, the companies that we work with see a 5 to 15 per cent increase in revenue and a 5 to XX per cent decrease in costs. So we’re positively impacting both the topline and bottom line numbers. Margins in the food industry are really lean, so that’s huge. There’s also stats from the literature. Purpose-led companies have 30 per cent higher levels of innovation. Seventy-two per cent of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose. Meaningful brands outperform the stock market by 120 per cent. And employees who work for a purpose-led company are 1.4 times more engaged, 1.7 times more satisfied and three times more likely to stay, which is really important to the food industry where finding and keeping good people is a challenge.

Wessuc:

Tell us some success stories.

Cher:

When we help businesses find out what their real purpose is—their “why”—the waste into value efforts have a home at a strategic business level. An example is a company that makes single serve coffee pods. We helped them come up with their “why,” which was “growing the good in coffee,” and suddenly the plastic waste generated from their product, which was all going to landfill, wasn’t okay anymore. They worked with the University of Guelph to create the first compostable single-serve coffee pod, because they still wanted to be convenient for the consumer. The external ring, which looks like plastic, is actually a biodegradable film made from the coffee chaff—a waste item from their coffee roasting production process.

Another client, who produces bottled water, was concerned about plastic waste. Their “why,” “redefining bottled water,” motivated them to be truly circular. They created their own recycling facility, where they turn 85 per cent of all the plastic waste generated in the community in which they operate into new bottles. The 15 per cent they can’t use for bottles is used to manufacture Muskoka chairs.

Our Food Future is a data-driven project to transform Guelph-Wellington into Canada's first circular food economy, so we're excited to see what innovation comes from that.

Wessuc:

What’s motivating these companies?

Cher:

For most of them, the change is driven by the answer to the question “why, other than making a profit, do I do this?” Most of their “whys” are about their desire to do good with their business. It sounds so basic, but it’s a better way to make a profit. And when you do great things, people want to support you.

Wessuc:

Whose role in a company is it to pay attention to the circular economy?

Cher:

Ideally, it’s every member of the company’s leadership at the highest level. Everyone has to buy in for it to be successful, including HR, marketing, finance, operations and the CEO. In many places, though, the initiative comes from the plant floor. That works, it just takes longer.

Wessuc:

If you’re at a more grassroots level and have to sell it to the C-suite, what works best?

Cher:

Build the business case. Talk about dollars and cents. How much could you increase the company’s revenue? How much could you decrease costs? Then you can talk about the bonuses: reduced environmental impact, a more engaged workforce and a better story for your company to tell. But it starts with numbers. You’ll have to monitor, measure and track so you know what you’re using and wasting. Provision Coalition has a sustainability management system with a KPI dashboard so you can build that business case. You’ve got to be able to say to the C-level, “This is how much we spend on wasted product that never makes it out the door.”

Wessuc:

If a company hasn’t done much about the circular economy yet, what’s the first step?

Cher:

Answer the question “why”. Why does your company exist? Why do you do what you do? If you can get curious about answering that question, you’re ready to have a conversation about a better way to do business—one that will reduce your costs and increase your profits.

Curious about what it takes to conduct a formal wastewater audit? Our 10-point checklist is the perfect step-by-step guide.

Posted in Cost savings, Food and beverage, Sustainability, Uncategorized.