Future Food Heroes: How can millennials change our food system?

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How can you innovate in the food industry without having revolutionary ideas or relevant education?

In her comprehensive article for the NX-FOOD blog, food innovator and entrepreneur Júlia Dalmadi lists numerous valuable resources, accelerators and educational institutions along with innovative food companies around the world which can inspire you to disrupt the process of food consumption and distribution as we know it.

According to the research of the Bentley University, by 2025 millennials will make 75% of the global workforce with two-thirds of this group eager to start their own business. The millennial generation, aka Generation Y, is made up of those born between 1980-2000. The preferences of this generation of consumers have been and will keep driving food trends for a long time.

As digital natives, we have experienced innovation while growing up and it has naturally become a standard solution to the challenges we have been facing. Do you still remember getting from point A to point B without using maps on your smartphone? Or have you realised the seamless transition from reading more than one chapter of a novel in one sitting to binge-watching series via on-demand streaming services?

Just think about the fact that you could be located anywhere in the world reading an article in English written by a Hungarian based in Italy on a blog established in Germany. Thanks to the global connection we developed a rich set of literacy skills, became aware of global issues and keen on taking up social responsibility.

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Our digital life can create the feeling of safety, facilitate building communities and encourage us to take action. We have never been more aware that whatever we do leaves a digital footprint through the devices and applications we use on a daily basis. As we still have very little understanding of how and why our data is getting collected we often feel out of control. And even when we do control who we share our activities with, technology cannot yet fulfil all the needs of our sensory-deprived generation.

Innovation and/in Food

Food represents anti-technology. Eve Turow Paul, the author of A Taste of Generation Yum, explains how Generation Y uses food to reconnect with their immediate surrounding and re-engage with all their senses. Food gives us the opportunity to learn more about the ingredients, where they are coming from or which nutritional value they have. By making more conscious food choices we regain the control. By expressing our values through the food we push our food system towards changes in producing, sourcing and creating a more sustainable and transparent food culture what can be supported by technological innovations.

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Due to the increasing demand for information about the origin of our meals, more and more food-based subsidiaries implement product tracking software like Frequentz, FoodLogiQ or HarvestMark to offer more transparency to their customers.

Dutch company Moyee Coffee has tried multiple ways to create a shared value chain. First, they hired artists to photograph and interview farmers and introduced them in the form of an exhibition. Then they launched an initiative "Call the Farmer" in cooperation with Fairphone to connect farmers and consumers. Finally, they became the world’s first blockchain coffee project and implemented the traceability SaaS platform of bext360.

Eating yourself: identity & purpose

Our food obsession became the new social currency which we use for self-identification and branding. Everyone has a personal brand today. Whether offline in a CV format or online on LinkedIn, Instagram or our personal blogs. One of the most successful examples is Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution. He started as a pastry chef and throughout the years shaped his brand not only as a food influencer but as a fighter against obesity willing to change the way the world eats. Other celebrities have been trying to raise awareness about the environmental effect of our current food system by investing in plant-based food start-ups.

According to FAO, by 2050 we will need to feed 9.7 billion people, establish a sustainable natural resource base and end all forms of hunger and malnutrition. 61% of millennials feel personally responsible to make a difference. We engage in causes we are passionate about, volunteer and donate to see the tangible result of our contributions. More importantly, we don’t hesitate to invest time in self-education.

As a Master student following the 3rd edition of the Food Innovation Program, I had a chance to meet 14 fellow millennials driven by a desire to bridge the gap between people in the food industry, create new opportunities and a space to solve the challenges in the food system. The programme is based in the Italian food valley and organized by the Future Food Institute.

The curriculum is structured around the Seeds of Disruption map providing an overview from production through distribution, manufacturing, shopping to consumption. The first inspiration phase is followed by a 60-day Global Mission to meet the food heroes and scout for signals of disruptive food innovations around the world. After returning to Reggio Emilia we work with industry leaders to turn our findings into reality using the design thinking approach.

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Stay on top of the emerging trends

Understanding the concept of a sustainable food system is the first step towards making a difference. There are multiple information streams out there keeping us up-to-date and helping us to identify the signals and drivers that point towards the future of food.

Without being exhaustive here are the platforms worth following:

Food+Tech Connect has been connecting and inspiring the good food innovation movement since 2010 by sharing the top food tech, investment and innovation trends.

Read NX-FOOD blog post series from the founder of Food+Tech Connect Danielle Gould here.

Food Tank features innovative ideas that can help us to end world hunger and obesity while creating a network that pushes for a change in the food system. Food Tank lets all the members of the food network work on sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems.

The Skift Table daily newsletter delivers the latest restaurant service news to your inbox in order to help you understand the future of dining out.

Food Dive's editorial team collects industry news and publishes in-depth analyses of manufacturing, sustainability, R&D shaping them into an easy-to-read format.

If you prefer listening to stories about business, science and the cultural significance of food there are multiple podcasts serving your needs. These include The Food Chain (BBC), Food Startups Podcast or the brand new Food On Point that came out with the first episodes this year.

Edible Issues is a weekly newsletter run by two of my fellow students Anusha Murthy and Elizabeth Yorke. They keep track of the dynamic changes within the Indian food system and share articles about food tech, science and local policies.

There are many more channels to feed you with food news from all around the world, directly to your inbox. Nevertheless, you might want to get in touch with the people behind these innovative ideas.

Recently, I have experienced how powerful events like expos, summits or hackathons are. They gather all the industry players, game changers and policymakers who are ready to answer your questions and tell their stories. It is only up to you and your networking skills how many inspiring connections you make.

An example of this is The Global Food Innovation Summit Seeds & Chips, which is one of the top food innovation events worldwide. The four-day event showcases national and international products, applications and allows you to explore new solutions, innovations, and trends. Leading global entrepreneurs, investors, and executives share their insights with a large public and industry audience.

This is the best way to get first-hand information about the future of farming, disruptive technologies like blockchain, food waste management, the future of nutrition or what is currently being done to achieve our sustainable development goals.

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The future of food is shaped by innovations, communities and, of course, education

Food incubators and accelerators are not a new concept. They serve as community resources that have helped growing businesses achieve their goals since the 1960s. Once you have an idea and are ready to prototype your concept, food incubators can teach you how to run a business in exchange for a fee or a stake in your future earnings.

The Shanghai-based Bits x Bites provides an accelerator programme for software, hardware, biotech, and CPG brand startups across the supply chain. The Good Kitchen from London is Europe’s first accelerator programme for social start-up businesses tackling food insecurity and food poverty issues.

In early 2019 the Silicon Valley-based KITCHENTOWN in partnership with Bahlsen will open a 1000 square meter hub in Berlin for food innovators. The production facility will help start-ups in their early stage to scale up their businesses.

Infarm is one of the success stories in the Berlin start-up scene: after being scouted and mentored by METRO they closed a successful funding round at the end of last year and aim to install their modular farms in 1 000 locations by the end of next year.

But what if you do not have an idea yet? This should definitely not stop you from learning how you can help to build a sustainable food system.

Find an education that combines the approaches that help you to develop solutions and interventions to create change. According to The Innovation Playbook, the most important approaches are in the intelligence space where the academic knowledge is provided and in the solution space which focuses on entrepreneurship. Activities in these spaces must be supported by technical tools and a talent space in which you can develop the necessary skills.

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There is still a lot of room worldwide for new study programs to target the problems of our currently unsustainable food system. The SusPlus Project is a shared initiative of eight European universities aiming to develop and implement innovative educational materials and methods in this subject and provide university students with necessary knowledge, competencies and skills to support the food sector.

The participants conducted a research in 7 countries among the students studying sustainable food systems, agricultural and horticultural sciences, food and nutrition sciences or environmental sciences. 70-90% of students found field trips and excursions, international environment and lectures with discussions the most interesting teaching methods.

After interviewing my fellow "soon-to-be food innovators" I found out that the main drive to start our education was to provoke and push our boundaries, get inspired and connect with like-minded individuals and industry leaders while working in an international environment that combines creative learning and design thinking practices.

The network, community of students, lecturers, institutions, enterprises and small businesses represent the sustainable food sector. Learning in cooperation with industry players increases your ability to create and innovate.

Courses like Food Innovation Program give you the opportunity to work on your T-shape profile, connect with like-minded people and ultimately come up with your own idea.

Does this idea have to be unique? The answer doesn't necessarily have to be a simple yes or no. Originality and innovation can be achieved by moving an seemingly ‘obvious' idea from one context and applying it in another. The concept of Farm to Table is connecting farmers with consumers. But there is not one size fits all solution.

100km Foods in Canada is a “translator” between farmers and chefs. They have developed a 24h delivery system delivering produce of Ontario to restaurants in Toronto. The German company Direkt vom Feld builds a direct relationship with the producers to make sure that the products they are selling online meet the quality requirements and they guarantee a fair price for both farmers and consumers.

Smaller scale solutions are farmers markets where local producers have the chance to showcase and sell their products while engaging with their consumers. Furthermore, urban farming initiatives aim to eliminate the distance between the field and our plates.

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One of our challenges is to understand that it's not the idea but what we do with it. An innovation has to add value but does not necessarily have to be something brand new. It requires the understanding of an idea, maybe rethinking it, putting it in a different context and making new connections. At the end of the day, it only matters if the implementation of the idea was successful, value-adding and sustainable.

"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed." William Gibson

About the author

About Júlia Dalmadi (photo-julia-dalmadi_new.jpg)

Júlia Dalmadi


Júlia Dalmadi is a food entrepreneur, soon-to-be food innovator and food tech expert. Having completed her education in International Hospitality, Júlia has worked in aviation and hotel revenue management. Later she became a product manager at SnapShot the company introducing game-changing tech solutions in the hotel industry. Since 2015 she has been also managing her artisan food business, Pelmeni Slam in Berlin.

Currently, Júlia is pursuing her Master degree in Food Innovation in Italy and looking for the best way to combine her expertise in tech and food.

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