Earlier this week, on the 13th June, the Government issued its response to the National Food Strategy (NFS) which was published in July 2021. Restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, the architect of a landmark review of the food system produced 14 recommendations as part of the NFS. The Government Food Strategy has been largely criticised by many organisations for the limited uptake of the recommendations in the NFS (around 50%).
The Government strategy has also been criticised for not going far enough to deal with the current failures of the food system including the cost of living and climate crises. There is a feeling that these problems and the responses have been pushed into the future even though people are struggling as a result of our food system now. It is unclear if the document is responding to the cost-of-living crisis or if the intentions are to set out a vision and strategy to deal with long-term food system failure. These two issues are of course related however, the ambiguity of the strategy along with the failure to appreciate the interconnected nature of these policies creates shorter team conflict between goals. For instance, the cost-of-living crisis has been used as justification for not addressing the issues of obesity and nutrition. An example of this is the ambitious policy suggestion in the NFS to levy a tax on sugar and salt to help fund healthy food for those in poverty has been incorrectly conflated as a result seen as not currently feasible given the context of the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Johnson said the government strategy set out ‘a blueprint for how we will back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security.’
It is certain that we need to be able to produce a more resilient food system that can deal with the shocks to the food system that will be exacerbated by the climate crisis – and have a more effective response to ones that we have seen recently, such as the COVID supply chain crisis. A positive is that food security has been recognised as valuable, there is a small push to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient. Regenerative agriculture has also been emphasised as a strategy to achieve this goal. The issue again is that the goal of domestic food production is not understood as part of longer-term vision to connect resilience and sustainability within the food system to the health of the economy, people, and environment.
Positive areas of the plan included:
What FoodSync would have welcomed in the government food strategy:
Of the recommendations in the government strategy there is a lack of concrete aims and clear mechanisms for improvement and monitoring. Although this is a first response to create a wide food strategy for the UK (possibly since rationing in WW2) we need the repots that follow to address the criticisms. Sajid Javid’s Health white paper will be the next focus for food policy and a chance to address areas that have been lacking in the government food strategy.
The government health report will likely be the next point of interest in this discussion, food system failure cannot only be tackled through individual government departments’ policy. Food is a basic requirement for all, and its impact is broad across our society, we need to start to view our food system as an interconnected space, and when this happens we will be able to start to address the roots of the current and future crises that will impact all of us.
For us, the most obvious trend is the persistence of trends that have already emerged, but which are evolving and developing into the new normal. For instance, take the growth of veganism. Exact figures are hard to pin down, but a quick Google search shows that in 2018, the media were reporting rises of between 360% and 700% in the UK. That is interesting in itself, but combined with a general shift towards eating less meat overall, even for the most hardened meat-eater, that marks a very definite change in attitude.
The reasons are varied – environmental concerns and ‘clean eating’ to name just two, but with The Guardian reporting research from Waitrose stating that 21% of people claim to be flexitarians, combined with rising numbers of vegetarians and vegans, means that around a third of UK consumers have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat, or have removed it from their diet entirely.
Another trend we predict will stick around through 2019 and beyond, is the rise and rise of gin. 2018 saw several of the big players launch flanker products. Following on from Gordon’s Pink in September 2017, Beefeater Pink was launched in February 2018, and Tanqueray launched a Flor de Sevilla version in April with a lovage version in May. This would seem to be a response to the more niche, craft products created by artisan distillers. It also chimes with a growing appreciation for bitter flavours such as the Negroni and new tonics also coming on the market. It’s fair to say that gin is becoming (ahem…) a bit of a ginstitution.
The all-pervasive influence of social media, but especially Instagram, is resulting in some unintended consequences. It’s become a factor when designing interiors in the food and drink sector, and menus are becoming more ‘insta-ready.’ There’s a BBC Radio 4 Food Programme on the topic which is worth checking out – ‘How Instagram Changed Food’– if this topic interests you. And we think it should.
With research showing that 16-24 year olds drink less alcohol than previous generations, there is move toward ‘grown-up’ teetotal drinks and mixers. That includes tea-based drink kombucha which is now starting to pop up on supermarket shelves, and which ties in nicely with another key trend for all things fermented.
In our opinion though, the biggest trend to emerge in 2018, and which we think will continue to exert a strong influence on customer behaviour, is what we’re calling ‘the Attenborough Effect.’ The move towards sustainability has been customer driven in the wake of the Blue Planet II, with ‘single-use’ cited as the Collins Dictionary word of the year. In their ‘Food and Drink Report 2018-19’, Waitrose term this ‘the Mindful Consumer.’ It’s also been evidenced in discussions about the ‘Latte Levy’ and the drive to eradicate plastic straws.
Will this lead to a revival of seasonal, local British produce?
Trends are one thing, but what about the uncertainties? The challenges facing retailers on the high street will continue to have a wider impact. The rise of tech means that people can stay at home watching NetFlix eating a restaurant-style meal brought to them by Deliveroo or Uber Eats. The future of the high street and bricks and mortar destinations is by no means secure. Perhaps more importantly for our supply chain and food security, at time of writing, Brexit is looming large and no matter what your personal opinion on the matter, it has undeniably created political turmoil, with a spicy side-order of economic uncertainty. Prices will likely rise, and there may be food shortages. That’s a subject the food trend forecasters seem to have given a bit of a swerve.
The Guardian, 1 November 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/01/third-of-britons-have-stopped-or-reduced-meat-eating-vegan-vegetarian-report
The IPPC report on Climate Change made headlines around the world for its uncompromising stance: there’s only 12 years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5c. A few days later, the journal Nature published a widely-reported article, specifically about the food system as a major driver of climate change.
Food production causes damage to the environment as a result of greenhouse gases from livestock, widespread deforestation, water shortages, the creation of ocean ‘dead zones’ with little or no oxygen, but particularly the rise in coastal dead zones as a result of fertiliser and sewage run-off.
In such circumstances, it’s easy to feel despondent: our governments and lawmakers driving us to despair with inaction and disagreements; manufacturers and big business with the endless drive for profit. But, the experts agree: there is no simple, single measure to tackle the profoundly complex issues we face.
On a personal level, it’s overwhelming. There’s so much that needs to be done, and it all seems beyond our reach as individuals. However, if we agree that it’s better to do one thing than nothing, then there is one thing the experts say we can do which will help – and that is eat less meat and less dairy. In fact, in western countries we need to eat 90% less beef and 60% less milk.And what are we going to eat instead? The experts recommend we should eat five times more beans and pulses, as well as more nuts and seeds.
“We tried to stay with the most conservative one of these which in our view is the flexitarian one, but even this has only one serving of red meat per week.”
Dr Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford, one of the authors of the report said, ‘’You can go from a diet that has small amounts of animal products, some might call it a Mediterranean based diet, we call it a flexitarian diet, over to a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet – we tried to stay with the most conservative one of these which in our view is the flexitarian one, but even this has only one serving of red meat per week.”
So, there it is: a stark but clear difference we can each make on a personal level. I’m not a vegetarian (sssh! don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I struggle to hit my 5-a-day) although I am actively trying to change and to make better choices. In terms of food, that means thinking about what I eat in terms of climate change, as well as considering other factors like budget, lifestyle and health.
I can’t call myself a flexitarian just yet, but rather than having one deliberately meat-free day a week, I’ll make the effort to have two. Perhaps I’ll try to schedule a consciously vegan day, because if I’m honest with myself, sometimes what happens now is that I substitute dairy for meat (hello cheese! hello eggs!) I will make the effort to try out some new veggie recipes, and to shop and cook more imaginatively. And while I can’t quite pat myself on the back for my eco-credentials, it’s a start and that’s something we all need to do.
Alison Gray started working at FoodSync in September 2018. She founded and managed her own coffee shop in Stockport, working there for four years, and prior to that worked in governance and risk management in the financial services sector.
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