Reflections from FIA’s Food for the Future Summit

This year, Food Industry Asia (FIA) hosted its first Food for the Future Summit. It brought together some of the most powerful stakeholders in food and beverage, and we also convened the most diverse and innovative group we’ve ever brought together. Having spent the last few years in the industry, I can say that it isn’t often that you find big private sector players – many of them competitors – in the same room as a Finance Minister, a Princess, venture capitalists, NGOs, innovative new startups and key government officials. Yet, it’s also my belief that we need to make this happen more often.

In my recent LinkedIn article, I shared the top three drivers of food innovation that were identified during the Summit. I’d like to build on this and share more of the insights from the day. This is important because we all have a part to play in creating sustainable food for the future. To ensure that the knowledge that was shared during the Summit is not lost, FIA will be capturing this in an outcome report which we will share in the coming weeks. Before this, let me share some of my personal insights from the event in this article.

Creating an enabling environment

Much of the focus was on how innovation can and will be a driver of change in the food industry. In his opening remarks, Ehab AbouOaf, FIA’s President and Regional President, Asia-Australia, Middle East & Africa, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, stressed that by innovation we are not just referring to food or product innovation. When we talk about innovation, we must look at everything from technological, social, cultural, business model and supply chain innovation.

For innovation to take place, the government must create a regulatory environment that encourages it. I’m please to say that Singapore is doing just this. In his speech, Singapore’s Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat, announced the launch of FoodInnovate, an initiative that will focus on accelerating innovation efforts in Singapore. With clear vision, Minister Heng called out some of the key areas that require focus when fostering innovation. These areas are physical infrastructure to facilitate access to technologies; equipping companies with access to knowledge and market insights; creating platforms to incubate ideas and drive co-innovation; promoting adoption of disruptive technologies; and finally, ensuring that regulation supports food innovation. Supporting an enabling environment through these actions will help to facilitate positive partnership between industry players.

 

Singapore Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat (third from left) alongside FIA President Mr Ehab AbouOaf (second from left) meeting Alchemy Foodtech, one of the many innovators at the FIA Food for the Future Summit on 26 April 2018 in Singapore, who provided guests with an innovative taste of a sustainable, nutritious and tasty future of food.

In fact, we heard first hand from all our startups at the event just how important collaboration is for them. Through partnership, they can learn how to scale, how to market their products and how to expand their market reach.

Enabling partnerships for innovation

With Sustainable Development Goal 17, partnerships have been placed firmly on the sustainable business agenda. However, partnership isn’t just about public and private sector leveraging on each other’s strengths but it is about triggering systemic change.

Princess Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme, Patroness, Save the Children, reminded us all that it’s critical we don’t forget the role of NGOs and civil society when it comes to innovation. With access to some of the most marginalised and with a wealth of localised knowledge, NGO partners are essential to ensuring innovation benefits everyone.

Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Olam International, during his keynote address, stressed that companies that change individually won’t make a difference. We need the entire sector to change together, because together we can change the world.

In a similar vein, Andre Rhoen, Asia-Pacific Vice President of Human Nutrition and Health, DSM Nutritional Products shared the importance of partnerships and a large eco-system in scaling up innovation, in order to tackle global issues effectively. This includes having governments to mandate, consumers and companies to drive innovative efforts, as well as NGOs to advise, facilitate and co-fund where necessary.

What will the future look like?

We were lucky to be joined at the Summit by some of the innovative startups that are driving changes in our food systems and the venture capitalists that are investing in them. What became clear throughout the course of the day is this; we, as consumers, are the ones that will define what the future of food looks like.

At the Summit we had producers of plant-based proteins such as Impossible Food and Life3 Biotech, deep technology startup Alchemy FoodTech and ‘clean meat’ producer Intergriculture Inc. to name a few. During an innovators panel discussion, Nick Halla, Chief Strategy Officer of Impossible Foods, reminded us of just how stressful meat production can be on our environment. Plant based products such as the Impossible Burger can use 95% less land, around 70% less water, and create over 80% less greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst these stats resonated with us in the room, Nick stressed that it won’t be these positive impacts on environment that sway future consumer choice, it will be taste and positive health benefits that move products from shelves.

Closing the panel, Josh Tetrick, Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder of JUST left us with his prediction for what the future of food will look like. He said, that in 30-40 years, we may be eating similar things, but sweet foods will have little to no sugar in them, our meat will either be plant-based or made from an animal that is still alive because all we need are a couple of its cells and the way we use farm land will be drastically different.

 

From left to right: Josh Tetrick, Chief Excutive Officer & Co-Founder of JUST, Andre Rhoen Asia-Pacific Vice President of Human Nutrition and Health, DSM Nutritional Products, and Jenny Costelloe, Founder of Collective 17, during a panel discussion on Redefining Food.

Coming out of the event I felt inspired and reassured that FIA’s drive to become a “force multiplier” for innovation is exactly the direction we should be moving in. If I had to have one key takeaway from the Summit, it would be this: we are all in control of what food for the future will look like. What is important is that we make the right choices and work together to ensure that it is sustainable, good for us, and good for the environment.


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