Our future bread: Transformation on the dining table?

You are what you eat. Shifting values that are reflected on our plates and technological innovations are opening up fascinating new value creation opportunities for food producers – some of these also have the potential to be disruptive. But which of them make really sense for people and the environment?

Shifting values in nutrition and technological innovations open up fascinating new value creation opportunities.

Vegan Beyond Meat burgers or grandma’s crispy roast pork? Milk from more or less happy cows or from (hopefully emotionless) soya and oat plants? Trendy superfoods from the other end of the world or not so cool but equally nutritious green stuff from closer to home? Small organic farmer or agricultural industry? When it comes to eating, it seems, it’s no longer simply about having enough food or simply enjoying it – at least in our affluent Western world. The way we eat becomes a reflection of our personal worldviews and values. Health and self-optimisation as well as ecological, climatic and ethical correctness increasingly decide what’s on the menu.

Meat consumption is criticized for its negative impacts on health and environment

Can we just continue eating as usual?

There is no doubt: If humanity does not want to destroy the planet and itself with its eating habits, the way we eat and how our food is produced will have to change fundamentally. A few facts:

  • According to the United Nations (UN), global food production already accounts for 30% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of land use and 70% of water consumption. The production of animal products is responsible for just under half of this, and regarding land use for almost three quarters – even though less than 20% of the calorie needs of the world’s population are met by animal products.
  • Conventional agriculture with industrial methods in particular has long been criticised for its negative effects on humans, animals and the environment. Is it necessary for supplying the world with food? There are doubts.
  • According to the UN, global food production must increase by up to 60% by 2050 in order to feed the world’s growing population and to meet the rising needs of the growing middle class in developing and emerging countries. However: If crop plants were cultivated exclusively for human consumption and not as animal feed or to make biofuels, we could already feed an extra four billion people today.
  • While more than 800 million people worldwide are starving, one third of all the food we produce is lost or thrown away.
  • Almost two billion people are overweight. Highly processed, high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods are considered the main cause of rapid weight gain, especially in emerging countries. Diet-related diseases of affluence such as type 2 diabetes are on the rise.
Culture change in food - vegan and healthy

Organic, vegetarian, healthy and sustainable: the values of change.

Facts that suggest a certain way of behaving are one thing. An actual change in behaviour is often something else. Habits, especially those you have come to cherish, are hard to shift. And sometimes the shift in values ends at the supermarket checkout – when insights and convictions threaten to drain your wallet. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that there isn’t much that will stay the same in terms of nutrition in the coming years – especially in the affluent industrial nations. A few trends with some disruptive potential:

Organic becomes (more) normal.

This is proven not just by looking at the supermarket shelves, but also by the simple figures themselves. The global market for organically produced food has recently grown to almost 100 billion US dollars per year, with some countries showing double-digit growth rates. In Germany – one of the world’s most important markets for organic products – animal welfare and environmental protection, regional production, low pollution, health and personal well-being are the main reasons why people opt for organic products.

Goodbye, beef steak.

By 2040, 60% of our ever-increasing demand for meat is expected to be covered by laboratory meat and alternative plant-based products – a forecast 450 billion dollar market for vegan meat alternatives alone. Vegetarianism and veganism are no longer niche. Going meatless or fully vegan has become cool. When even Arnold Schwarzenegger now gets his protein from the field and not the stable; that really is saying something. In comparison, people who buy organic are almost ordinary folks, even though they share many values and motives with vegans.

(Cow’s) milk doesn’t cut it anymore.

Oat, soya and almond milk & co. are about to make life difficult for the 400 billion US dollar milk industry. Cow’s milk is suffering the same fate as steak: it is becoming increasingly rare for either of them to be considered truly valuable. Staunch critics simply regard dairy products as harmful, and supporters of unrestrained consumption of steak are likely to lose out in the expert’s debate over red meat.

Health is the big thing.

The global market for foods that promise health and well-being is growing steadily – soon to reach $800 billion a year. Superfoods are trendy. Over 90% of Germans state that healthy food is important or very important to them. – even if actual eating habits are occasionally at odds with proclaimed values. Sugar consumption in Germany, for example, has remained largely unchanged and at a high level for years.

Millennials eat and live differently.

They lead healthier, more sustainable, more climate-friendly and somehow more “conscious” lives. At least according to the authors of the UBS report “The food revolution”. After all: The electoral successes of Green parties in Europe are mainly supported by the younger population groups. Surveys suggest that generations Y and Z could be the protagonists of a shift in values and culture – remember Greta? Environmental and climate protection are very important to them (but so is the opportunity to travel), as is the social and ecological correctness of companies. Whether this alleged attitude is always the deciding factor when it comes to actual consumption is a different matter.

Food production becomes high-tech.

Robots on farmland, drones over fields, test tube meat, genetically tailored seeds, personalised food, digitised supply chains: technological innovations – often digital –, promise more efficient, resource- and climate-friendly food production – and new business areas with a market potential of 700 billion US dollars in 2030, according to UBS estimates.

Nutritional value change with alternative agriculture - regional and organic

Agritech or self-determined organic farmers?

Will the new technologies deliver on their promises, or are at least some of them the unsuccessful attempt to solve problems using an approach that created the problem in the first place? Someone like Dr Vandana Shiva, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, suspects it’s probably the latter. With her organisation “Navdanya” she represents the interests of small family farmers, especially in developing and emerging countries: over 500 million farms worldwide, the majority of them in Asia, which produce over 50% of the food. Navdanya believes that instead of relying on agritech we should return to traditional, regional crops in all their diversity and to organic farming methods adapted to their natural environment; we should preserve our biological and cultural diversity and strengthen regional social structures and markets. Sometimes, to drive change and progress, we may need to take a look back in order to make real sense.

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