The coronavirus pandemic is placing questions of national preparedness and food security under the spotlight. The trend towards more locally produced and locally grown food is now being accompanied by calls for strengthened domestic production as well as new business ideas and cooperative forms. How can we ensure that all the desirable initiatives are also sustainable? Which lessons can be learned from this crisis and applied in the future in order to choose greener alternatives? These were some of the questions on the agenda when RISE held an online seminar at the end of April.
– “It doesn’t help to just talk about sustainable meals of the future, we must also roll up our sleeves now and make it happen together,” says Britta Florén, one of the organisers of the seminar. “The environmental impact of our consumption in Sweden equates to around 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per person per year, which is nearly ten times more than what is sustainable globally. In terms of Swedish consumption, food accounts for 2-3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per person per year. In order to accelerate the transition, we want to bring together operators who truly have potential to influence others.”
By means of Mentimeter voting and group discussions, the most important tools for enabling consumers to make more sustainable food choices were highlighted, along with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the food industry. From the responses, it was apparent that there is a willingness to change and a hope that environmental aspects will be given a boost when the crisis is over, and that there will be greater awareness of Swedish food security.
Climate data as a tool
According to Florén, the three most important factors that everyone needs to work on to achieve a just climate transition are consumption, production and reducing food waste. To increase awareness and encourage consumers to make climate-smart choices, tools such as climate data can be very useful. Today, several companies offer solutions based on RISE’s climate database.
– “Our customers at Mat.se are aware and choose a high proportion of organic and vegetarian foods,” says Ylva Bruzelius, Sustainability Expert at Mat.se. “We want to help our customers to reduce their environmental impact by 50 percent by 2030 through their food purchases. To achieve this goal, we launched a climate label last autumn for 3,000 items of food in our store. We are currently analysing the data to determine how labelling has affected our customers’ environmental impact.”
There a few safe bets, such as mussels and herring
Another company that has used climate calculations to support innovation and more sustainable choices is Orkla.
– “The ambition is to reduce environmental impact both in our own operations and in the value chain,” Lars Lundahl, Environmental Manager at Orkla Foods Sverige. “In concrete terms, it relates to product development with new recipes, packaging made from recycled materials, and meal planning tools. Fast Fusion Climate Week, which is an initiative for schools, is an example of this.”
Good for health and the environment
What are the two main dietary changes with the greatest impact on the environment and health? Eating less red meat and opting for more plant-based products with high nutritional quality such as legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains, according to Marta Bianchi at RISE:
– “Nutritional quality means, for example, that the food is nutritious. If we base our food choices solely on their environmental impact, there is a risk that our diet will not be healthy. Therefore, it’s important to employ methods that take both health and the environment into account. We believe this would be a good tool for product and recipe development.”
When it comes to what is termed seafood, choosing climate-smart and nutritious alternatives is also important. This includes factors such as sustainable fishing.
– “There a few safe bets, such as mussels and herring,” says RISE Researcher Kristina Bergman. “There are also new products with potential but, in many cases, product development is required to introduce, for example, seaweeds and algae into Swedish meals.”
Some of the most exciting developments in the market have to do with re-emerging seafood. This may involve using fish such as roach and bream in sauces, or reusing offcuts from salmon and cod in new products.
– “The advantage of these species is that we already know a lot about their nutritional quality and environmental impact,” says Bergman.
It takes creativity and courage
Whole raw ingredients as resources
Managing waste is important when it comes to several raw ingredients. With regard to plant-based products, significant progress is being made in using shaw and peelings to a greater extent and, for example, in using surplus bread for baking and brewing beer. Zero-waste cooking and circular cooking are very much in the zeitgeist.
– “It takes creativity and courage. And communication,” says Lina Andersson Fasth, RISE. “A consumer makes multiple meal choices every day, which affords us good opportunities to influence consumption.”
Viewing the whole raw ingredient as a resource is crucial, and this is also true from an industrial perspective. Valuable side streams emerge from process steps in the production chain, and these can be utilised. The seminar presented examples of sustainable snacks made from berry pressing wastes and oat middlings, which have attained good results in consumer tests.
– “We need to start viewing side streams as foodstuffs and find appropriate applications for them,” says Evelina Höglund, RISE. “We must also then see what side streams can be incorporated from other processes, such as producing feed for farmed fish from residual streams in pulp production.”
Influencing consumption is considered to be among the most impactful ways to drive the transition towards sustainable meals of the future. The examples from Mat.se and Orkla illustrate initiatives to facilitate consumer choice. But what exactly is it that determines our choice of one product over another?
– “Our choices are governed by different interests, such as our personal interest, which wants food to be healthy, and altruistic interests, which are geared towards the environment,” says Penny Bergman, RISE.