Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - February 2018
Sowing the seeds of food disruption
Opening the floodgates
Better things are being demanded from our food: more plant-based options, fewer pesticides, reduced food waste and better animal welfare.
Food entrepreneurs have flooded in to fill the gaps in the market and respond to food system failures with new forms of production, new raw materials, and new ways to generate revenue. In the past, a bakery produced bread, a restaurant was where you enjoyed meals, and a farmer produced food commodities. Nowadays, bakeries also sell salads and cheeses, restaurants have their own farms, and farmers serve tea and wellness. The food sector has been disrupted.
The Nordic governments have increasingly realised the potential of changing food policies and supporting a transformation towards more sustainable food consumption patterns. Initiatives range from public institutions strengthening food culture to new strategies for sustainable gastronomy and food tourism.
All in moderation
The development of the New Nordic Diet (NND), a product of public-private collaboration, encouraged consumers to eat “higher-quality meat, but less of it,” among other recommendations. The NND can reduce dietary-related greenhouse gas emissions by 27% when compared to an average Danish diet. Dietary habits hard to shake but there are clear signs that times are changing.
A recent study by ING shows that 25% of Europeans expect to eat less meat in five years’ time. The exact same trend shows up when you look at the Nordics, according to a 2015 EY study. Food choices have become one of the most important ways for young people to express identity, says the latest Swedish Youth Barometer study: 30% of Swedish youth are eating more plant-based diets to reduce their environmental footprint. Changes like these will make it increasingly difficult for many food companies to cling to their business models.
But there is a growing breed of Nordic companies that are ready for the transition. Good and Green, a Finnish company, produces a meat replacement containing oat, pea and fava bean protein. Nortura, Norway’s largest meat producer, released a line of meat-free products called MEATish in 2017. Swedish plant-based products such as Oumph! Anamma and Astrid och Aprona can be easily found in mainstream supermarkets.
The Too Good to Go App connects food businesses selling their excess food at a reduced price to buyers. The app shows which business are selling, how much eat item costs and where to pick it up. Photo:Silva Mertsola / Norden.org
Food heroes in the making
The Gunhild Stordalen, President and Founder of the EAT Foundation, is convinced that “the Nordics can become the Silicon Valley of future food.”
Change is already underway: Too Good to Go, the 2016 Nordic Council Environmental Prize-winning app connecting food businesses selling their excess food at a reduced price to buyers, has already been downloaded three million times, saving over 2.5 meals from the bin. Matsmart, a popular Swedish online supermarket that has recently received investment from IKEA, has started to sell food that would otherwise be wasted to shoppers.
Other solutions break the rules of conventional food supply chains: REKO-Ring is a retail and distribution model in Sweden and Finland that allows consumers to connect with producers without the middlemen or administrative costs. GRIM, a Danish start-up, sources organic fruits and vegetables that do not fit the aesthetic standards of supermarkets from local farms and delivers them directly to buyers. IKEA has its sights set on being a major incubator for food innovation.
The GRIM Box makes it easy for consumers to purchase fruits and vegetables that aren’t big, small, red, green, square or straight enough to be sold in regular supermarkets. Photo by: Elke Numeyer-Windshuttle
Making food policy easier to stomach
Looking to the big picture, the spill-over effects and patterns of change in the food supply and demand are remarkable. A paradigm shift and a focus on more local and seasonal foods have increased gastronomic tourism in the Nordics. Jobs in the food sector are looking more attractive for young people. More farmers are making the switch to organic. Supermarkets are displaying a greater diversity of local foods.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is keen to support this development by provoking out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that the Nordic Food Policy Lab was born in 2017. The Lab gathers the best food policy solutions in the region and shares them with the world.
“Policy and food together is not the most inviting prospect, but I would argue actually that policy is what has created our food cultures. It shapes our food lives and our food experiences,” noted Dan Saladino of the BBC Food Programme at Nordic Food Day, a pop-up think tank led by the Nordic Food Policy Lab at COP23, the annual climate conference of the United Nations.
It’s uncertain what precisely the future will hold, but we can be certain the there will be plenty of new opportunities ahead both for daring businesses and policymakers.
The Nordic Food Policy Lab is a flagship project under the “Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges” initiative launched by the five prime ministers of the Nordic countries.
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Photo 1: Simon Hecht/Norden.org. Visionaries, dreamers and enablers from all over the world put food on the agenda during the pop-up think tank led by the Nordic Food Policy Lab at COP23.