Why innovation and R&D should drive the transformation of the global food system

BATTLE CREEK, Mich., November 18, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Globally, both the public and private sectors are working together to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 by 2030: to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve well-being and sustainable agriculture. Dr. Nigel HughesSVP Global Innovation and R&D, Kellogg Company & Dr. Pam HendersonCEO of NewEdge, Inc., share strategies on how innovation and R&D teams can transform our global food system in a new blog post.

To sustainably feed the growing world population, we must embrace the next agricultural revolution and find new ways to innovate our food system.

To sustainably feed the growing world population, we must embrace the next agricultural revolution and find new ways to innovate our food system.

Social K: Blog of Kellogg Company

The world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, increasing the demand for food. The United Nations estimates that the world will need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to keep up with population growth. But doing so within the limits of what our planet can grow sustainably presents an existential challenge.

Increasing the efficiency of our current food production practices is not the answer. The agri-food industry is responsible for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of fresh water consumption and is far too dependent on animal food.

To sustainably feed the growing world population, we must embrace the next agricultural revolution and find new ways to innovate our food system.

Sustainable food as an innovation opportunity

The impact of the food system on climate change and biodiversity is only now beginning to receive the recognition it deserves and needs. We all need to think differently to improve it, by working with nature instead of exploiting it. For food companies, this cannot simply be delegated to a sustainability department. These are significant challenges, but equally compelling and exciting innovation problems to solve. At its core, influencing the food system is an innovation opportunity.

When we apply Opportunity Thinking®, we combine a vision of the needs in the marketplace, the value propositions that can be created through technology and business models, and the conditions and trends that bring them together, and we can begin to unlock solutions. The food system presents an important opportunity: the need is great, the value proposition of food security and independence is worth working towards, and the conditions of climate change and water scarcity are ideally suited for transformational innovation.

Sustainable food as an opportunity to experiment

Building the right value webs throughout the system is essential to drive meaningful change. The current system is complex and there are a large number of stakeholders who have an interest in its success. The challenge has been addressed by bringing together large ecosystems of influencers, observers and participants, but the result is often more discussion than action. While we must work together and leverage each other’s strengths and roles, too many “chefs in the kitchen” will hinder innovation and prevent us from scaling sustainable food globally.

Changes in large-scale food systems require innovation teams to be at their best and experiment with new approaches in closed systems that provide controlled environments before scaling those solutions.

A good example of a closed loop experiment is vertical farming in the UAE, which allows year-round production without the use of fertilizers and pesticides with a smaller footprint than traditional farming. Because we’re in cities close to where people will live, it’s fascinating to think about the opportunities for access and food waste reduction they offer.

Sustainable food requires collective solutions

No company or actor in the system can solve the challenges alone. Incremental improvements will come through new thinking and partnerships to find collective solutions. We need to review our relationships across the system and interdependently work towards win-win solutions.

Take Kellogg rice buyback programs, for example. As part of its Better Days Promise environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy, the company established a closed system experiment to test Kellogg’s Ingrained™ program to help rice farmers in the Lower Mississippi River Basin remove methane from the supply chain of rice ingredients in North America.

Kellogg offers training opportunities in irrigation management, nutrient management and soil health to support farmers as they transition to new practices, rewarding farmers per ton of greenhouse gas reduction their new methods achieve. Feedback from participating farmers will shape and improve the implementation of the program in the years to come.

The plea for an innovation coalition for the food system

Innovating for the future food system must focus on more than just the planet. It offers companies the opportunity to re-evaluate where there are opportunities. A necessary pivot is for these companies to explore what is competitive versus pre-competitive. When companies come together pre-competitively to innovate on sustainability, we unleash and scale their collective innovation capabilities to address a problem shared by all. A rising tide will raise all boats! We need to find ways to create opportunities for everyone in the system to bring about the necessary scale of change.

We believe that the largest food companies have the ability to create transformative innovation at scale in our global food system. They have the resources and expertise to take an experimental approach within a sufficiently open/closed system, with a smaller group of actors to see what works and what doesn’t. In this way we turn sustainability ambitions into reality.

At Kellogg Company (NYSE: K), our vision is a good and just world where people are not only nourished but fulfilled. With our trusted food brands, we create better days and a place at the table for everyone. Our beloved brands include Pringles®, Cheez-It®, Special K®, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes®, Pop-Tarts®, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes®, Rice Krispies®, Eggo®, Mini-Wheats®, Kashi®, RXBAR®, MorningStar Farms® and more. Net sales in 2021 were nearly $14.2 billion, mainly consisting of snacks and ready meals such as cereals, frozen foods and noodles. As part of our Kellogg’s® Better Days ESG strategy, we address the interrelated issues of wellbeing, climate and food security, creating Better Days for 3 billion people by the end of 2030. Visit www.KelloggCompany.com.

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