Rabobank promotes sustainability, security and health through innovation project

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Rabobank thinks apps will be key for personalised nutrition ©skyther5/iStock
Rabobank thinks apps will be key for personalised nutrition ©skyther5/iStock
Smartphone apps that push personalised health messages in real time are just one of a number of innovations that Rabobank wants to kickstart as part of a new project.

The three-year Kickstart Food programme will seek to scale innovations across the supply chain – from restoring soil quality and reducing waste to improving health.

The firm said: “Our increasing demand for food is putting a lot of strain on the environment. And on farmers, and the people that prepare and deliver our food. We need to radically rethink how we produce, process and consume our food. And we have less than a generation to do it.”

Major challenges

Rabobank said it wants to increase support for those “working to improve the environmental and social sustainability of the food and agricultural sector​”. Efforts will be focused on four areas: earth; waste; stability; and nutrition.

The project starts with ‘earth’. “Literally we have to get more out of the land,”​ said Gilles Boumeester, head of RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness. The bank wants to look at how smart agricultural technologies, combined with data-driven precision agriculture, can further help farmers reduce costs, increase yields and maximise profits.

But though food production needs to rise, environmental pressure on land has to fall. A new partnership with UN Environment has therefore created a one billion dollar facility, to provide grants, de-risking instruments and loans to “clients who adhere to strict provisions for forest protection, restoration and the involvement of smallholders”.

By 2030, Rabobank wants 100% of its clients certified according to accepted sustainability certification schemes that include soil management practices.

The personal touch

Personalised food is one area the bank is also keen to support. “It’s vitally important,”​ said Sebastiaan Schreijen, a senior analyst at RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness. “If we do nothing, our ageing population will vastly increase healthcare spending in the coming years. That spending is already at roughly €80bn euros a year in the Netherlands. Only 2%t of that is spent on prevention. We’ll have to commit to a lot more resources to that effort.”

More transparent labels would be a start, he suggested. “The range of foods on offer in supermarkets today is diverse enough to make responsible choices. But most Dutch people don’t invest time to educate themselves on healthy eating.”

Almost three in four (72%) of Dutch people consider labels their primary source of information and they want them to be more transparent.

“The food industry will also have to invest more heavily in databases of nutrient information, provide apps and scanners to make it as convenient as possible to choose healthy foods,”​ Schreijen added.

That should lead to the next step: measuring food intake and tailoring food to individual needs. This is where it gets really exciting, with health and fitness apps that push messages like: ‘Your blood sugar was a little high this morning – a salad and some whole wheat bread is your best choice because it will give you the energy you need to make it through your afternoon meeting.’

This kind of innovation could help “plug the gap”​ between people eating what they think is healthy (based on the latest trends in the media) and something that really has health benefits for them.

What’s more, the messages can be combined with alerts about offers at the local supermarket from brands selling the ingredients. And there’s plenty of research to suggest it’s worth the investment.

Some 95% of Dutch people claim to consider the health effects of the food they buy, 55% have started actually eating healthier, and 86% of those are deliberately buying less unhealthy food, according to research conducted by Rabobank and Gfk. Around half of all Dutch people are also prepared to pay more for healthy food that can prevent health problems.

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