Innovating for food transition: ‘We could step it up a notch’

Our food production is connected to almost all major challenges of our time, including the nitrogen discussion, climate crisis, biodiversity problem, our health, and the energy transition. There is a shared recognition that our current food system needs to change to address these challenges, and that requires innovation. Three experts in product innovation in the food industry (Bas Allart of Brave New Food, Mark van Noorloos of Schouten Europe, and our own Durk Bosma of Future of Food Institute) shed light on the opportunities and challenges that await this sector.

The role of consumers in food innovation.

The limits of our knowledge are being explored through market trends, startup activities, and scientific research. New technologies, ideas, and solutions are being brought to market by startups. However, this is often done with a lack of understanding of the consumer, who will buy it and why. Failing to adequately understand the needs and barriers of the consumer is a major pitfall for many startups and smaller food companies. Many of the innovations arise from sustainability considerations. However, they can only succeed if they also take the consumer’s needs into account, which is frequently broader than only the sustainability concerns.

Durk: “That confirms our vision: before you launch an innovation in the market, you have to have a good story and know your target group very well.”

It turns out that the enthusiasm around the “plant-based revolution” is decreasing. Consumers have more of a desire for traditional meat substitutes, such as plant-based chicken pieces, sausages, schnitzels, and burgers, while the more innovative products have yet to catch on. Successful developments are mostly products that have an improved taste and texture compared to existing products. Innovating takes time and money and only becomes really enjoyable and successful when you know the consumer’s desires well. That’s why it is increasingly recognized that external expert agencies and consumer panels are a vital component in the road to successful innovation.

Future trends and challenges in the food industry:

Due to recent developments in the social and political landscape, companies find it harder to look to the future. The field of product innovation moves fast and requires continuous adjustments and a proactive attitude. In the short term, the price of products will become especially important, but we will also produce differently: vertical agriculture, on building roofs, and home production in our vegetable garden or own windowsill. There will also be products based on new ingredients, such as cultured meat, insects, and algae, that will be further developed. However, for the time being, these are still too expensive for mass production, do not meet the taste and texture requirements of the consumer, and there is still insufficient enthusiasm for them. Food should be delicious above all, or the price should be more attractive than comparable options.

The transition to a more sustainable food industry is inevitable. If you don’t keep up, you will fall behind. But with collaborations and an open-minded approach to ideas and concepts, the transition will, and should, go faster. 

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