Nutrition Australia investigates sustainability and food innovation 

13 December 2019

Sustainability and food innovation 

Food sustainability and its impact on food innovation is something that affects the future of all Australians. To address some of the burning questions surrounding this trending topic and generate conversation, Nutrition Australia invited a panel of specialist speakers and leaders in their field to the annual AGM, where their collective experience and qualifications made for a thought-provoking presentation.

Ivone Ruiz – one of Australia’s leaders in food innovation and product development; Travis Hatton –Food Waste Lead at Sustainability Victoria, currently on a mission to end food waste by exploring innovative solutions to repurpose food waste into value-added food products; and Stuart Griffin – former veterinarian and fourth generation dairy farmer.

Can we halve Victoria’s food waste by 2020?

Travis Hatton enlightened the audience with his current mission, to develop a strategy to halve Victoria’s food waste – an undertaking he sees as fundamental to protecting the environment, ensuring food security, whilst both protecting and growing Victoria’s food economy. Helping Victorian’s tackle climate change and use resources wisely is challenging but achievable by the 2020 goal – that’s 10 years to halve 2 million tonnes of waste across the entire food supply chain. Travis hates food going to waste, particularly in a country where 1-5 people experience food insecurity.

Why are we sending food to landfill? 

A burning question is why as a state, we’re still sending 100 million kilos of fruit and veg to landfill – healthy, nutritious food with no fault other than it’s a little unsightly. Travis agreed there’s something better we can be doing and focus on stopping waste in the first instance, not just ‘which coloured bin does it go into’. In his role at Sustainability Victoria he helps Victorian industries, businesses and consumers to reduce food waste across the entire food chain. Travis works with industries such as Oz Harvest and Fareshare to distribute food to those in need, and with scientists in ways to transform food into new products before it becomes waste.

Educated consumers now seek more sustainable food

Current consumers are more educated on what we consume, with many companies now developing products with a sustainable slant to satisfy their demand. The question is, how can we make foods even more sustainable? Ivone stated that in her product development with major supermarket retailers, manufacturers, brand owners and the foodservice industry that everything must have a sustainable slant. When developing new and exciting products supermarkets are questioning where ingredients are from, asking: can we use more local produce or can it be organic or sustainability farmed?

Plant based meat alternatives – is this this the best way forward?

The growth and development of plant based foods growing initiative. But from a sustainability perspective, we ask if this the right track or are there other issues more pressing to address first? Travis explains that when looking at sustainability, there are various different things to consider and many lenses to look through; we can take the lens of water, biodiversity or emissions (created from our food systems) – it depends on the focus of the organisation.

Food waste today – edible tomorrow

All panellists agreed we must consider how food industries can partner with organisations to ise food that is wasted to develop innovative products.  Our own iconic Vegemite was created in the twenties from a waste product. Travis notes, if we are capable of this at the turn of the century, what are we capable of now in other industries and for other food types? This is where the future of sustainability lies. Fourth generation dairy farmer, Stuart added that farmers, who are at the start of the food chain have embraced the sustainability challenge by taking a wider view and asking; what is sustainable? What great things can farmers do with water, energy or reducing carbon production with help from businesses? The industry is beginning to work together with corporations, with the constant challenge to improve and focus a variety of solutions, not just one.

Love food, hate waste – consumers play a vital role

How much do we ask individuals to consume less and only buy what we will consume? There is a greater call out for more ethical consumption in what the everyday Australian consumes. Behaviour change campaign, Love Food, hate Waste helps householders save money whilst being ethical. Approximately 35% grown is not eaten – at different stages along food supply chain, primarily on farms with food not harvested and in manufacturing. However, overbuying in the household leads to food being wasted. Multi-buys (i.e. large bags of apples) for example have recently been banned in the UK due to the potential food waste of buying in bulk. Something similar could be considered in Australia. Consumers need to play a role in fighting food waste. Sustainability Australia’s first study on consumer behaviour leading to food waste in household will be available at the end of the year and should shed further light on the subject.

Who’s responsible?

One issue is perfect fruit doesn’t get off the farm – but who in supply chain takes responsibility for it? We can advocate to the government but the onus should also be on the retailer to accept and change the “specs”, making them broader for their produce as farmers innovate product off the specs provided. We can’t always rely on government to regulate, responsibility also has to come from the market. Ivone confirmed that supermarkets will range what ‘we’ buy so it is in part up to consumers to demand change.

Product innovation 

There is a concern that a great number of discretionary and processed products are being developed to address food waste concerns. Is there too much processing to create these innovative products with businesses trying to eradicate carbon footprint? Travis believes powdering and stabilising good food that would otherwise go to waste (i.e. broccoli stalks and stems) and sneaking them back into discretionary foods (adding vital nutrients) is a benefit offsetting the apprehension of increased discretionary products and helps promote good nutrition in the status quo environment we’re currently in.

Who is responsible for ongoing costs?

With sustainability, who should be supporting and financing sustainable decisions and addressing issues as dairy farmers are often seen to pay for technology to deliver more sustainable product. So who responsible for environment decline and who responsible for fixing? With no simple or easy answer, Stuart agrees there needs to be balance or a completely regulated food industry, as costs tend to fall back to famer / dairy industry. If we push back on farmers too much it will increase cost of product and the consumer will buy from somewhere else, and purchase products that don’t have same environmental credentials. 

Increasing nutrition – decreasing waste

In 2020 Nutrition Australia and Sustainability Victoria look forward to exploring how we can team up to promote healthy eating in a way that supports a more sustainable and equitable food system, increasing nutrition and decreasing waste. Watch this space!