Welcome on Earth, the only place in the universe where dumpsters are often better fed than most people. By 2030, 2.1 billion tons of food will end up in the garbage every year. An appalling figure that highlights how important the food transition – as an indispensable condition for our ecological transition - is today.
Whodunit: who’s wasting?
Food waste or food loss is the action of losing, throwing, destroying or degrading "all food intended for our consumption, at any stage of the food chain". Developing countries are supposedly the most affected (industrialization, increase of the standard of living, access to new consumer goods) but be warned, France ranks high too. Every year, more than 10 million tons of food is wasted. 10 million tons of goods is lost at different levels of the food chain, 10 million tons of good is produced and then vanishes.
And everyone’s at it. Indeed, we are all guilty of fueling this ethical, environmental and economic aberration.
Stop the mess: how to re-educate the irresponsibles?
So what do we do? In fact, stopping food waste is rather simple. For some it means buying less (no you will not starve) or learn to finish your plates. Here’s a brief overview of the solutions and good practices that need to be more popularized.
More than 30% of the waste happens during the agricultural production. It is therefore essential for the producers to know what to do with their "leftovers", these fruits and vegetables lost during the harvest, which are not sold because of their calibration (too small, too ugly) but yet remain good for consumption. On this side, rely on solutions like gleaning, giving or resale at low prices. SolidariFood, a leading local player in the fight against food waste in France, has chosen this niche and created Eco-Glan, a network for producers and consumers. The goal? Sell the "unsellable" fruits or vegetables, reduce waste and strengthen the bond between the two parties. Initially, this initiative is developed in the Pays de la Loire but could expand nationwide depending on the results. To be continued then…
It is also pretty promising on the corporate side as big names in the distribution sector are already doing their share. Following the Garot law, which forbids retailers to make unsold products unsuitable for consumption, and to meet consumer demand, many brands have adopted a clear strategy to fight waste. In Intermarché stores, poorly calibrated fruits and vegetables are honored to remind customers that a carrot, even when it is ugly, will still be good for your health.
As for Leader Price, the French discount store chain collaborates with Eqosphère. Since 2016, this young start-up has supported the Casino Group's brand in the management of its unsold products. In more than 300 stores, employees are trained to reduce waste. Most products are sold or given to associations. In 2018, nearly 2 million euro of goods was collected, so far more than 900,000 meals! Some caterers, grocers and bakers follow the same path and choose to rethink their production and sell cheaper products with a close expiry date.
Producers, brands and companies, each tend to find their place and implement simple and effective measures. While most consumers are aware of the issues and clearly reorient their food transition strategies, many also regard waste management as an insurmountable problem.
Despite awareness campaigns like the National Anti-Waste Day (October 16) organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, each household continues to ruin 20 kilos of food every year. The education of kids in schools and cafeterias (implementation of "monitoring of waste" at each meal) seems to pay off, yet the adults are yet to improve their habits. Keep in mind that the most important struggle regarding waste is in ourselves: when we decide which products to buy or when we refuse to cook our leftovers...
We can’t afford anymore this luxury of wasting. Yet nothing is lost because and reducing waste is not a complicated task. The recipe is simple: smaller portions, some will. The world will actually thank us if we finally learn to finish our plates and choose to opt for a sustainable food transition.
How can you reach a sustainable and healthy food system?
“Eat well”, “Don’t forget your vegetables”, nowadays these advice are obvious us. Today, the consumer is independent, he’s taking care of his diet and doesn’t hesitate to make his voice heard or express his discontentment when a product doesn’t match his expectations. Aware of the health issues and ecological stakes, more and more consumers are calling out all the actors in the food chain to implement an efficient food transition. Let's see what are some of leads to put that into practice.
leur mécontentement quant à la qualité des produits qu’ils achètent. Conscients des enjeux sanitaires et écologiques qui se jouent dans l’assiette, de plus en plus nombreux sont ceux qui appellent à ce que tous les maillons de la chaîne
alimentaire opèrent une transition rapide et efficace. Voyons quelques pistes pour mettre tout cela en œuvre.
A brief history of the food transition.
The food transition is an inevitable and continuous phenomenon. Inherently, the food transition is directly connected to the evolutions of our society, the progress of farming and agriculture. It manifests through a deep change in our consuming habits. Try to compare two plates at two different periods and you will realize how our eating habits are different from one era to another. In the 20 th century, most diets were made of cereals, vegetables and tubers. Less than 100 years later, most components of this diet have been ousted due to the explosion of globalization, the rise of large retailers and the omnipresence of advertising. So what’s in our plates now? Animal proteins (meat), saturated fats and sugars to the detriment of fibers and nutrients. Is it really that bad? Should we, the top predators and carnivores on earth, feel guilty of this habit?
Let’s get that straight; this time the evolution is not without consequences. For everyone to be able to enjoy a steak or pork ribs every now and then, our agriculture has to make some choices. Thus, it is estimated that the agribusiness is the main cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss. To this you can add the worrying growth of severe obesity (in China, for instance, the country counts 200 million people in overweight condition and 90 million struggling with obesity) and the precariousness of the farmers. In short, the situation is a bit ominous for our planet and its habitants. And nothing forecasts a silver lining. Little habits to for an effective food transition.
Indulging in a food transition does not require to adopt complex or far-fetched new consumptions habits. Yet the thing is to re-connect with a sustainable nutrition through the exploration of agricultural models both affordable, healthy and eco-responsible.
Every actor in the food chain has a specific role to play. First of all, the farmers and breeders who should initiate a transition towards agroecology. This practice, which consists in producing essentially with the help of natural resources and our ecosystems, tends to strengthen the virtuous circle the new agriculture and farming practices try so hard to form.
As for the consumers, two good practices are, for instance, to turn to vegetable proteins to the detriment of animal proteins and to keep being critical towards the products on our shelves. So get yourself heard, give your opinion, agree or disagree against some approaches you consider too abrupt or ludicrous. And please, keep suggesting your ideas for the future of nutrition can’t be shaped without your collaboration. The idea here is not to start a witch-hunt when a product does not seem to fit our health or environment but to become aware that our nutrition can be reviewed. In the end, it’s up to us to call out public authorities and challenge the status quo in our supermarkets to find long-lasting and sustainable solutions to our food issues. Indeed, if our governments are responsible for setting up new institutionalized models, it falls to the citizens to express clear demands both on general and specific topics (such as glyphosate and the revaluation of school cafeterias).
Big groups and brands, both have understood and gradually implemented solutions to correct their path or overcome remaining gaps in their strategy. In 2018, Carrefour has set a new 4-year plan to change its model in depth and give concrete answers to its consumers’ demands. Quality and co-construction are the two main objectives of the French giant. In line with its “Act For Food” challenge, Carrefour is willing to consolidate its offer for “fresh food and products” and make organic food outside urban areas more accessible. Among other initiatives, the group is implementing a support plan that includes a Bio-Dev partnership with WWF, the launch of an agroecology plan and the generalization of blockchain technology to improve product traceability. Other initiatives from similar groups include: the pledge made my Danone to donate its whole revenue for the 21 st of September to a fund designed to help farmers to transition to a more sustainable agriculture.
Not to be outdone, SMB and start-ups are also developing original and effective ideas such as Bee’s Wrap, a natural alternative to plastic wrap made from beeswax.
As for local and regional authorities, they gradually adapt themselves to those food issues. Therefore, the collaboration of territories appears as a key phase in order to create a more sustainable food and agriculture model.
One can now clearly understand that it falls down to everyone do his share whether it is an individual, political or civic one. However, to be successful, this transition must go through a new form of food education (new products, new flavors and new practices); it’s a necessary step, a form of readjustment in line with our planet’s environment and inhabitants.
An horror! That’s what the animals packed in the slaughterhouse of Boischault were facing until next year. After the upload by the L1214 – a French animals rights group – of a video showcasing the unbearable conditions in which the animals were living and the outburst of criticism that followed, the abattoir has been closed. Still, how many places like this one carry on such atrocities?
In 2017, a survey from the IFOP (French national market research agency) assured that more than 80% of French wanted to be informed of the breeding conditions and the culling of livestock. An enlightening number that shows the consumer’s interest for the animal welfare, not just for the quality of his meat. But how can our industries guarantee the well-being of animals? And how can the consumer be assured that animals are slaughtered without suffering?
The first step is to push the brands to tackle this issue and to communicate on the topic. Consumers want guarantee? Well, let’s give them! Brands and industrial groups need to take a stand and craft clear positions on that matter, but in the future they will also have to provide the consumers with a food traceability system. Those kind of initiatives aimed to inform and reassure the consumer.
Regarding the animal welfare, notions and concepts have been developed in the last two decades. One can, for instance, get inspiration from “the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare” conceptualized by the Farm Animal Welfare in 1992 (!). For the British committee, farm animals should be granted the following freedoms: freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express (most) normal behaviour; freedom from fear and distress. Here are good bases to work on, to which can be added the guarantee of a painless death.
But big brands should not be the only one to be accountable for their actions and realign their strategies regarding the animal condition. To a certain extent, it falls to the consumers to think about their own consumption of meat and act accordingly. Indeed an intensive consumption of meat implies an excessive industrialization of the food chain. Forgetfulness, abuse, neglects, these various practices - such as the grinding of chicks during the culling, the castration of pigs or the presence of nitrites in cold meats -, all of that remind us that some animals are doomed to spend their lives in bad hygiene conditions and to be killed brutally, only for the sake of production requirements and an always increasing demand.
Ultimately, organizations shouldn’t be the only one concerned. Co-creating a good quality meat industry is not impossible provided, first, that the consumers are able to reconnect with the farming world and, then, that the conversation about animal welfare gets more attention. The idea is to simply talk about it. Like the Label Rouge initiative which, with a dedicated Facebook page, plays along the game of transparency concerning the origin and the treatment of its animals, labeled as "champions".
I like to think that eating meat is a personal choice. It is up to anyone to stop eating it or not. For almost a million years we have hunted animals for their meat. Incidentally, without it, who knows how we would have evolved. But now that our head is well made (or almost) and as the consumption of meat increases each year, maybe it's time to realize the conditions in which our steak is being slaughtered. Let’s remind ourselves that the best meat in the world can be found in Japan, where it is get through breeding methods that prohibit stress as well as exercise. The Kobe beef raised in Japan lives a good and happy life. So when will our animals?
Since 2017, blockchain is on everyone’s lips. This word, sometimes a bit difficult to understand in its full subtlety, can be defined as “a distributed, decentralized, public ledger”. A time reserved for bitcoins collectors and investment bankers, the word has now spread widely in the food sector.
Blockchain… Ok but what for?
We know that customers are suspicious regarding some aliments, food groups or brands. In these circumstances, blockchain comes up as a guarantee of trust between all the actors in the food chain and its intermediaries (customers, farmers, brands, markets…). The idea to collect reliable and exploitable data enables a better health control (fewer food poisoning, deaths and scandals) and provides transparency regarding the quality and content of the product.
This exact transparency could change the food supply chain as we know it. Ideally, we would not have to face anymore food scandals. Try to picture the following situation: a supplier has a doubt regarding the quality of a product. In less than a few seconds, thanks to the food blockchain, he will be able to source the issue, well before the product is put on store shelves. No more problem and a real guarantee makes a happy and reassured customer.
In the States, the big actors of the food industry are standing ready. Eight of them, including Walmart and Nestlé, launched the Food Trust in partnership with IBM. For Frank Yiannas, Walmart Food Safety VP, this “Fed-Ex for food tracking” aims to trace food at a global scale, at each point in the farm-to-plate process. As a huge collaborative network, the platform invites processors, wholesalers, suppliers, manufacturers, influencers and innovators to give the consumers access to all the information about their products. Being French, I dare to say it is a brand new revolution!
Yet somehow, it is quite easy to let yourself be carried away by this sweet promise. However, this project isn’t without weaknesses. Internally, the unknown lies in the data, the essence of this technology. How can one certify the validity of this processed information? Or that the organization in charge of the collection can be trusted? Those two questions remains unanswered.
Externally, the blockchain faces many obstacles. If food giants are testing its viability and developing a technology that would spread to the entire sector, the legal loophole on this matter suggests a confrontation with the authorities that could hinder the expansion of this innovation. Also, the absence of experimented skills in the field, combined to a loss of confidence, can confuse the most fragile actors (small retailers and farmers) and cut back the links in a chain that is primarily based on the diversity of its participants. Blockchain in France: the Carrefour example.
In 2018, Carrefour was one of the first food companies to use blockchain in France. First on a chicken from Auvergne (in March), then on a tomato Cauralina (in July) produced in partnership with Les Paysans de Rougeline. To get the tracking information of a product (origin, producer’s name, culture method, date of planting), the consumer only has to flash the QR Code on the label. By the end of the year, consumers were able to trace six new products. Is this a big step for food? It could be. Let’s just hope other brands will be taking the same path in a near future.
The blockchain could be the missing link in the food chain. Ultimately, its extension to other sectors, such as slaughterhouses, would ensure a more decent animal treatment and increase the consumer responsibility regarding meat. But we will talk about that later!
Spoiler alert: too much sugar is bad for your health and its excess running into your blood cells is responsible each year for more than 3 million deaths. Indeed, if sugars, also known as carbohydrates, are vital to the proper functioning of our bodies, their overconsumption, on a long period, are killing you slowly. Yet the question is: how can you preserve your body from an addictive yet vital substance the agri-food industry is putting everywhere?
The sugar: brief history of a guilty pleasure
Mankind didn’t became addicted to sugar just like that or when John Stith Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in the late 19th century (as a reminder, a 33cl can of Coke still contains 35 g of carbohydrates, which roughly represents 12 sugar lumps). In many way, this dependency is deep-rooted and could have been going on for actually more than 200 000 years. Or more precisely at a time when our ancestors - the Homo sapiens - supposedly took the habit of rushing towards fruit trees to satiate their hunger.
But unlike our nomadic, traveling and hunter-gatherer sapiens ancestors, the 21st century human is more settled and definitely used to having more sugar. One doesn’t have to fight or to wander for days. Sugar is here and it’s everywhere. In a way, we have inherited this feeling of craving for sugar. However the consumption we make of it does not match our lifestyle.
So what should we do? Getting rid of sugar is a dead-end. I would even dare to say that it is impossible. But we can consume less of it. In 2017, the World Health Organization advised to reduce the daily intake of free sugars between 5-10% of total energy intake. At the same time, the WHO reckoned that French people were allocating 15-20% of their daily intake to sugar. There’s definitely room for improvement.
The constant increase in body weight of the population over the past 40 years is becoming the major public health issue of our generation. Once fairly uncommon, obesity is growing quickly in most countries. In Europe, one citizen in two is overweight and 15.9% of the population suffers from obesity. In France, the rate is 15.3%. There’s a lot to worry!
Intensive agriculture and the industrial processing of food are the results of our craving to enjoy everything right here, right now. Today, the consumption of unsaturated fatty acids, sweets, fast foods, to name a few, at the cost of fresh produces, whole grain cereals, vegetables and good oils, is not without setbacks.
Since we exist, our diet keeps evolving, enriching. So far, our metabolism has had thousand years to adapt to these small dietary changes. However, our increasingly urban lifestyle and the expanding industrialization have led to new methods of production. Yet, our bodies are not ready for those changes at such a pace.
To prevent changes from being too harsh, let’s rethink the way we purchase our products. Indeed, choosing short-food supply chains and local distribution networks over supermarkets and hypermarkets is a nice way to reboot your diet. Why? Because now you have fresh products and local food in your plate. Is it inconvenient? Can be. Is it more expensive? Could be. Yet it is healthier and more responsible to purchase from a start-up that offers ready-to-cook healthy products for the whole family rather than getting crappy unhealthy food from some of our shelves.
The strong demand in local distribution networks is a problem in a major cities. Anywhere else, we know where to find local products. The distribution method remains somehow to be more structured. Supermarkets, hypermarkets, industries won’t leave this trend or opportunities to other players.
Our local retailers are committed, they like to work with known producers, to guarantee quality and create trending areas in sometimes neglected neighborhoods. They can be strong relays for local producers. For example a butcher can sell local wines or local groceries. Sadly, not enough people seize this opportunity.
At a time when the Estates General for Food presents their first projects including "Action Heart of City" carried by the CGET, we must not forget that food has always shaped the city centers over time, and therefore helped to revitalize deserted city centers. The use of local distribution networks by retailers offers consumers the opportunity to take control over their food and to give a new meaning to our city centers and forsaken neighborhoods.
Nowadays, "healthy eating" is in everyone's mind. Organic food is both accessible and affordable thanks to the growth of specialized stores and identifiable shelves and sections in hypermarkets and supermarkets. Organic products undeniably appeal to the consumers and create a new way of consuming food. This being so, the distribution of organic products, relayed by large retailers, causes a problem for brands as the retailers struggles to spread the values of organic food.
Given the speed to which organic food is spreading (new products, brands and stores), it’s easy to think that the former organic food players go through a sustainable and profitable development. Yet, it’s not really the case. Indeed, today 80% of consumers prefer to buy organic products in supermarkets rather than in specialized stores. As a result, in 2017, hypermarkets and supermarkets accounted for 46% of the organic market share. The fight between generalists and specialists is not new, but it's the first time that mass retailers have grown faster (+ 21%) than specialized stores (+ 15%).
Hypermarkets and supermarkets are resourceful: they open affiliated stores dedicated to this market segment, they absorb processing companies and control the production coordination channels. The formula used by the food giants is simple: apply their well-proven methods to the organic market by developing organic products up to 30% cheaper than the ranges of specialists. How can the consumer not be tempted?
Is this the beginning of the end for specialized brands and stores? I don’t think so and prefer to see in this situation as a unique opportunity for this historical network to learn to distance itself definitively from the Food Giants.
The organic market has to make some changes. For one thing, it’s crucial to understand the plurality of the consumer. Indeed today’s consumer is a person determined to find reliable, universal and sensitive food landmarks but eager to commit and experiment new things. Even if consumers keep spending their money in superstores, recent food scandals have fueled their suspicion for these places. A godsend for organic brands? Of course. In any case, there comes the perfect opportunity for them to reinvent themselves while remaining faithful to their values. So put the traditional organic specifications aside to offer something new, a clearer communication in symbiosis with the deep beliefs of the consumers. Let's make organic food (strategies and products) more fun and creative!
To stand out, the organic brands need to outdo themselves and offer products backed up with unique storytellings and engaging experiences. Brands such as “TENSAI THE” or “KARINE and JEFF” dare to restyle the organic codes in the iced tea segment and the family recipes segment. While promoting the organic values, they bring something new to the mix that currently can’t be found in the soulless and packaged aisles in supermarkets.
By such means, the organic market will manage to keep control on its values and bring the consumer on an unknown food territory!
This article was first published FRENCH on Natexbio