Three Steps to Improving Your Sustainability, According to Cargill CEO

By Frazer Jones
The Fortune Brainstorm Green 2014 conference in May brought together several great minds in the food production industry, speaking on critical topics fo...

The Fortune Brainstorm Green 2014 conference in May brought together several great minds in the food production industry, speaking on critical topics for the industry including the complexities of adequately feeding a world with a rapidly growing population. During one panel on this topic – The (Real) Future of Food, featuring Cargill CEO David MacLennan and Walmart Grocery Executive VP Jack Sinclair – panel moderator Jib Ellison asked MacLennan what he thought producers should be doing on their end to improve sustainable food production. In his answer, MacLennan outlined three steps every food production company can take to improve their own operations:

1. Go Faster

That’s easier said than done, of course, but the pressure for food producers to ramp up their output is as real as ever. “There are 900 million undernourished people in the world depending on us figuring out how to get them food,” said MacLennan. So what can you do to incorporate that? While cutting corners is not an option if you want to maintain quality, this does mean streamlining your operations and working in efficiencies wherever possible. Improved automation technology is making more and more streamlining options possible. Elsewhere, incorporating lean strategies can help you cut out unnecessary processes and develop best practices that are more focused and efficient.

2. Be Transparent

“The world wants to know ‘where’s my food coming from, how was it made, how was it grown,’” said MacLennan. Since the Pink Slime crisis of 2012, transparency has been critical for food producers who want to maintain consumer confidence – while producers who acknowledged their transparency problems and made promises and real changes to correct that have survived and are continuing to thrive, producers who refute the need for transparency have had a bad time. Don’t be in that latter group – accept that consumers want to know more about their food, and take the steps necessary to ensure that you’re operating with processes you can be proud to put on the label.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Work in Partnership

It’s hard to change the world alone. Even global companies rely on suppliers, retailers, and more for continued success, and building strong relationships with those partners can go a long way toward pushing your vision. If you’re working toward a more transparent or a more productive operation, making sure that the rest of your supply chain understands that and is on board can help you achieve and even exceed your goals.

But as MacLennan notes, suppliers are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to building a better support system for food production. “[It] might be working with your competitors, NGOs, governments,” he noted. “We are one part of the supply chain. You need to work effectively and aggressively with the right partners.”




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