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Research: International Sourcing

Who said sit down?

February 5th 2021

For the last couple of weeks I have been doing research on how and where we can really have an impact. As our production chain in the Netherlands has taken shape over the last year, our knowledge expanded and gave us new insights. Yes, there is a food loss and waste problem here but compared to other countries we are actually doing pretty well. It is time to go international.

When I wanted to write a post about my findings over the last couple of weeks – of course combined with my findings over the last year – I didn’t know where to start. As a data scientist, and therefore a lover of concrete blocks of information, I wanted to show some nice visualizations with results of the data analysis I had done. However, this would have been a very, very, negative post with me bitching about the lack of usable data. There is already enough negativity in the world right now so I’ll just take you through the process, trying to suppress my hurt feelings about the data. Let’s start at the beginning.

There was a Big Bang and almost 14 billion years later, Future Kitchens decided to help with the food loss and waste problems 

We are getting slammed in the face with numbers about the enormous amount of food we are wasting each year. The first response, or at least mine, is: make the food process more efficient and eat your damn food. Actually that is a solution, but unfortunately this is not as easy as it sounds. There is a significant amount of variables weighing in on this equation. One can think of a mismatch between supply and demand, lack of cooling or conserving methods, a bad infrastructure and even financial drivers. An important remark is that these concern mostly the food loss side.

Food loss is the loss at the production phase, from harvest to products. When food is lost at the consumer side, it is considered food waste.

As these exact definitions had come into life just a couple of years ago, food loss and food waste were used interchangeably before. This complicates combining research over the years. The FAO states that worldwide both food loss and food waste average around 16% of the total produced food; so in total about one-third. But considering there are uncountable reports about the numbers and definitions already – and you probably have other things to do – let’s skip to the core of the research.

Food loss occurs everywhere, from regulated high-income countries to unregulated low-income countries. Of course there are differences in relative quantities but this is just one part of the story. Even though a part of the food has been lost (for human consumption) it could still have a useful purpose, like animal food. There are big differences in waste treatment methods between countries, where some methods are significantly more damaging to the environment. Read more about this issue here.

Knowing this, the perfect source of our ingredients has to satisfy the following three conditions:

  1. There are losses in large quantities, both absolute as relative. Ideally centralized.
  2. The waste treatment methods are bad. In other words, the unsold food is thrown away, either back on the farmland or as landfill.
  3. There is infrastructure available for general food processing, high quality freeze drying and transport.

This is the part where I would tell you about my unpleasant days of searching for the right data, combining researches, doing data analysis and not getting usable results. Instead, I’ll tell you a fun fact and fast forward to a research of a group of scientists that basically did the work for us. 

A scottish study found that following sexual release, people had an easier time public speaking.

Ever seen Steve Ballmer on stage? And then I found the Food Sustainability Index, or FSI. This index was developed by researchers, journalists and experts in 2018. The scope of the project was to create a holistic view of the situation regarding the global food chain based on FAO data and expert views. The FSI consists of three pillars:

  • The nutritional challenges.
  • The best practices to reach a sustainable agricultural system. 
  • The food loss and waste situation.

At this moment 67 countries are ranked with a score between 0 and 100. The score (or FSI) is composed of different quantitative variables, which are weighed by experts. Our research focused mainly on the food loss variable, which on its turn consists of several indicators. 

The food loss variable is made up of three indicators. The first is the food loss as percentage of the total produced food of the country. The second indicator concerns the policies regarding food loss. The third one says something about the causes of distribution-level loss. Respectively these indicators have a weight of 3, 2.4 and 2.6 on the food loss variable. To see the data and definitions in more detail, I advise you to read the report here (website). The figure below represents a world-map with the scores of the food loss variable. To clarify: the values do not represent the complete FSI, just the food loss variable, as this is more relevant to our cause.

As can be seen above, countries with low-income score significantly lower on the food loss variable. The reasons are already explained earlier, all of which are applicable to these countries. Just a (mutated) handfull of countries that have the lowest scores are: UAE (24.4), Sierra Leone (47), Ghana (47), Malta (48), Turkey (48.8), Cameroon (50.6) and South Africa (51.8). It is clear that countries in Africa are potentially great sources for our ingredients as the problems regarding food loss are still significant there. Not completely incidental we might also help with the food security in those areas. Looking back at our conditions, the first two are checked for quite a lot of the African countries. However, the third one – which I consider to be the feasibility condition – is not completely checked yet. Not all low-income countries have the available infrastructure to do high quality processing. However, a five minute google search already gave us a good indication if there are freezedry possibilities in the potential countries.

At the moment of writing this post, we have reached out to some of our contacts in Ghana. We are discussing the possibilities of setting up a line for one of our ingredients. We’ll keep you updated!