Supermarkets benefit from sales of meat and dairy products at the expense of the climate

Many supermarkets are not yet transparent about their emissions and do not include the sale of less meat and dairy products in their existing or non-existing climate plans. As the second largest supermarket, according to the climate organization Feedback EU, Jumbo disappoints mainly on the basis of their ranking of the six largest Dutch supermarkets.

As part of a European campaign asking to sell half as much meat and dairy products, the organization Feedback EU has created a ranking based on the climate footprint. The Climate and Meat Scorecard, as the ranking is called, is based on research over the past six months with a focus on 34 indicators on transparency, ambition and action in relation to climate and meat and dairy sales. The research focused on Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Lidl, Aldi, Plus and Dirk, which together have almost 90% market share. Consuming and producing less meat is one of the most effective ways to reduce the climate footprint and meet the Dutch and European targets of 55% less greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Frank Mechielsen, Director of Feedback EU says: “Supermarkets benefit from the sale of products that stimulate deforestation and exacerbate the climate crisis. A quarter of their revenue comes from the sale of meat and dairy products, while these products cause more than a third of their total emissions. It is high time that the supermarkets take their climate responsibility and start selling less meat and dairy products.”

The Climate and Meat Supermarket Scorecard always pits two supermarkets against each other. For example, the two largest supermarkets, Albert Heijn and Jumbo, Plus and Dirk are compared because of their common supplier Superunie and the two international discount stores Lidl and Aldi. Most supermarkets do not yet score sufficiently. Only one supermarket, Albert Heijn, scores just enough with a 5.9. They are transparent about the climate emissions caused by meat and dairy products, but only do this for the parent company Ahold Delhaize and not specifically for the Netherlands. Lidl is in second place with a 3.8. Lidl is the only company that reports total greenhouse gas emissions for the Netherlands, but has not yet set specific targets to reduce emissions in production. The other four supermarkets score very low, between 1.8 and 2.1. Jumbo in particular disappoints as the second largest supermarket in the Netherlands with a 2.1. After all, Jumbo’s annual turnover is 6 times as high as Dirk, 4 times as high as Aldi and twice as high as Plus. All supermarkets score low on action and do too little to support customers to buy less and better meat and dairy products.

Notable findings from the report include:

  • three out of six supermarkets report their total emissions, while the other half do not report or only report on business operations. All supermarkets pay too much attention to climate-neutral business operations, which only contribute to a small part of their emissions, below 5%.
  • all six supermarkets stimulate the sale of meat with meat advertisements and offers, so that the principle of supply and demand no longer applies: the supermarkets actually encourage the purchase of meat.
  • within the entire meat range, less than 10% is organically produced. No supermarket has the ambition to significantly expand the range and support farmers on a large scale in the transition to organic production. The small range and scarce campaigns make it difficult for customers to make a more sustainable choice.
  • Despite former Agriculture Minister Staghouwer’s pledge to strive for less meat consumption by 2030, Albert Heijn is the only supermarket with an ambitious goal to change the ratio of animal and vegetable proteins from the current 70/30 to 40/60 by 2030, but more action in stores and advertising is needed to make this happen.

This Sunday is World Food Day, a day on which FAO and other organizations are aware of food (in)security in the world. This year focuses on global issues such as high prices and climate change. Meat has become more expensive in recent months compared to plant-based foods because meat production requires more raw materials such as soy, corn and wheat, which have increased in price. It has made it clear that precious food sources are used as animal feed, while the same volume can feed more people than the resulting steak. Supermarkets can therefore not only combat climate change by selling less meat and dairy products, but also contribute to greater food security worldwide.

For most people, supermarkets are the main point of sale for everyday groceries, with their choice largely determined by their wallets, especially in these times of high inflation and rising food prices. However, the supermarkets decide what is on the shelves, what is advertised and what they want to make the most money from. Supermarkets must use their power in the food chain to reduce their climate emissions.

Jaap Seidell, professor of nutrition and health: “A transition to a healthier and more sustainable food system is necessary and urgent. This includes switching to a diet based largely on plant-based foods. This means that production, transport and consumption must change significantly. A food environment where the healthy and sustainable choice is the easiest choice for the consumer is part of this. Feedback contributes to that.”

Natasha Kooiman, quartermaster of the Food Transition Coalition, is organizing the Plant de Future dinner this week to discuss the transition to less meat and more vegetables at various tables with key stakeholders: “Supermarkets play an important role in this transition and determine a large part of the food environment. For vegetables to become the new normal, it is necessary that this is already visible on the shelves with at least a 50/50 animal/vegetable protein ratio, as the government strives for and in line with national and European climate plans.”

At the beginning of 2023, the Climate and Meat Supermarket Scorecard will be published in France and Denmark by the Climate Action Network and Dansk Vegetarian Forening respectively, and after the summer the third scorecard will be launched in the UK by Feedback Global.

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