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Optimising future food systems

Article-Optimising future food systems

The smart use of food and beverage by-products can give manufacturers an economic and commercial advantage as consumers are increasingly looking for more sustainable practices.

Adopting a circular economy approach is therefore essential for the F&B industry. Sanne Stroosnijder from the Sustainable Food Chain programme at Wageningen University, explains how manufacturers can implement such practices within their organisations to reach a competitive edge.

Can you explain what the Sustainable Food Chain programme at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is?

“Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (WFBR) is part of Wageningen University and Research and provides strategic and application-oriented research within the fields of fresh, food and chains and bio-based products. This enables the rapid conversion of fundamental knowledge to applications on the market. WFBR’s mission is to perform applied research for sustainable innovations in healthy food, fresh food chains and biobased products by acting as an intermediate between science and application.”

“WFBR clients and partners are large and small, international and national organizations, governments and companies. We provide them with knowledge, advice, suggestions and designs, based on a wide range of research disciplines. WFBR has a leading position in the Netherlands as the coordinator of major European projects, focusing on strategies and innovations to reduce food waste across the entire food supply chain. The quality of our work in reduction of post-harvest food losses and prevention and reduction of food waste is recognised around the world.”

“Our client and partner list includes private companies such as Maersk, Friesland Campina, Cosun, Unilever, Danone and Coca-Cola in addition to the Dutch Government, the European Commission and the World Bank, and many others. The Sustainable Food Chains programme helps the agrifood sector, via a multidisciplinary and chain-oriented approach, to make substantial progress in creating an efficient structure for and organisation of food production and distribution.”

What is the circular economy?

“The call for a circular, bio-based economy is getting louder and louder. An increasing number of citizens, businesses and politicians are realising that the reuse of products and reclaiming of natural resources is of great importance for ourselves and for the planet on which we live, if we want to move forward towards a sustainable future. Wageningen University & Research is working on solutions to make the circular, bio-based economy a reality.”

How can we develop sustainable agrifood systems that are far better integrated within the world economy at large and meet the new needs of health, environment, climate and affordability?

“Moving from productivity towards optimised use of land, water, plants, animals and energy. There is a need to shift towards circularity, as part of a larger bio-based economy.”

“It requires the optimisation of the whole agrifood system, rather than simply a farm or a factory. We need to optimise existing processes and design new ones, taking into account the optimum use of biomass and the food hierarchy. The valorisation of waste and side streams is an important part in the transition to a more sustainable food system, where we minimize losses and waste in addition to optimal use of food resources which will ensure better food for more people.”

How do you help companies in managing their side streams?

“In this domain WFBR helps companies with the basic question: ‘To what extent can I obtain higher value for my waste and side streams and, at the same time, contribute to a circular economy?’ WFBR works on circular design processes to valorise surplus and side streams, to upcycle waste streams into functional ingredients (with a special focus on proteins) and future food processing systems that are more sustainable, flexible, modular and even mobile.”

What kind of projects are you involved in at the moment? Have you managed to successfully turn a waste stream into another product? Can you give examples?

“New applications for potato processing by-products (LambWeston/Meijer), returned bread (European Bakery Innovation Centre), valorising sidestreams through drying and additives for powders, e.g. mangoes (TuttiFoodi), banana bread, prize-winning surplus product made of overripe bananas (Udea/Ekoplaza).

What are your predictions regarding more sustainable food production in the next 5+ years?

“Nowadays sustainability is still something you can distinguish yourself with from your competitors, in 5+ years’ time it will be your right to play.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry in the next 3-5 years

“A few trends:

  • Double or triple purpose production, using for instance not only the cucumber, but also the leaves, the stems, the roots, etc.

  • Rise of ingredients and products made of surplus, increase in circular products.

  • New materials and techniques to transport, store and package our food with alternative barriers to plastics.

  • Smart sensors, datafication, artificial intelligence and deep learning will open up ways of forecasting and will provide insights in how to optimise our future supply chains.”