Trend Summit Recap - Forces Shaping Food & Drink

Recapping the first section of our 9th annual Food & Beverage Trend Summit held virtually on 22nd November, as Henry Dimbleby MBE Dr Chris Parry and Kate Cawley cover topics with Forces Shaping Food & Drink. The first session of the day was around the forces shaping food and drink today, brought to life through two keynotes from two influential profiles. First up was Henry Dimbleby MBE - author of the National Food Strategy and independent review for government. Henry was also one of the co-founders of the Leon restaurant chain as well as being a co-founder and chair of Chefs in Schools, our valued charity partner.

Henry took to the virtual stage to discuss some of the most pressing issues when it comes to fixing our food system, as well as what can the industry do and where should we all be focusing our innovation and commercial energy to make change.

One of the key elements identified was the current impact of the huge scale of biomass taken up by animals raised and kept for human consumption, also called livestock. This farming system dominates the world's ecosystem today and it's very difficult too overstate the impact farming has on the environment. If you care about deforestation, it's the biggest cause. If you care about biodiversity collapse, it's by far the biggest cause. If you care about fresh water stress and pollution, it's by far the biggest issue. And with energy it's the biggest cause of climate change - the food system causes about 20-30% of greenhouse gases. Therefore what we eat it threatening the food system as it stands.

"It's not only the environment the food system is hurting, it's our own health… diet-related disease is now the single biggest cause of avoidable and non-communicable disease in the western world. In this country, type 2 diabetes alone is expected to cost as much as curing all cancers does today, by 2035."

Following on from a hugely insightful keynote from Henry Dimbleby MBE, Dr Chris Parry took over to share his insight as a government advisor on geo-politics on the food and drinks chain. Chris holds a very important role in Britain's food system as a Strategic Forecaster, Risk Expert and Advisor to the British Government.

Chris specifically shone a light on the intersection between geopolitics and food and water. Some of the major influences on food production and supply chain problems that we witness today were identified and discussed, including climate change, the COVID pandemic, sanctions and counter-sanctions between countries and territories, data and tracking inefficiencies, over farming and over fishing, critical dependance on energy, as well as several other factors. Over and above this, Chris explored the real issues caused by false information and a lack of understanding in what's actually the truth in global news.

"The fact of life is we are in a post-truth world .. and the difference between illusion and reality is critical for decision makers. Use multiple sources of information and sit back and think… does it make sense?"

Looking at the future geo-economic trends, Henry identifies a range of factors. 'Deglobalisation' as the world moves towards two blocs, an ever more connected but contested world and the impacts this has, increasing sanctions and counter-sanctions, on-shoring and shortening and diversification of supply chains, plus the focus on local and social distribution in retail, as well as the technology arms race.

The third speaker of this morning section was Kate Cawley, Founder of the Future Food Movement and Veris Strategies. Kate discussed with Charles Banks about the problem when it comes to food and climate and how businesses and people can help drive change; the why and the journey so far for The Future Food Movement, the emerging net-zero food system and the trends linked to climate smart foods.

Kate summed up part of the issue, and what she's working to help change, by saying: "Everybody is setting big, bold sustainability and net zero targets, which is really important, but businesses setting them don't understand how they're going to get there."

Looking at some of the emerging trends in the net zero movement in food and drink, Kate identified the area of regenerative agriculture piece - we can't solve the climate crisis if we don't tackle the nature crisis. On the other end of the spectrum is the plant-based movement and meat-mimics. There's also vertical farming and indoor farming, as well as the growth in desire around transparency and who's making their food.

Identifying some of the businesses that are leading the way in making the right fundamental changes to do better, Kate highlighted Yeo Valley as one company doing great things in the regenerative space in an authentic way as a purpose-led business. Another example was M&S with their partnership with Wild Farms, taking something small scale to the masses in a tasty product.

One other topic Charles and Kate discussed in detail was the meat vs plants argument and the nuances around it. "From a global perspective, we have to eat less but better meat and dairy. There's too many people to feed in this way in the world, the earth just cannot support it. So we have to transform the food system, we have to look at different sources and it's the evolution of where we get our protein from. I'd love to see a less divisive debate on it."