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The Future of Food

Challenges & opportunities: Perspectives from consumers and food companies

With our Purpose to make an impact that matters for society in mind, we surveyed companies and consumers in Belgium from June to August 2021 for the Future of Food report to help food-sector stakeholders develop a roadmap for successfully changing the food ecosystem in Belgium.

There are many encouraging signs that we are heading in the right direction, but more must be done to achieve the needed massive transformation of our systems of food production, distribution, and consumption.

To compile this report, we conducted two large-scale surveys. The Future of Food survey covered the entire food-industry value chain in Belgium, interviewing 58 diverse companies representatives of the food sector. The Conscious Consumer survey queried 17,000 consumers across 15 European countries, including XX consumers in Belgium. It asked how they look at the impact of food on health and sustainability, and how they let these considerations influence their grocery buying behaviours.

The Future of Food

Most Belgian companies (71%) agree that market trends associated with the Future of Food, such as conscious consumer choices for health and sustainability and sustainable food production, have a clear impact on their business. But more than a third (63%) declared that their current capabilities are not sufficiently aligned with Future of Food trends.

When it comes to implementing Future of Food priorities, companies don’t go it alone. They partner or intend to partner with or acquire other companies in the food ecosystem to accelerate their journey.

They also see broader collaboration with the food industry, government organisations, universities, research institutions, finance companies, and others, along with innovation, as crucial to transformation.

The Conscious Consumer

The good news is that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between food and health and are changing their purchasing behaviour accordingly.

Our survey shows that 79% of Belgian respondents actively seek information on healthy living, and they expect regulators to play a stronger role in promoting health and environmental sustainability. For example, an impressive 44% of Belgian shoppers feel that unhealthy food should be taxed higher.

Belgian consumers eat more fruit (51%) and vegetables (57%) than previously, while their consumption of red meat (51%) and alcohol (46%) is declining.

Prospects for the food industry

The personalised nutrition/diet market represents a huge opening for businesses, and Belgian companies recognise this. A third of our survey respondents say they are currently investing in this area.

Saving the planet

Belgian food companies are aware of the challenges to transforming to a sustainable food production model and are taking action, but the level of maturity is still relatively low.

The majority (60%) of respondents listed reducing energy usage and GHG emissions as the number one challenge. Cutting water use came in second (42%), followed by sustainable agriculture 42%).

To achieve their responsible production and food management ambitions over the next five years, companies foresee cost pressure and efficiency (65%) joining ecological footprint and emissions (69%) as the principal challenges. Waste management is set to grow in importance.

To respond to these challenges companies know they need to collaborate with their suppliers. Not only on production and waste management, but also on the logistics and distribution for a sustainable supply chain.

Ecosystem orchestration

The food ecosystem touches on immensely complex issues, including climate, water, energy, technology, policy, safety, human health, animal wellbeing, and regulation. As a result, transforming the food system will be an ambitious undertaking which requires both innovation and collaboration.

Achieving ecosystem orchestration will be a massive change that requires the following enablers: clarity, innovation across the value chain, and ecosystem cross-coordination.

Collaboration is not always easy. The companies in our survey highlight three specific challenges they face: access to the network (47%), onboarding internal stakeholders (43%), and sharing sensitive information with competitors (40%).

Industry 4.0

In addition to collaboration, Industry 4.0 is a key part of the Future of Food agenda. It’s about implementing digitisation and intelligent automation to develop industry standards and practices that can be established across the food value chain.

Almost half (47%) of our survey respondents consider Industry 4.0 technologies as either fairly or very important for strategically aligning their business model to Future of Food trends.

Many respondents acknowledge the current lack of maturity in this area, pointing out that it’s largely because the food industry doesn’t possess the necessary 4.0 financial and human resources.

For more insights into the consumer and company perspectives, and how the industry as whole can become more sustainable, read the report or reach out to our Future of Food leadership.

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