Purpose-driven business

How can we tap into the potential for businesses to bring about a fairer, more sustainable food system?

Our September 2019 Business Forum explored what is meant by purpose-driven business and how we can unleash the potential for food businesses to make a genuine, lasting, positive contribution to society and the planet.

Businesses have a huge role in building a vision for society – and for our food systems – based on values of fairness and wellbeing of people, animals and the planet.

‘Purpose’ has been a buzzword for business in the past few years. But what does it mean, and how to tell the difference between genuine purpose and PR spin? The emergence of social enterprises and Benefit Corporations (B Corps) seemed to largely bypass the food sector until recently. But that is now changing, with a mushrooming of ‘purpose-led’ food businesses – from Danone (in North America) to Divine Chocolate, from BrewDog to Better Food Bakery, and beyond.

What is the context influencing how businesses act? What are the opportunities for them to steer society towards better food systems for all? What are the limitations and what kind of support do they need from other players? Is the notion of purpose-led business too embedded into the ‘voting with our purse’ consumer paradigm? We explored these and other questions.

Our speakers were Sophi Tranchell, CEO of Divine Chocolate and Ben Kellard, Director of Business Strategy, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, with a response from Jon Alexander, co-founder of the New Citizenship Project and Trustee of the Food Ethics Council. Cathryn Higgs, Head of Food Policy at the Co-op and Member of the Food Ethics Council, chaired the meeting.