Sustainability By Clara Lu — Date 10.5.2018

Meet our #FoodforThoughtBerlin panelists: Sebastian Stricker, Moritz Waldstein, and Julian Lechner

What sustainability means to them, how brands can appeal to today’s consumers, and what the future of food holds.

We had the opportunity to sit down with three of our panelists: Sebastian (Founder of share),Moritz (Co-founder of Mitte), andJulian (Founder of Kaffeeform), for a short chat before Food for Thought takes place on 17 October 2018. They had some interesting insights to share – insights on the sustainable food & beverage (F&B) industry that will warm you up and prep you for the topics that we be exploring in-depth during the event. Here’s a teaser.

 

  1. What motivated you to start a company that combines sustainability with F&B?

 

Sebastian: Social entrepreneurship in the F&B space (and the subsequent founding of share) comes from the culmination of my previous experiences: consulting in the private sector, and working with the World Food Programme and The Clinton Foundation in non-profit. I believe that social responsibility is not only rewarding, but can also be a competitive advantage in business.

Julian: Materials. Looking at old materials, extending their lifetimes, recycling and upcycling them, and ultimately transforming them into new objects. My background lies in product design, where avoiding additional waste and creating multi-usage solutions had always been my interest. Kaffeeform started when I looked into recycling coffee grounds and explored the creation of something new from coffee waste, rather than let it go into a landfill or incineration plant.

Moritz: Water is fundamental for our survival. There are few things that need to be more sustainable than water since there’s such a limited amount of it. With Mitte, we’re not just here to provide users with access to water, but taking a step further to provide water that is also healthy, to improve lives and people’s health. This can only be done in a sustainable manner in the long term, there is no quick fix.

 

  1. There are many different views as to what constitutes a ‘sustainable’ food system, and what falls within its scope. What do you think sustainable food should be about?

 

Sebastian: Sustainability should encompass these areas: economic gain, social responsibility, and ecological footprint. I think that sustainability is not an end state to strive towards, but a never-ending process. One is never fully sustainable, but can always get better. What is important is to be transparent on where one stands in terms of sustainability, and what the plans are.

Julian: Sustainability means that we use timeless, well-designed objects that don’t need to be replaced often, thus cutting down on the overproduction of consumer goods in the market. F&B sometimes provides interesting raw materials of good quality that can enhance the sustainability of such products.

Moritz: I believe that there are three dimensions to it –

  1. Economic stability – Sustainable food needs to make sense from a purely financial, business perspective.
  2. Social perspective – You need to enhance people’s lives.
  3. Environmental sustainability – Ensuring that we’re not depleting resources beyond . Or ideally, even being zero, or even net positive.

This is true for any industry; you will only be successful if you take on a multidimensional approach, where the financials of the business works together with social and environmental benefits.

 

  1. As a brand, how have you been appealing to today’s consumers?

 

Sebastian: share has received great support from our retailers and partners. Together with a solid team, we built a brand with a story that comes from an emotional standpoint: those who can, will help those who can’t. This is a wonderful concept that has resonated with all our customers.

Julian: Similarly, once consumers know about our story, they feel inspired and start to see waste from a different point of view. They no longer perceive commercial waste as something of low value, they feel responsible to look deeper, repurpose some of it, and reflect on their daily behavior and decisions.

Moritz: What is important is that we don’t finger point and tell customers that they are doing it wrong. Instead, we provide positive suggestions for a more sustainable lifestyle, saying, “look, there is an option for this, don’t you want to try it?” It’s a positive attitude towards change rather than using fear or negative action.

 

  1. What do you think is the best strategy for food companies hoping to maximize growth with a sustainability model?

 

Sebastian: I think building a business on a sustainability model is a competitive advantage in itself. Companies also need to focus on the product, packaging and design, and their brand.

Julian: Nowadays, you can notice that that there is a great energy out there – people want to change their behaviors, purchase reusable objects, find out the ingredients in their food, and are willing to pay a bit more if they know that it’s produced locally and sustainably. There is a shift in consumer mindset.

To catch that wave, you need to collaborate with reliable, like-minded partners, working towards a mutually-beneficial, shared vision. The small food brand offers the mission and spirit, while the bigger partner provides the right network, sales point, and accessibility to customers.

Moritz: I agree, people are waking up to the fact that we need to build sustainability into our systems. Now, we see and feel the consequences of our actions in the color of the sky, quality of our water, and security (or lack thereof) of our food systems. These are not niche topics anymore.

Many small and big brands are adopting more sustainable practices, but we need to keep in mind that sustainability is not the primary driver of purchase decisions; it is an important secondary motivation. Consumers first need to find the product offer compelling (where it satisfies their needs, is economic, has great design, suits their lifestyle..) before taking into account if it is sustainable or not. It’s always about putting the user first, then using positive environmental impact as a secondary argument.

 

  1. For the food industry, what is one barrier hindering the move towards a more resource efficient and sustainable system? And how do you envision we can get around that?

 

Sebastian: We cannot overlook the costs and effort needed to steer the whole industry in the right direction, there is also a general lack of pressure from all the stakeholders involved. However, I think that the wheels are set in motion, there is a move towards a more resource efficient and sustainable system. So the biggest barriers have been overcome, we need more time to change the industry.

Julian: I still think that a problem that still exists is availability – there is a lack of sustainable alternatives in stores. For instance, in supermarkets, there is so much over packaged fruit and vegetables, making it hard for customers to lower their environmental impact and change their consumption decision quickly.

If governments could lend their support more by perhaps lowering taxes on sustainable production methods, this in turn lowers the barrier for companies enter the market. For example, transforming mineral oil into fuel is a taxable process, but turning it into fibers for clothes is not. So most of our clothes are made from mineral oils, with fast fashion chains selling them at low prices, adding on to plastic waste in our environment. So there is a lot the authorities can do to help change consumer behavior in the space. I think that’s the key shift we need in our already-existing and established economic system.

Moritz: Current consumer habits that have worked for us in the past are now holding us back. For instance, we experienced a massive industrialization of the food industry post World War II, which was necessary at that point in time. But now, it is causing huge problems for both human and environmental health.

Alas, when it comes to change – in running systems especially – there will never be a revolution, we will not go from zero to one in one day. I second Sebastian’s views, we are already seeing a big shift in habits that started 10 or 20 years ago, and we are definitely moving in the right direction. The industry needs time.

It’s also heartening to see that this change is driven by consumers from the bottom up, that people are proving through action that sustainable products are preferred even if they are more expensive. At the same time, I do think that everyone needs to work together. You need big brands to take a leap of faith, you need societies or states promoting such business activities, and consumers supporting products and services.

 

  1. What key trends in the sustainable food industry do you think we can expect within the next decade?

 

Sebastian: We will see more sustainable packaging, sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients, and food that inherently improve human and environmental health.

Julian: In fact, I think that we will take a few steps backwards, to before we started introducing materials made of fossil fuels and artificial chemicals. We will once again, have unpackaged food, create materials based on plants, more local initiatives, and zero waste stores – and this time, with the help and addition of technology.

Moritz: My sentiments exactly. We will come back to what is actually good for us, the way nature does it. I foresee four key trends:

  1. More “back-to-nature” and “free-of-contaminants” products, like sugar-free and GM-free food.
  2. A general distrust of larger organizations will continue to grow. We will see more support for artisanal, handmade, local products, signifying the fragmentation of the supply chain. For example, the beer industry used to be dominated by massive conglomerates, but now, the craft beer revolution is on the rise.
  3. An increase in transparent, direct-to-consumer offers, and supply chain innovation – linking the people who are producing to the people who are consuming in better ways.
  4. Enhancement. This seemingly contradicts my first point but now enhancements will be about engineering food to address human needs instead of making food taste better or more addictive. So we’ll have more food engineered to treat or prevent diseases, or food for people with special dietary requirements, or even going down to individual personalization – understanding how your genetic setup works and completely engineer food around it.

These trends will be expressed in both products and services in F&B.

 

This interview is just a taste of things to come at Food for Thought: A panel discussion on sustainability in the F&B industry. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg in this interview, with more to explore during the event itself. We invite you to join us at Hermann’s on 17 October for a creative, innovative, and inspiring time. Enter the conversation and take part in the sustainable F&B movement.

See you there!

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