Tree huggers, sandal wearers and lentil eaters. These are the sort of stereotypes all too often associated with proponents of the sustainability movement. It seems that despite our continued learning regarding anthropogenic induced environmental impacts, there continues to be a fundamental misconception of what the sustainability movement is seeking to achieve. The main objective is to reduce these impacts as far as possible, it is not to revert back to more basic living.
There may be some truth in that life before the automobile, electric plug sockets and mass produced food resulted in fewer environmental impacts, but sustainability does not just focus on the environment, but also economic and social aspects. Therefore reducing CO2 generation at the expense of social welfare or economic strength does not fit well with what the movement seeks to achieve. 
The way in which we live and the products that surround us continues to advance. Smart phones, high performance composite materials and fast and accurate robotised manufacturing are some of the prevalent technologies and it would seem perverse to turn our back on these and go back to living basic lives. In any case, the majority of the global population now lives in densely populated cities where growing your own food and having open fires is not really an option. Instead we should be harnessing our technological knowhow to make products last longer, more adaptable for individual needs and trim off any inefficiencies from production, use and recovery of our goods. 
This is where the sustainability frontier is: in utilising our current strengths to improve the way we live our lives. Thankfully governments, businesses and even the general public are beginning to accept and embed sustainable thinking into their plans and activities. Research continues to support this movement with activities seeking to learn how to incorporate environmental considerations in the next industrial revolution (i.e. industry 4.0), better manage resources (energy, water & materials), improve consumption patterns and manage materials in a circular economy.
Sustainability is hell-bent on reducing our environmental impacts whilst maintaining or improving social and economic benefits. The most likely way that this can be achieved is by embracing technological advancements, not opposing them. Sustainability is about the future, not the past.
Posted on 13 July 2017 By Elliot Woolley
A closer look at ready meals in UK supermarkets
Time scarcity, accompanied by modest cooking skills, have obliged many people to accept convenience foods such as supermarket ready meals or fast and takeaway food as a part of their diet. In 2016, the value of the UK ‘food-to-go’ market was £16.1 billion, and this number is estimated to rise by 6.2% reaching £21.7 billion in 2021 indicating  significant growth. Despite its convenience, frequent consumption of prepared foods is associated with developing non-communicable diseases NCDs (e.g. obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers). Consequently, governmental bodies and research institutes have hastened their efforts to control food production and increase the awareness of diet-health related issues. A well-known example of this is the successful use of ‘traffic light’ labelling established in 2006 by the Food Standard Agency (FSA) that informs consumers about how the nutrient content of a specific food product relates to the governmental recommended daily intake. Another example is the formation of numerous campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles such as Food4Thought and Change4life. These efforts did not only push fast food chains to add some healthy options to their menus, but also inspired the food industry to consider producing healthier convenience food products and making them readily available in supermarkets. 
Supermarket food products are generally trusted in Europe; in the UK for example, 44% of consumers believe that supermarkets provide all the products that lead to a healthy diet. Consumer trust is not only limited to the previous aspect, but it extends to the belief that these food stores are able to deliver personalised nutrition. A recent survey of 9381 European participants indicated that 17% prefer to get their personalised meals from supermarkets. Although this percentage came after family doctors (31%), dieticians (28%) and private health organisations (24%), it illustrates a remarkable confidence that supermarkets can be professional and scientific as specialised health care providers. It also illustrates the huge responsibility on supermarkets to keep up with their consumers’ expectations and increase their performance. 
In reality, UK supermarket strategies are continuously aiming to deliver healthier foods, either voluntarily to meet consumer demands or to comply with governmental targets and regulations. Nevertheless, delivering fresh healthy foods with extended shelf life can sometimes be very challenging from a sensory and technical point of view. These challenges are, for example, represented by lack of consumer acceptance of less salty soups, or outlined by shelf-life reduction due to a decreased amount of added sugar in a confectionary product. In spite of these facts, it is worth  mentioning that some considerations for healthy production can be simply and easily implemented without any challenges. 
Several recent surveys have investigated the nutritional quality of ready meals offered by UK supermarkets. A study found that a significant number of food products (38%) sold as ‘meals’ did not contain enough calories (<500 kcal) to constitute a proper meal. Another research on 100 chilled ready meals from three leading UK supermarkets found that none of the analysed meals complied with all World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. Finally, a survey published in 2015 that looked into the nutritional profile of 166 ready meals from 41 food stores found that only 20% of those meals were low in fat, salt and sugar, including two-thirds of ‘healthier’ meals. This percentage even at 20% indicates that it is indeed feasible to sell healthy and tasty industrial food products.
At the moment, supermarket ready meals contribute to 7.4% of the ‘food to go’ market. Most current retailed meals need intensified research for controlling their nutrient composition, portion size and satiety effect, but evidence suggests that such achievements are possible if the demand is there. In the future, supermarkets will play a bigger role in supplying ready meals especially when methods of personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics are developed. 
Celnik, D, Gillespie, L, and Lean, MEJ (2012) Time-scarcity, ready-meals, ill-health and the obesity epidemic. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 27(1), 4–11. 
Howard, S, Adams, J and White, M (2012) Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals and recipes by television chefs in the United Kingdom: cross sectional study. British Medical Journal, 345, e7607. 
IGD, press release (2016) IGD forecasts food-to-go to take bigger bite of UK grocery https://www.igd.com/about-us/media/press-releases/press-release/t/igd-forecasts-food-to-go-to-take-bigger-bite-of-uk-grocery/i/16150 
Lobstein, T, and Davies, S (2008) Defining and labelling “healthy” and “unhealthy” food. Public Health Nutrition, 12(3), 331-40.
Stewart-Knox, B J, Markovina, J, Rankin, A, Bunting, BP, Kuznesof, S, Fischer, ARH, van der Lans, IA, Poinhos, R, de Almeida, MDV, Panzone, L, Gibney, M and  Frewer, L J (2016). Making personalised nutrition the easy choice: Creating policies to break down the barriers and reap the benefits. Food Policy, 63, 134–44. 
Posted on 12 July 2017 By Rania Harastani

The Internet of Things - The newest ally in the war against food insecurity?

On a global scale, we believe it is fair to say that food production is neither sustainable, nor secure. 
Whilst globally we are now producing more food than ever before due to advances in production technology (‘the green revolution’), this food does not always make it to the people who need it the most . Indeed, globally, 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life . In other words, whilst we have more power to improve availability of food globally, we are struggling with ensuring uniform access. This is compounded by the fact that many parts of the world suffer from chronic obesity and staggering food waste. As much as a third of all food in the world that is fit for human consumption is wasted at some point in the supply chain.
Not only do we need to improve our current system, we also need to contend with a number of projected challenges. With increasing global population estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, we have to increase our food production without causing further damage to the natural ecosystems upon which our ability to produce food depend.   We need to do so in the face of climate change which is increasingly influencing what food we can produce and where. We also have to contend with significant societal change, for example, growing middle classes and ageing populations globally, who demand ever more convenient and resource intensive foods.
To overcome these challenges we need more information on how food is being produced, where it is in supply chains, what the state of that food is, and where it is needed.
Enter the Internet of Things.
The IoT is a breakthrough technology when it comes to improving sustainability across the food supply chain. Put simply, it refers to any device that can be connected to the internet where it is able to collect and transmit data, potentially allowing a limitless web of remote sensors. It is about big data generation and more, about getting that information to the right people at the right time and even about calibrating real time decisions autonomously. 
This is not a Sci-Fi scenario, but increasingly reality. For example we already see:
  • Smart farming – farmers have real-time access to vital data concerning water usage, soil quality and energy usage to compare their crop yields to those of other growers both in their regions and beyond .
  • Smart Trucks – To track and locate the consignment of food, monitor temperature, record tampering, protect the consignment, and to provide information on disruptions ahead and alternative routes . 
  • Smart Factories –real-time data of stock from farm to fork, predictive maintenance of equipment and consistent remote monitoring of stock conditions from a health as well as quality perspective4.
  • Smart Supermarkets – Technologies that can assist consumers with choosing healthy, allergen free, nutritious, special-diet (diabetic, low salt, etc.) food, send alerts to fill empty shelves and automatically place orders with suppliers or depots .  
  • Smart Kitchens- Sensors to detect when meat and produce has gone off as well as refrigerators which can alert owners when food stocks are running low and provide recipes to use up remaining food (thus tackling food waste) . 
As these existing examples of applications of the IoT demonstrate, through careful monitoring of resource consumption and analysis of enormous amounts of data, the IoT can potentially play a significant role in improving efficiency and reducing waste across our food supply chains. In coming years, this trend is only likely to continue. It is, however, about more than efficiency: the IoT offers a way of making food supply chains more responsive to the changing socio-demographics anticipated in the near future, from ageing populations, to changing lifestyles. As a result, the IoT may well be just the vital conduit our food systems require to become more sustainable, secure and responsive.
  1. http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0262e/x0262e06.htm
  2. Global Panel of Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, http://glopan.org/climate-change
  3. Beecham Research, Towards Smart Farming, Executive Summary, https://www.beechamresearch.com/files/BRL%20Smart%20Farming%20Executive%20Summary.pdf
  4. http://foodindustryexecutive.com/2016/04/the-internet-of-things-and-the-future-of-food/
  5. https://blogs.microsoft.com/iot/2016/04/08/italian-grocery-co-op-develops-supermarket-of-the-future/
  6. Internet of Things and its role in Smart Kitchen: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287878645_Internet_of_Things_and_its_role_in_Smart_Kitchen


Posted on 25 January 2017 By Sandeep Jagtap