Hungry planet: innovations aim to solve global resource and waste issues

July 22, 2016
4 min read

When you were a kid, your parents probably admonished you to finish your dinner. Not doing so (they’d say) would only contribute to existing hunger problems, and there were starving children in the world, after all.

The planet’s resource scarcity was a growing issue then, and today we’re faced with even greater difficulties in keeping up with the demand for a continuously booming population. What’s worse: our throwaway culture has an even further negative impact on the situation. As Mintel Trend Hungry Planet explores, “global food prices are now higher in real terms than at any time since 1984 due to growing global demand. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and world grain output will need to rise by 50% and meat production double to meet the demand, according to the UN.”

Beacons of hope on the horizon

A recent Wired article explored the fascinating notion that artificial intelligence will be revolutionary in agriculture, helping farmers operate more effectively and efficiently, raise more robust crops and ultimately feed more mouths.

Mintel has noted several such developments being utilized around the world:

  • Calgary-based Avrio Capital focuses on innovations that aim to make agriculture more precise and efficient as farmers strive for increased profits and yields. Drone-based crop monitoring can help farmers know when fields need to be sprayed or watered and robotic technology streamlines milking and weeding while compiling precise data to be used by farmers to monitor production.
  • Japanese vegetable producer Spread is planning to open a fully robot-run farm by mid-2017. The farming robots will do everything from re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming, and harvesting crops. The new farm is expected to improve efficiency and reduce labor costs by about half.

These developments are certainly full of intrigue and promise, but until cognitive computers can fully fix the world’s resource and waste issues, people are working together to make strides sans machines. The Chinese government, for example, has reviewed its dietary guidelines to encourage consumers to eat less meat. On the other side of the world, the Peruvian Congress has approved a new law which will eventually make the discarding of unsellable food illegal.

Brands doing their part

Beyond legislative bodies, companies and brands are wisely stepping in to do their part to solve the hunger crisis – and connect with consumers at the same time.

  • Coffee giant Starbucks announced it will donate 100% of its leftover food to feed those in need across the US in partnership with non-profit organization Feeding America and food collection group Food Donation Connection.
  • IKEA Spain’s December 2015 campaign highlighted just how much food is thrown away at Christmas time. The ad tried to bridge the gap between assumptions and reality when it comes to food waste. Research from IKEA shows that 25% of the food that is purchased over the holidays goes straight in the trash.
  • French group AccorHotels has announced plans to cut food waste by 30% through reducing the size of its menus at its hotel chains around the globe. It will source food locally and plant in-house vegetable gardens, as well as require its restaurants to weigh and then record the food being thrown out.
  • Developed in the US, Kuvée is a smart, refillable case that can keep wine fresh for up to 30 days. The idea is that less wine will be wasted by utilizing technology that prevents open bottles from spoiling.

The new face of “ugly”

Several retailers have embraced the power of “ugly” produce:

  • Whole Foods Market is teaming up with Imperfect Produce to test sales of funky fruits and vegetables in a handful of northern California stores. In Pittsburgh, five Giant Eagle stores sell less-than-perfect pieces under the new Produce with Personality program.
  • In an attempt to reduce food waste, UK supermarket Asda has started selling boxes filled with misshapen vegetables that can feed a family for just $5 – 30% cheaper than Asda’s standard lines.

With consumers becoming more aware of food shortages and waste, it’s easy to see that brands in all categories can benefit from providing innovative solutions running the gamut from marketing campaigns, product creation, package sizing, robot farmers and everything in between.

With this in mind, we can work collectively toward a future free of the need for parental nagging – at least, when it comes to finishing a meal.

Stacy Glasgow is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

Stacy Glasgow
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