New toolkit to ‘future-proof’ food businesses for challenges ahead

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food ethics council Nutrition

The UK’s Food Ethics Council has launched a new toolkit to help businesses prepare for future challenges to the food system, as it expects some major unpredictable changes are just around the corner.

Recent times have seen considerable shifts in the macroenvironment in which the food system sits, such as the threat of climate change, the economic crisis, and geopolitical power shifts from West to East.

According to the council, business as usual is not an option for the UK food system. “The only certainty for the future is that it won’t turn out as we expect”.

Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, told that a number of workshops have been organised recently to help businesses engage in questions over the future of food.

The toolkit enables organisations to conduct in the same kind of exercises, but from their own premises, thereby reducing the time and expense at a time when resources are tight for many enterprises. It allows them to test out their current strategies and “future-proof” their campaigns, policies and products.

Users are encouraged to develop their own vision of a more sustainable food system.

The toolkit, which is available at, presents four possible future scenarios for food and sets out certain exercises for organisations to carry out.

The scenarios are:

Pass the VatBeef Quiknoodle​, in which nutrition and hunger are tackled through technology, biotech, in-vitro meat and milk, and closed-loop recycling systems. Convenience is high on the agenda and experience low. ‘Real’ meat and milk are produced only in small quantities and command high prices.

Carry-on consuming​, in which personalisation is key to success, and nutraceuticals and functional foods are widespread. Corporate social responsibility policies on carbon and food safety mean that production and processing in Europe is prioritised.

Cash rich, time poor, experience hungry,​in which​choices seem limitless, and the internet plays a major role in recommendations and retail. Eco-friendly and artisanal purchases are the preserved of those with time to track them down, and most people have provisions delivered through automated systems.

A lot of allotments​, in which food growing is a major activity in cities, and consumers are paying more attention than ever before to where their food comes from. As food plays a social and cultural role, major retail and foodservice companies seek markets and bigger margins elsewhere.

A realistic picture?

These were drawn up from a process of desk research, interviews and workshops, with experts from industry, government and civil society.

MacMillan stressed that it is highly unlikely any of the scenarios would come to pass exactly as presented in the toolkit, but that the idea is to map out a space within different possibilities and combinations are highlighted.

He added that they are designed to be engaging and “fun without being frivolous”. ​He emphasises that the pace of change can be surprising; people have expressed possible scenarios they see as being “a bit off-the-wall” ​for 15 years time – only to see them come to pass within 18 months.

They scenarios initially formed part of a report published by the council in October 2008 on Food distribution: An ethical agenda​. The charity decided to share the scenarios as a standalone toolkit as the scenarios were found to be useful to those who have tried them out.

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