#61 With a little help from friends: How Nestlé plans to solve the global food crisis

 

episode 61, in association with:

 
 
 

This episode of the Better Business Show is bought to you in association with Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, working had to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future for people all around the world. Check out nestle.com for more information.

 
 
 

Show notes

Around 795 million people go to bed hungry every night. 155 million children are stunted, meaning they won't reach their full potential. Two billion people suffer from some sort of micro-nutrient deficiency, meaning they lack in Vitamin A, zinc or iron.

Meanwhile, 2.1 billion people are either overweight or obese.

It is against this backdrop that the Planting Seeds for the Future of Food conference got underway in Vevey, Switzerland, home of the world's biggest food and drink business, Nestlé. And the Better Business Show was given exclusive access to proceedings. Enjoy this week's show.

 

 

Nestlé has been in business for 150 years and it knows that it faces some huge problems, both in terms of the environmental impact of the way it sources its raw materials and the health impacts related to its products (including under nutrition, obesity and diabetes). These are certainly interesting times to be part of a global food system under serious pressure.

As we explored during last week's episode on Hampton Creek, while it's harsh to describe the world’s current food system as being "broken" it is fair to say that the challenges it is already facing are huge.

In a nutshell, it will need to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population which will reach 10 billion by 2050; some say, our farmers will need to double the amount of food being grown by then.

And this food must be healthier, containing more protein and nutrition.

Soils

Then there's the stark reality of the environmental impact of agriculture, a sector responsible for some 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And then there’s the strain being place on farmers everywhere by climate change which, in case you were in any doubt, is massive – including the pressure on water supplies, the more erratic and hard to predict weather patterns, and the increase instances of drought or heavy rainfall.

And during the first session of the conference the always brilliant Tony Juniper set the scene beautifully, pointing to the soil beneath our feet as being both the problem and potential solution to the world’s impending food crisis.

Take a tablespoon of soil in the East of England, said Tony. There you will will find six billion organisms. "Soil is where we find organic material, it holds water, it stores carbon, keeping it from entering the atmosphere. The organisms working with the organic material means it is recycling nutrients, fostering new plant growth."

So, when soils get damaged, eroded, over-farmed, you get a depletion of organic matter and the soils just won’t produce plants, crops, raw materials in the same way. And that, he says, poses a major threat to food security.

Amazingly, one third of all agricultural soils have been degraded around the world.

At a cost

And so that biological recycling process has been replaced with chemicals and fertilisers, helping to keep pace with global food demand. But that has come at a cost.

We are all aware of the decline in bee populations. In fact, two thirds of all pollinators are under threat because of a loss of biodiversity on land everywhere. Agricultural technology and the use of chemicals has managed to damage the underpinning of agriculture. And that needs to change.

But is it possible for farming systems to adapt to become more sustainable while having the productive capacity to match consumer demand for healthy and sustainable diets? We know chemicals work, that’s why farmers use them everywhere.

The need to produce more with less, the need to protect soils, the need to reduce water consumption, the need to treat farmers well and help them to thrive, the need to move from a system based on chemistry to one that is based on biology. These were the dominant themes to emerge from the two day event.

Rice, rice baby

And we heard some really interesting examples of technology and collaboration that is helping to solve some of these challenges.

James Lomax at the UN Environment Programme told us about the Sustainable Rice Platform.

Rice is the daily staple for more than 3.5 billion people, accounting for 19% of dietary energy globally. It is a crop that provides livelihoods for more than 1 billion people and it is produced on 160 million hectares, by 144 million smallholders.

And the most incredible thing is that rice uses 34-43% of the world’s irrigation water for production and its responsible for up to 10% of global methane emissions.

James talked about methods that can save up to 30% of water in the production process, and incentivising those farmers that are taking things seriously. Of course, there’s a need to scale things up so that all big food companies engage in the programme and start finding the same sort of efficiencies. There was certainly a call for Nestlé to follow in the footsteps of Mars which recently committed to ensure all of its Uncle Ben’s rice is produced using some of the methods encouraged by the platform.

There’s also some interesting work being done by the likes of Google, as one might expect. For example, using its GPS and mapping capability to track deforestation by food companies, and how comsummables and swallowables that can aid healthier eating.

Nutrition

The second day kicked off by focusing on the importance of nutrition, not only when it comes to farmers and food companies producing and selling more food that is actually good for us, but also in relieving the pressure on the environmental impact of the entire system on the planet and our ecosystems.

But it is also about considering how our food system actually gets the right nutrition to the people that need it the most. Far too many people just aren’t getting anywhere near the right amount of the good stuff which has so many far reaching problems – from pressure on healthcare systems, education and economic development.

Heiko Schipper, Nestle’s head of nutrition said that the focus on nutrition was how Nestle started 150 years ago when Switzerland was a poor country with high infant mortality rates. Along came pharmacist Henri Nestlé who wanted to use his knowledge to save kids around him. He came up with a solution to help kids that could not be breast fed and developed the first combination of milk from the alps, and cereals and nutrients, an easy to digest solution to save the lives of infants.

He added that Nestlé’s purpose has shifted in recent years – from being the world’s biggest food and drinks company, to being a nutrition, health and wellness company. At the heart of this is a nutrition profiling system which Nestle puts all of its products through to establish just how good or bad they are.

And it has also boosted its investment in R&D – from 1.5% to 1.9% – to find ways to make all of its products more healthy, reducing sugar, salt and saturated fats, while at the same time making each product still taste great. It is no mean feat but an absolute necessity given the huge challenge the world faces.

Consumers

The focus on the consumer is an interesting one. Farmers, producers, retailers are not going to be incentivised to adopt more sustainable approaches to agriculture unless the consumer market is excited by it. We know the new generation are interested in food. They want to know what they are eating, they want to know where its come from, they want to know what’s in it, and they want to feel good about it. They’ll probably snap it and post on Instagram too.

But how do you really change mindets and behaviours at the scale needed to transform the food system?

Courage is needed

This two-day event was filled with numbers; big challenging numbers about the sheer size of the challenge that lies ahead. And it’s scary, and feels so big.

There’s no doubt about it, these types of events are crucial. People need to meet, work together, provide evidence, grab funding and scale projects up.

There is a huge need for courage. When you start to consider the need to feed the world’s 7 billion people, you can’t just turn the system off and reboot it when you’ve figured out the way forward – the wheels must continue to turn. So making the transition just seems that much more difficult.

If the world is still talking about the same numbers and challenges in 5, 10 or 15 years time, we're in trouble.

Episode #55 - Meet the chocolate company leading the charge for Fairtrade

Show notes

Fairtrade Fortnight kicks off today. 

It’s a UK initiative, led by the Fairtrade Foundation, that runs until 12 March in a bid to bring more awareness to shoppers about where the produce they are buying comes from.

Fairtrade simply means offering fair prices for farmers in the developing world. This enables them to get a sustainable price on the produce they grow and a premium incentive to invest in their own communities.

When organisations sell their products through Fairtrade, they are paid the Fairtrade minimum price. The organisations will receive what’s known as the Fairtrade premium, and it’s up to the farmers and workers to decide how to use the premium.

Options include building wells and hospitals, buying better farming equipment and investing in a switch to organic farming.

By letting farmers and workers decide for themselves what is most important to invest in for their community, they are given vital control towards developing their overall futures as well as their livelihoods.

The Fairtrade movement has achieved so much, but there is a reason that Fairtrade Fortnight – this being the 23rd – is still such a big deal. And that’s because buying Fairtrade is still not front of mind when shoppers make their purchasing decisions.

So, this time around, the Fairtrade Foundation has been working with a new London creative agency to shift its marketing strategy as it looks to engage with consumers emotionally by communicating the “human element” of its work – and what unfair trade looks like.

As Cheryl McGechie, director of public engagement at the organisation told Marketing Week: "Faitrade is often a rational purchase decision; something people feel positive about but in a passive way. We want it to be emotionally engaging."

She highlights, for example, that the smaller farmers it represents are responsible for providing the vast majority of tea and coffee sold in the UK but that they still live in “very impoverished conditions”. 

And that cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast, for example, have to survive on just 40p a day.

Earlier today, the Fairtreade Foundation campaign kicked off. You can check out the video that has been doing the rounds on social media all day that promotes the idea that “no one deserves to be short-changed for a hard day’s work and that with the help of supporters Faitrade can help make it right".

The big boys are certainly ramping up their efforts. In stores and supermarkets you will no doubt see the likes of Cadbury’s owner Mondelez doing more than ever to push the Fairtrade story as it invests $400m in sourcing fives times as much of its chocolate sustainably.

Fairtrade is not an idea many people reject but we want them to increase the frequency that they decide to go to a different café because it is Fairtrade, that they switch chocolate bars, that they decide to buy Fairtrade bananas. "It is about nudging people to change behaviour,” says Cheryl

To mark the kicking off of Fairtrade Fortnight, we thought we’d check in with one of the brands that has been at the leading edge of the Fairtrade movement for the last 20 years. 

Divine Chocolate is a business with a clear social mission and a unique model in that the farmers’ co-operative supplying the cocoa from Ghana is a majority shareholder in the company, with a clear say over how it invests its money and drives the organisation on.

I caught up with the company’s CEO Sophi Tranchell to find out more.

For more information about Divine, about Sophie about the Divine story, just head to the website: www.divinechocolate.com; it's a perfect example of how the Fairtrade movement works and how much it has matured in the last few years.

Divine Chocolate CEO Sophi Tranchell

Divine Chocolate CEO Sophi Tranchell

Episode #38 - Takestock, the business using the principles of eBay to solve food waste

Show notes

New research released by LoveMoney.com suggests that over a lifetime, the average British person will throw away £12,350-worth of food.

By analysing figures from the food waste charity WRAP, it found that each person spends around £196 a year on food that goes straight in the bin. Extrapolate that from the age of 18 until the average life expectancy of 81 – and that's £12,350 over a lifetime.

For a typical family with children, that is an annual waste of £700 per year – and a depressing £44,100 worth of food over the same 63-year period.

The average household buys around 27kg of food a week, of which almost a fifth (19%) isn’t consumed. This amounts to almost six meals per week, with the most common food items wasted are bread, milk, potatoes and meat, fish and poultry.

But the problem of food waste stretches along the value chain; it’s not just about the food we scrape off our plates at home. It's also about the retailers who order too much food, and the farmers and food manufacturers that produce too much, or not to the quality expected of supermarkets. It's a big problem.

And many businesses in large distributed industries have a problem with stock being unwanted in one location and being in demand some place else.

So, step forward Takestock, the subject of our show this week. It was created to be an online trading platform to make it easy for owners of stock to sell their unwanted items and to find a buyer efficiently rather than turning to scrap as an option.

Thankfully, Takestock is initially focussing on the food manufacturing & agricultural sectors where 600,000 tonnes of food are wasted each year in the UK alone.

I caught up with the founder and CEO of the business, Campbell Murray (right), to find out how the system works and how he plans to deal with food waste - said to cost the UK £1bn ever year - for good.

Enjoy the show.

A still taken from Takestock's explainer video

A still taken from Takestock's explainer video

Takestock uses the principles of eBay to efficiently help food manufactuers find a market for unwanted goods.

Takestock uses the principles of eBay to efficiently help food manufactuers find a market for unwanted goods.

Episode #16 - Kuli Kuli, transforming lives (and diets) with super superfood

Show notes

In a world where the impacts of our changing climate (from extreme weather events and erratic storms, to pesky droughts and disrupted growing seasons) continue to put the world’s farmers in an uncomfortable, vulnerable and destabilised position, food is a tricky subject.

Farmers’ ability to continue to produce the crops we so rely upon for many of our beloved foodstuffs is becoming increasingly compromised, particularly in developing countries where smallholder farmers and indigenous communities depend solely on farming to survive.

Take meat, for example. The global appetite for meat is booming. And, if we don’t find an alternative soon, it’s only going to get bigger. Animal agriculture is set to increase by 70% by 2050 putting huge, huge strain on worldwide water supplies; the idea that it will continue to expand to feed 9 billion people by 2050, is worrying to say the least.

But there's a collective of start-ups out there right now trying to come up with new foods that will appeal to the masses and ween us off of our traditional stock of foods – the production of which is putting pressure on everything.

Of course, you may be familiar with the whole bug and insect-eating movement, which has been going on for the past year or so.

We have companies like Aspire, a so-called future-food developed by Mohammed Ashour and Shobhita Soor who believe the answer to all of our environmental woes likes in edible insects – something they say is “nutrient-dense and resource-efficient food” and a potential game-changer for the world’s food security.

Then you’ve got new companies like Ripple Foods, which has developed a protein-rich alternative to milk using processed peas. The man behind Ripple Foods is Adam Lowry, co-founder of Method – the green cleaning products business which sold out to Ecover a few years back. Well, he’s back and well into the alternative food market.

He says that all of the evidence suggests that not only are Ripple’s products more nutritious than many other dairy alternatives but they are also kinder to the environment, at least in terms of water consumption – and he’s keen to bring something really unique to the market.

So, this week we are explore another of these businesses in search of taking something extraordinary and making an ordinary part of everday life.

Kuli Kuli is a US-based business making use of the moringa plant to make a range of energy and health bars and shot drinks. As Lisa Curtis, the CEO of the business, explains: its a plant that has the potential to not only change the health and dietary habits of those in the West, but also the lives and livelihoods of farming communities across the developing world.

You can find out more about Kuli Kuli here.

The moringa facts one-pager that I mention towards the end of the show is here.

Check out some pics of Lisa and her products below.


Plus, here's the reference points from the news round-up segment of this week's show:

- The story about Avery Dennison and Evrythng tagging our clothes is featured here.
- A round-up of SunEdison's bankruptcy filing can be found here.
- The Label Insight survey Vikki mentions is here.
- The new app for helping you find greener restaurants and coffee shops is called Sure. You can find it here.