COMMENT: Diversity is a sweet treat for the UK’s food industry

When Taz Busunia and I first started our sweet company, Jealous Sweets, people thought we were mad for leaving our jobs in the city to start a business selling vegetarian sweets. We were on a mission to change the sweet industry by making junk-free and shamelessly tasty sweets for the conscious consumer.

But this wasn’t the only reason that we were different. In the UK we have a multi-cultural society, and as a result we have a diverse and exciting array of cuisine and food products on offer. However, there are no supplier diversity programs within UK grocery retailer. In the last ten years of operating we’ve only ever worked with one buyer from an ethnic background.

Across the world and across UK society we are starting to learn about, and to unravel unconscious biases in society. Subsequently, we became aware of these same themes at play in the grocery space.

When we started to look around us we realised that in the food industry, and especially in sweets, treats and confectionary, people of colour are severely under-represented.

Despite the immense inspiration, history, flavour and taste that diversity has brought to the UK’s food, people of colour are not getting their seat at the table. It doesn’t affect our mission at Jealous Sweets, but I call on industry leaders to recognise and encourage diversity. It is right, and fair but also makes good business sense. Research by Harvard University and McKinsey in 2019 have shown that diverse businesses are 33% more likely to outperform less diverse businesses.

We know that there are lots of unconscious biases at work in the society we live in, and we have never let that hold us back, marching forward with our successful business.

The industry needs a transparent sourcing process so that people of colour, and from diverse backgrounds have the same opportunities to showcase products to the supermarkets. We all need a fair representation and a seat at the table to represent the diverse communities we all live and share in.

Having a diverse supplier base to work with brings about more choice, better performance, they are more adaptable and are more in-tune to anticipate changes in consumer demand for new products and shifts in culture. All of these various attributes bring forth a competitive edge and this makes the retailers more resilient in a hyper-competitive marketplace.

Having a variety of different perspectives in your supplier base leads to faster problem-solving and better decision making. All companies need a variety of perspectives from different people and communities to enable a true representation of the society we live in. When there is diversity there is less likely to be discrimination and it helps to widen people’s minds and horizons that help to tackle more challenges in the food ecosystem that we’re facing as a collective. Being a plant based organisation we care deeply about our role in shaping not only what people eat but also how we operate in the wider world of global business.

Having a mixed and diverse supplier inclusion program is an experience that is more enriching for everyone.

We also need role models and flag carriers of what is possible for a diverse and multicultural society for people to know it is possible and there isn’t that glass ceiling. We want to be the flag carriers in this space.

By Jealous Sweets co-founder Imran Merza. 

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