Not another end of year blog.....3 Important Things We Learned in 2021

By Cher Mereweather

Hello and Happy Holiday Season!


As we come to the end of 2021, the last thing your inbox needs is another end of year blog… 

So, let me reassure you that this is not one of those emails! 

No, we are not going to reflect philosophically on the highs and lows of 2021, I’m not going to pretend you are interested in all the things that happened in our business, nor will I flatter myself that you care enough at this busy period of the year to take your precious time to hear about what I happen to think about this or that. 

Instead, I’m going to give you something that I hope you’ll want to read - a very focused analysis of the three really important things that we learned in 2021, and what we are going to do about them in 2022 to serve you better. 

Simple. To the point. And hopefully valuable. 

And you’ll be able to get through it in the time it takes to eat a holiday treat!

#1 Upcycling

What did we learn in 2021? 

The first thing that we learnt was just how big the Upcycled Food movement is going to become.  

Upcycled food was listed as one of the top five food trends to watch back in January and has been a hot topic of conversation in the various industry panels and events I’ve done throughout the year. 

But while more and more clients were asking us to support them with upcycling their unavoidable by-products, it wasn’t until I saw the remarkable reaction to the Upcycled Food Festival in October/November (with nearly 10 million media impressions) that it became clear to me how this has now become the next frontier of food waste. 

So, what are we going to do about it in 2022? 

One of the biggest barriers to upcycling is scaling. We hear this, again and again, particularly from larger F&B companies who do have interest in upcycled products but who can’t source enough to make it work. 

So in 2022 we are going to launch a new national ecosystem to overcome that barrier. 

We are already piloting this (successfully) in Ontario as I write, and next year we will bring together ingredient companies, investors, technology companies, R&D and product development experts, commercialization and branding experts and more to create North America’s first ecosystem to scale upcycling. 

What that will mean is that if you have an unavoidable by-product (examples like spent grains from brewing, or pulp and peels from juicing) we will - for the first time - be able to help you turn that waste stream into a new, scaled, sustainable product or ingredient….and by doing so, turn a cost centre into a revenue centre for you.   

We expect this to generate a lot of interest, so don’t wait to get in touch if this could be a fit for your company.

We are also going to find ways to certify new upcycled products in Canada, so the 60% of consumers who say they want to find more upcycled products on retail shelves can do so easily.  

The Upcycled movement is growing fast, our goal in 2022 is that you can be a part of it.  

#2 - Risk in Your Value Chains

What did we learn in 2021? 

Extreme weather events have continued to disrupt markets and value chains across North America and the world, while cruelly proving how vulnerable Canada is to some of their worst impacts.

The exponential rise of the price of shipping has continued, with a client only this week telling us that a container from Asia to BC that cost $3,000 pre-COVID now costs them ten times that amount (and of course, when goods finally arrive in BC there is no telling when they will actually make it out of the ports).    

And as we end the year, US inflation is just below 7%, the highest in my lifetime. 

COP26 or no COP26, 2021 has shown us that there is no way to ignore the fact that we all have value chain risk, that is driven by climate, and is a challenge of generational proportions that our food and beverage industry needs to tackle, and tackle now.   

What are we going to do about it in 2022?  

Just as charity begins at home, managing climate risk begins in your own operations. 

So we are making carbon a priority and setting a goal that by the end of 2022, every client who works with us will be executing  a plan to drive carbon out of their business. To be honest, we don’t yet know how to do this, because not every client comes to us wanting to figure out how to get to zero, or net positive for that matter. But we see it as our responsibility to help our industry understand not just how critical this is, but how much every company stands to gain by committing and executing a plan to get there. 

We will also be focusing on helping you manage the risk in your value chains by prioritizing local. 

This year we ran a national program with Sobeys to support their vendors with becoming more purpose driven, sustainable and circular. It was a huge success, with nearly 100 companies graduating. We will continue rolling this out across Canada and will be bringing it to the US in 2022, to help more companies build more strength, resiliency and transparency. 

#3 - People First, Always

What did we learn in 2021? 

For years now, the food and beverage industry has not prioritized its frontline workers.  The excuse of lack of margin has been used again and again to justify minimum wage, despite the often cold  and wet working conditions for the people who do the crucial work of making our food/drink and keeping our grocery shelves stocked. 

But 2021 has been an important one in this regard. The Great Resignation has hit food and beverage companies particularly hard. Most companies I have spoken to in the last twelve months have experienced some form of challenges with attraction and retention of frontline staff. 

And as a result, it feels like the industry is slowly realizing how critical it is to make the care of its people its top priority….

What are we going to do about it in 2022?  

In 2021, we invested heavily to bring a new tool to Canada to help food & beverage companies create fully regenerative cultures within their workplaces. 

What, you may ask, is a regenerative culture? Well, the quick answer is that it is one in which staff have what they need to thrive, where decision-making and processes are clear and understood, where everyone is able to do their best work and feel they are making a meaningful contribution to something they care about. 

In short, it’s the sort of place you would want to work. 

As we rolled out our recommendations resulting from the tool with the first few clients, we have been overwhelmed with the shifts in culture that it is creating, and the quality of the conversations that it is generating, that would never otherwise have happened. 

While Rome won’t be built in a day, because much of the industry still has a long way to go on this, our commitment as we move into 2022 is to make sure that every client we work with leaves us with a regenerative culture. We have the tools to do this today, and we are committed to a food and beverage industry that is more sustainable not just in its environmental impact, but in the way it treats its people. 

So there you go (maybe you had enough time for two holiday treats!). 

Thank you for reading and hopefully, this provided you with not just another reflection on the year, but a meaningful look ahead to the things we are excited to create together in 2022. 

Write and tell me about what you are committed to doing in 2022! 

What are your goals? What are you going to be doing to bring your purpose to life? What can we help you achieve? 

I promise I will read every one of your messages - maybe with a holiday treat and a glass of eggnog as I enjoy what is, for me, a really special time of the year. 

Wherever you find yourself for these holidays, my very best and warmest wishes to you, your family and friends. I look forward to getting up to some great things together in the new year. 


Cher's Signature

Cher Mereweather
President & CEO

PS - If you’d like to talk to me in the new year about reducing your value chain risk, creating a regenerative culture or upcycling an unavoidable byproduct - then drop me a note so we can get something in the calendar! 

3 really important things we learned in 2021 (1000 x 200 px)

Tags: Sustainability, Operations, Reduce Costs, Food Industry, Covid-19, Food Production, upcycling

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