What are some of the major forces rapidly reshaping America’s food conversation?
That was one of several questions a group of leading food innovators wrestled with at this year's Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Foods Institute.
Here are 3 healthy food disruptor trends shaking up the food and nutrition world now:
1. Explosion of an “ecoystem mash up.” Will Rosenzweig, founding CEO of the Republic of Tea Executive Director of the new Food Business School at the Culinary Institute of America talked of the new “ecosystem mash up”. As food is such a powerful leverage point for addressing multiple challenges countries are facing (human health, sustainability, corporate responsibility, social justice, etc.) an unprecedented number of entities are entering the Forum of Food: social entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, food activists, Silicon Valley executives, urban farmers, NGOs, and passionate consumers- all are rapidly disrupting traditional frameworks of the food and nutrition ecosystem. While this is creating some growing pains as industries adapt, it’s also a catalyst for creating dynamic partnerships - such as chefs Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi’s new venture serving up healthy, fast, inexpensive food in some of the country’s poorest neighborhoods.
2. Growth has moved from linear to exponential. A slew of new technologies and platforms have exponentially increased the amount of sharing, the level of transparency, and the reach of conversations people are having about food, which means that traditional linear models of business and influence no longer apply. Think of AirBnB upending Hilton Hotels, Instagram shuttering Kodak, or Chiptole taking a hefty bite out of the traditional fast food model . In the digital age, food innovations, conversations and resources that were once siloed have been unleashed-allowing for faster synergies and cross pollination. Incubators and new food crowdfunding sites are adding additional power behind the New Food Movement (such as Barnraiser), eroding the traditional pathways that took new companies decades to gain a foothold on supermarket shelves and in consumers hearts and minds: collectively these disruptors are rapidly changing the way consumers think about, purchase and consume food-reshaping supermarket shelves as startup brands go“from garage to grocery store” in fewer than 5 years. In fact, this week both Ad Age and Fortune served up stories on how major packaged companies are struggling to stay relevant in this new food ecosystem.
3. Food waste + ugly produce are joining the New Food Economy. While policy has done an admirable job of making food cheaper, one dark side of all of this abundant cheap food has been a dramatic increase in food waste: in the U.S. alone, the per capita food waste has increased 50% since 1974 to an average of 1,400 calories per person per day. Globally, 1/3 of food produced is lost or wasted.
With 1 in 6 to 7 Americans lacking access to fresh, healthy food, the waste/hunger paradox in America is ripe for disruption, and many social entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate. Ben Simon, Founder and Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network, says America could "cut hunger in America in half by recovering just 15% of the food America wastes". Simon sees higher education as the first sector where food waste recovery will soon be the norm rather than the exception (driven by millennials); his company works with over 110 colleges and has donated over 800,000 meals to hungry Americans. Many of America’s largest foodservice companies are also making food waste a top priority-some, like Bon Appetit even have first-ever positions as food waste specialists, recognizing it as supporting the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.
A host of new companies are also helping to give a massive makeover to mishapen fruits and vegetables. Not only is this helping put a dent in food waste is at the farm (roughly 30% of perfectly good produce never even makes it to the store because it's not up to snuff cosmetically) it is often helping make nutrient rich fruits and vegetables more affordable. Imperfect Produce will put a lovable spin on misshapen produce, delivering funny looking fruits and veggies straight to Californians' doors for 30-50% less than supermarket prices, with a special emphasis on penetrating urban food deserts where fresh produce options are often lacking. Other companies are creating dehydrated fruit snacks or pressed fruit and vegetable juices from produce that would otherwise be wasted.
While change in this area often requires rethinking well intentioned rules and policies governing leftovers, food waste, and even unpicked produce, successful models-and legal clearance-often exist for those willing to pursue it. The payoff is making nutrient-rich foods more accessible and more affordable to people who need them most.
Towards the end of the institute, third generation California organic farmer and author David Mas Matsumoto tweeted: “I’m not waiting for the food revolution anymore. There are a lot of good things happening now.”
I couldn’t agree more. (Disclosure: I was given a media pass to attend the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Foods Institute)