Tech and food sustainability: the right data in the right place at the right time
Food systems contribute around 30% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, are responsible for 70% of water consumption, cause deforestation and both terrestrial and marine biodiversity loss, and yet about a third of the food that we produce is never actually eaten. Added to that, food demand is predicted to increase globally by a further 50% before 2050. I think we can call that an unsustainable system.
Food service businesses can take a leading role here, and that is where technology and data can help. Smart systems can allow customers and food service providers to understand their impacts in terms of menus, waste, procurement and sales. This can give businesses insights that go beyond profit and loss and allow sustainability to be built into business processes. The key is to have the right data in the right place at the right time, so that people can make decisions from a triple bottom-line perspective: environment, health and economy. How, for example, can a restaurant serve meals that minimise environmental impacts, optimise nutrition, and are still profitable? And still delight their guests?
Here are 3 trends I see helping to drive sustainable food service:
1. Sustainability data in kitchens. Understanding the impacts of your recipes, your production, your waste. And joining it all up so you can really aim for sustainability. Companies like Winnow Solutions (www.winnowsolutions.com) are nailing the waste issue, and my own company IntoFood (www.intofood.no) is tackling some of this from a recipe and procurement angle.
2. Sustainability reporting that is data-driven and research-based. Integrated reporting can apply sustainability to standard KPIs (revenue, sales, costs and so on). This allows food service businesses to understand how their food concepts are performing from a business perspective as well as a sustainability perspective, and adds value in a number of ways. Firstly, unless you are measuring your sustainability, you cannot really communicate it and, in the future, your brand is going to be tied more and more to your sustainability. It also allows businesses to identify which sites are high performers for both the financial and environmental bottom line, and then build best practices across the business.
3. Communication with customers. We are only really dipping our toes in sustainability communication, but new apps and platforms are coming to the fore where customers can make sustainable choices. Customer-facing portals will allow guests to understand more about their food choices and, when applied to a pre-ordering solution, restaurants can encourage guests to make sustainable choices and simultaneously benefit from pre-sales information. This helps front of house to manage bookings and helps the kitchens to plan their production better. Customer feedback can then help to develop menu plans that move continually in a more sustainable direction.
Which all then looks a bit like this (if tech folk ran restaurants!) :
The hunger for sustainable solutions seems to be growing in both the industry and with consumers, so it is key that both research and technology come together to create credible solutions. Many of these solutions exist in some shape or form, but they are not yet very well integrated. It is this integration that will give the full picture.