How do you keep the world fed and healthy while at the same time reverse the impact of agriculture on the climate? And how do you make sure everyone has access to clean water, both for sanitation and to drink? Some of the most pressing challenges current generations face, have to do with what comes out of the ground and goes into our mouths. The second generation of the Blue Tulip Awards aims to seek innovative solutions in the theme of Food & Water.
Food & Water jury, partner and winner
This years’ jury member Niels Snoep of Rabobank, last years’ winner Bram Tijmons from PATS drones and Fleur Osté, representing Unilever as jury member and Dutchtainables as Blue Tulip Awards’ partner, share their vision on the challenges and developments in this theme.
Challenges in food and water affect everyone in the world. Clean water and sanitation, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, is unfortunately not available for everyone. And when it comes to food, one of the main challenges is to prevent food waste and promote a healthier, sustainable diet better for us and our environment.
New colours, sugars and ingredients
Keeping a close eye on innovations working in that direction is Niels Snoep. He’s the innovation director at Rabobank, a globally operating bank which is traditionally closely connected to the agricultural industry. Like last year, he’s a jury member for the Food & Water theme in the Blue Tulip Awards. Snoep: “Companies that have developed AI-driven technologies that enable retailers to track freshness and cut food losses along the value chain, will be well equipped to further reduce waste in the food chain.”
“Solutions, where residual large waste streams can be upcycled into safe, tasty, healthy new products and ingredients, will also gain traction.” Examples of new products Snoep mentions are natural colour extracts, alternative sugars and functional ingredients with the result of getting more value out of sources such as grains, fruits and vegetables.”
Healthy, sustainable and with less waste
Fleur Osté spots similar trends. She is senior brand manager at global consumer goods company Unilever. The company, this years’ partner in the Food & Water theme, serves 2.5 billion people daily with 400 different brands. Osté notices food trends along three pillars: healthy, sustainable and with less food waste and plastic.
In these three pillars, she recognises different developments. For instance a strong push for plant-based food. Producing packaging from Ioniqa, a plastic that can be recycled until infinity. Or newly developed food to combat iron deficiency in girls as well as food brands adhering to the Unilever Sustainable Agricultural Code. Osté: “We are convinced that this transformation is an example of ‘doing good by doing well’. We will grow by shifting our portfolio, innovations and brands to healthy, responsible and sustainable on-trend products. In short, develop nutrition that is good for people and the planet.”
Autonomous drones instead of pesticides
Both high tech, artificial intelligence and a more natural approach is on the radar at Unilever and Rabobank. So it is not a surprise, these are brought together by last years’ winner of the Blue Tulip Awards in the Nutrition theme. The Dutch PATS Drones is making pesticides redundant, by replacing them with autonomous drones. The PATS System operates in greenhouses where it will eliminate pests by chasing them down. Smart tech, no chemicals needed.
Bram Tijmons is founder of PATS drones. He notices that due to disrupting nature of the pandemic, his invention is now more relevant than ever. A more natural approach means fewer pesticides. “One of the components of the Green New Deal from the European Union is to cut the use of pesticides in half”, says Tijmons. “That gives our technology momentum.”
Impact of COVID-19 on labour
Pesticides are also labour intensive, says Tijmons. “It’s not just insect control. You need to monitor as well. Check traps, count pest insect varieties, input those into an excel sheet or something, after which you can treat the crops. And afterwards, it takes a while before you can go back to work due to re-entry intervals. It can take hours for the pesticides to clear.”
This labour-intensive process is now more unsustainable than ever, says Tijmons. Due to COVID-19, many foreign workers in the Dutch Agri- and horticultural industry were forced to return home, making labour scarce and more expensive. “Labour is the most costly element for horticulturists, and it only gets more expensive. I believe this change is permanent.”
E-commerce for locally sourced food
When thinking about locally sourced food, Snoep sees a bigger picture. “Dutch agriculture and horticulture are part of the North-Western European food system. I believe that in the future we will more and more serve consumers within a radius of 800 kilometres, with export focusing merely on niche products with high added value.
On the consumer side of the food market, things are also moving in that direction. Snoep: “During this pandemic, we saw more consumers looking to buy produce directly from the source. Therefore we see a great uptick in the number of startups building e-commerce channels and platforms that bring the farmer closer to the consumer. This trend is probably here to stay.”
Open innovation together with University
Osté notices a similar change. COVID-19 causes people to stay put and source their food closer to home: “There is a shift to more home-cooking, which causes a reduction in food waste. People are more conscious when buying food. They make a shopping list and stick to it.”
It is not just COVID reducing food waste. Osté sees innovation and technology offering a helping hand as well. “There’s a startup that utilises data to map food waste. We offer their service to our clients and our offices as well. It can make intelligent predictions of what food will be consumed at a certain day, and plan accordingly. By using data, we are throwing away less food.”
“Unilever has a food innovation centre in Wageningen, close to the University. There we can collaborate with students and startups. It’s a place of open innovation, currently with a strong focus on plant-based food. We’re trying to lower the bar for people to eat plant-based as much as possible.”
Blue Tulip Awards: ‘seize opportunities’
For PATS Drones, winning the Blue Tulip Awards have been a big deal, says Tijmons. “It really put us on the radar of investors, we got attention in trade magazines. It’s also good to show progression to partners. For investors, it is good to see that this solution reaches beyond the agricultural hub of Westland in The Netherlands.”
if you ask Tijmons, the Blue Tulip Awards are important, especially in these times. “Every startup is looking for attention. Some innovations can’t be brought to market in a matter of years. Along the way you need recognition, validation that you are on the right path.”
Snoep agrees about the importance of highlighting innovation in troubling times: “This crisis will have a lasting impact on consumers needs. Therefore programs like the Blue Tulip Awards are important to give a stage to new explorers that can react more agile to these changing circumstances.”
“Large companies are unwieldy,” agrees Osté. “Investments in innovation could suffer as they choose for their core. That means innovation takes the backseat.” A missed change, she says. Because if anything, crises offer opportunities. “organisations that maintain their focus on innovation during a crisis emerge stronger. There is a difference between seeing opportunities and seizing them,” says Osté. “That’s why Blue Tulip Awards is of utmost importance. To drive innovation and to seize the opportunities.”
Register now for the Food & Water theme
The second generation of the Blue Tulip Awards is now open for registration. Do you have an innovation that has the ability to eliminate hunger or provide clean water and sanitation for all? Innovators in the world of Food & Water that are ready to seize opportunities and change the world while they are doing it can sign up on the website of the Blue Tulip Awards. Registration is open now, you have until December 11th so don’t wait.