Monthly Archives: April 2014

9.6 Billion Coming for Dinner – how can we feed them?

If you are reading this and you’re not hungry, be thankful.  If you are hungry, remember what it feels like, and get yourself a snack.  In either case it’s important that you then read this post.

There are expected to be about 9.6 billion people roaming the planet by 2050 –  35% above today’s 7.1 billion, growing 190,000 daily for the next 36 years.  Who’s going to feed them all?  This is a huge challenge – – we cannot do this on ramen alone.

A new initiative is exploring ways to fit everyone around that big dinner table in 2050, using solutions we can all live with.  It’s called FutureFood 2050.  More below, but it considers novel approaches such as 3-D food printing, leveraging the awesome power of the world’s women, and more.  

THE CHALLENGE

World Hunger

This issue starts with a large serving of irony:  according to worldhunger.org, about 900 million people regularly go to bed hungry – – about one in six people in developing countries.  Yet, we produce enough calories globally to feed everyone now.  (Daily per-capita food production in 2012:  about 2700 calories (FAO), more than the 2000-2500 recommended for adult women and men).

The problem, as we know, is partially one of distribution – the food may exist, but many people simply have no access.   Unfortunately there isn’t (not yet, anyway) a way to electronically transmit calories around the world.

Why is this so hard to fix?  We did figure out how to get creme filling inside a Twinkie, right?

Twinkies

Well, it’s just a little more complicated – – there are some major dynamics at work, including:
POVERTY.  Between 1-2 billion people live on $1.25/day or less, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
CONFLICT/DICTATORSHIPS/CORRUPTION.  These isolate refugees, or divert needed aid, or both.
INFRASTRUCTURE. About half of the food grown in developing countries is wasted because of insufficient processing, packaging and storage capability.  And it’s often impossible to import due to lack of reliable transport.  Related to this is access to water; an estimated 800 million people don’t have access to clean water.
CLIMATE CHANGE.  Whether you call it Global Warming or not, extreme droughts, flooding and the like disrupt ability to grow crops efficiently.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY.  Industry faces increasing challenges in producing food in a sustainable, responsible way.  And there is a phenomenal amount of food wasted in developed countries.

THE PATH TO A SOLUTION WE CAN AGREE ON

Swaminathan

The most important step has been recognizing the problem.  Importantly, the UN, through its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has conducted World Summits on Food Security to develop policy solutions to solve hunger.

But that’s at a policy level –  ultimately consumer acceptance, with willingness to compromise, is key to program adoption.  And that’s not always easy.  There have certainly been some dramatic food-centered communications over recent years.  But they’re often at either end of the ’science is always bad’ or ’science is the only solution’ spectrum.  In reality, most actions balance benefit with consequences; progress is made by objectively agreeing on serving the common good.

So how can we identify programs that we can all live with?  I think we can agree that this is a problem worth solving together.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has created FutureFood 2050 to take the discussion out of the conference rooms and to the people, to create an open dialogue and ultimately workable solutions. 

[IFT has 18,000 global members; they are often thought of as food scientists but their purview also includes most of the food supply chain.]

FutureFood 2050 will work over the next 18 months or so, featuring 75 conversations with the world’s leading independent-minded thought leaders, about how they think we can get to a healthier, safer and better-fed planet.  These opinion leaders will include policy makers, cultural influencers, scientists, engineers, avant-garde chefs, entrepreneurs, and more.

The first three interviews, covering 3-D food printing, leveraging the power of women, and an ‘Evergreen Revolution” (agricultural productivity without ecological harm) are already available on the website: www.futurefood2050.com.  Very interesting reading.

These interviews will then be distilled into a documentary by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, an Academy Award-nominated director, to be released in 2015.  As he said in an interview recently: “the hard part isn’t getting great content, it’s ‘how do you fit this amazing conversation into just 90 minutes’?”.

2050 seems a long time away, but world hunger is a massively complicated problem to solve, and it’s not too early to start.  Keep your eyes open as new interviews are conducted – – ultimately solutions may well come from the most unlikely places.

And once we solve that, we’ll work on getting the Cubs into the World Series.

SELFIES: Narcissism is now officially a trend (How can you tell?)

The youth of our society regularly assault the rest of us with a regular stream of silly fads, most of which mercifully fade from view in short order (think Cronuts, #anything, the phrase ‘YOLO’, and hopefully soon, Bieber).

However, a select few cross over into the magical land of Trends, which have more longevity, presumably because they offer something of (more) lasting value.

Last week’s Sunday comics provided an unexpected validation of the latest fad-to-trend transition: the Selfie.

Of course you know that selfies are photos taken of one’s self, in some unique situation, typically for the purpose of sharing (usually via social media) to demonstrate how fabulous your life is.   Recent selfies in the news have included our President, Ellen DeGeneres and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.  All have fabulous lives.

Last week, 3 comics (‘Doonesbury’, ‘Dustin’ and ‘The Lockhorns’) featured the Selfie.

Now, for this writer to extract deeper meaning from the comics is not news.

However, it is particularly instructive when you consider that the average age of the cartoonists (Garry Trudeau; Steve Kelley/Jeff Parker; Bunny Hoest/John Reiner) is 65!

DustinApril 6

As an activity that started with teens and spread via social media, one would hardly expect this totally narcissistic behavior to be recognized, let alone embraced by retirement-age journalists.

And yet, to quote Edna Mode: “…here we are”.

EdnaMode

In the case of selfies, this is one technology and social media-driven fad that has gone mainstream.   Who would have guessed?

So what, you say?

1)   Demographics, technology and social change are shifting so rapidly that generalizing about which groups will be trend adopters isn’t necessarily a good idea.

A recently published Pew Study finds that while older consumers are indeed less likely to be online than younger consumers, still, 59% of consumers 65+ are going online, and 82% of those are online regularly.
Think about that the next time someone assumes that xyz technology or app is ‘only going to be popular among younger consumers’.

2)   Don’t overlook the comics as a barometer of the national social conversation.

We have seen a little of what the future looks like. And apparently, it looks like ourselves at arm’s length.

SeniorSelfie

Outrage at New Corporate Average Calorie Count Mandate: What took so long?

Posted on

After over a year, the food industry has finally begun to voice frustration with the upcoming Corporate Average Calorie Count (CACC) requirements that were a little-noticed insertion in the recently implemented Affordable Care Act.

Like it or not, this law has been on the books for over a year – – why the sudden passive-aggressive reaction?

Like Big Auto’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, CACC requires all US-based food and beverage manufacturers making over 20 products to average at or below 100 calories-per-serving for all processed products by 2019.   While CAFE uses a sales-weighted mean, CACC counts all products equally.  “We decided to use a simpler approach that everyone – consumers, manufacturers, retailers – – and Congress – – could understand”, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who knows a thing or two about the importance of simplicity). Sebelius-calories

Companies need to submit CACC plans by the end of 2014, with final compliance targeted by 2019.  Excluded are imported products, unprocessed foods, dairy, ‘ingredient’ foods like peanut butter or oil, alcoholic beverages and products sold through foodservice, vending and convenience channels (although vending machines are impacted by the same provision in ACA and have to post calorie counts by the end of 2014) .  Companies not meeting standards will face penalties of $1,000 per calorie above the target level, multiplied by each $1 million of revenue of that company. ACA-Vending

Food manufacturers are just now starting to realize the size of the challenge.  “CACC creates significant costs for manufacturers, a huge compliance burden, and most importantly, is likely to remove choice and impact taste for consumers,” said Lloyd Braun, CEO of Peterman Bakeries of Omaha, NE.  “If it’s difficult for a smaller producer like us, it could be almost impossible for the Krafts and Pepsis of the world”.

Indeed, meeting the standard will be tough.  We took a look at PepsiCo to see what they are facing.

According to its websites, PepsiCo sells 1327 products across its Pepsi, Frito-Lay and Quaker businesses (not counting Tropicana).  Its Corporate Average Calorie Count now stands at 118.2, with beverages actually close to the standard at 102.6, brought up by Frito-Lay at 137.9 and Quaker at 150.7 (click on chart).

PepsiCo-Calories

To meet the 100 calorie corporate goal, PepsiCo will likely need a combination of reformulation, elimination of higher-calorie offerings, and addition of lower-calorie offerings.  This could mean fewer products like Grandma’s Cookies (210 calories), Quaker Breakfast Cookies (175) and Starbucks Frappuccino (290) and more like Rice Cakes (35), Matador Jerky (75) and lots more AMP Sugar-free Energy Drinks (15).  Happily, Quaker’s Quisp cereal checks in at an even 100 calories and thus seems safe.

As difficult as this current Pepsi Challenge is, they at least have the benefit of a large number of products (and frankly, a couple of large subsidiaries) to work with.  The CACC mandate could be terminal for those companies specializing in more indulgent fare, such as frozen pizza (285), fettucine alfredo (415) and Garrett’s Gingerbread CaramelCrisp Popcorn (300).

Still, the angst is real: A source inside PepsiCo explained: “We thought we had done our part by helping reduce Americans’ calorie intake by 6.4 trillion calories as part of the 2010 Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation initiative – – we are now quite frustrated that the current Administration is piling on with these new requirements. So frankly, not much work has been done yet”.

Well, it’s time to stop whining and get to work.   ACA is not going away, and your country is depending on you.