Environmental and corporate social responsibilty (CSR) issues have plummeted down the agenda as the UK’s leading food executives turn their sights on dealing with the economic downturn.

According to a new report, based on interviews with over 250 executives from across the food supply chain, sustainability and environmental issues went from ranking third among the ’main business challenges’ going forward to 13th.

When questioned in 2007, a third of those interviewes stated that CSR was a major challenge (33%), but this dropped to 11% in this year’s Food & Beverage Senior Executive ’Top of Mind’ Survey, compiled by Allegra Strategies.

The top spots were dominated by the economic downturn, rising ingredients costs, declining consumer spend and profitability. Value consciousness, healthy eating and convenience were viewed as major opportunities, while excellence in innovation, customer service and cost control were considered key com- petencies going forward.

Meanwhile, Allegra reaffirmed its previous predictions that the rapid growth of the UK branded coffee chains would slow only slightly in 2009 and would break through 5,000 outlets by 2012.