#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 #40 - Here's what a supermarket SHOULD look like


 

The Better Business Show, in association with Triodos

 
 
 

Show notes

A couple of years ago, the Transition Towns movement carried out a piece of research called the Economic Blueprint to explore how and where people were spending their money in the town of Totnes, in Devon.

It found that £20 million was spent in the town’s two supermarkets on food and drink every year.

In comparison, people spent £10m in the more than 60 independent food shops in and around the town.

The research showed that relative to retail spend, the local food outlets actually support three times more jobs than supermarkets. This trend is mirrored down the food chain, with those producers that provide for local markets employing on average 3.4 full-time jobs compared to the regional average of 2.3 per farm.

Staggeringly, it said that if people could be encouraged to shift just 10% of their food spend away from the supermarkets, it would bring £2m into the local economy.

Supermarkets are no good for local communities. According to this week's guest, around 95p of every £1 spent in a big supermarket leaves the local community.

The spat last week between Tesco and Unilever, which saw the former refusing to stock the range of well known products of the latter due to a price dispute, reminded us once again what a complex, difficult and – let’s face it – brutal market supermarket retailing can be.

From the way supermarkets treat their suppliers, to the wages being paid, to the interaction and engagement with local communities.

And against this backdrop, it makes the subject of this week’s show all the more fascinating.

Imagine taking on the supermarket fraternity at their own well-trodden game. And then taking a completely different approach to the supplier-customer relationship - one that is built on transparency, openness and fairness.

Ruth Anslow, one of 3 directors of HiSbe – which stands for How it Should Be – including her sister Amy – spent 15 years working for suppliers to the big supermarkets in the UK. She saw the problem first hand. But she also saw a great big opportunity to create a new model for supermarket retailing, fit for the 21st century.

Enjoy the show.

Co-founding sisters Amy and Ruth Anslow, with head of supply, Jack Simmonds

Co-founding sisters Amy and Ruth Anslow, with head of supply, Jack Simmonds


Triodos Bank is our partner on the show for the month of October. 

As part of that, we thought it would be a great idea to check in with an organisation of which Triodos is a member: the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). It is an independent network of banks and banking cooperatives from all around the world, who share the same values – the values we have been discussing with Triodos – that shared mission to use finance to support positive economic, social and environmental impact.

To find out more, have a listen to Marcos Eguiguren, the GABV's executive director.

And get involved in the conversation via social media using #BankingOnValues.


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 #33 - Turning waste bread into beer with Toast Ale

Show notes

This week's show is all about my conversation with Andrew Schein, one of the guys running Toast Ale. And we explore a whole range of food waste issues during our chat – not least the fact that around 25% of any loaf of bread is thrown away and wasted.

It’s something the business is trying to tackle, grabbing surplus bread that would normally be thrown away, toasting it and then using it as one of the key ingredients in its brewing process to make great-tasting ale.

It’s a great story and the company is going from strength to strength, with stockists across London.

But Toast Ale’s story raised an interesting question. When does a campaign become a business? And can that even happen successfully?

Andrew Schein from Toast Ale

Andrew Schein from Toast Ale

A growing number of organisations – and we’ve featured a number on the show in recent weeks (from Hubbub, to Fairphone) are starting life as a campaign and then, at some point, have transitioned to become commercial entities. As you will hear, Andrew (pictured right) is fairly philosophical about that transition – that the separation that they have created between the enterprise that founded Toast Ale (a campaign group called Feedback) and the actual business gives them a clearly defined path to growth.

Of course, we’ve talked lots about how companies are increasingly thinking about why they exist – and the need to move beyond existing purely to keep shareholders happy. But what if you exist, in part, to provide funds for sustaining a charitable enterprise? It’s a really interesting concept and certainly left me with food for thought.

As ever, let me know what you think of Toast Ale and what they are trying to do.

You can find out more about the business here. And you can follow Andrew and the team at Toast across social media, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

Grab a bottle now: There are plenty of stockists of Toast's Pale Ale across London

Grab a bottle now: There are plenty of stockists of Toast's Pale Ale across London

Perfect bedfellows: Toasted bread and beer

Perfect bedfellows: Toasted bread and beer


This week's news round with Vikki Knowles featured:

- Airbus's new flying taxi plans
- The Cool Effect collection of carbon-reducing projects that need cash
- Why buy stuff when you have the Library of Things
- The Too Good To Go app to tackle food waste