We recently ran the first workshop of our Action Sprint on the role of plant-based innovation in enabling a just transition to healthy, sustainable diets in Europe/the US.
A few strong points emerged from the discussions. Firstly, a clear sense that, unsurprisingly, we need to see many different kinds of innovation working in parallel to help drive the positive shift towards better diets. The various narratives we explored in our original insight piece are all playing out in some way, and there’s no single solution – whether about the price of food or the skills to prepare it – that can solve all the challenges. In each of the scenarios, the relevant innovations will doubtless work best if the other scenarios’ innovations are happening too.
Secondly, some clear themes emerged bridging across the groups’ different discussions, in terms of “solution areas” for how plant-based innovation (in the broadest sense) can generate pathways to better diets – across products, brands, business models, technologies, policies, ways of organising and so on… and new solutions as well as existing possibilities.
1. Innovations that enable us to mainstream the use of a greater diversity of healthy, sustainable, plant-based foods and ingredients as well as preparation methods and processes (e.g. fermentation) – providing the right enabling conditions and incentives on farms, in homes, on menus and on store shelves.
- E.g. UK brand Hodmedods work with British farmers to build commercially viable supply chains for forgotten local pulses and grains
2. Innovations that embed, democratise and improve how much we value skills, knowledge and awareness about healthy, sustainable plant-based foods – from home cooks to school curriculums, mainstream professional training and qualifications (in culinary arts, agriculture, food science and healthcare…), local and national government, and food businesses.
- E.g. The University of West London’s Undergraduate degree in Food and Culinary Management integrates sustainability and nutrition throughout; Charlie Cart is a self-contained mobile mini-kitchen that enables cooking classes to take place anywhere, from schools to libraries.
3. Innovations that improve the short AND longer-term affordability of healthy and sustainable plant-based foods (and that reflect the true cost of unhealthy, unsustainable foods) in mainstream retail and food service, removing price barriers to longer-term behaviour change regardless of household income.
- E.g. UK retailer The Co-op has reduced the price of its own-brand plant-based products to match animal-based alternatives; eg prescription programmes or vouchers for healthy foods – such as Wholesome Wave and Rose Vouchers – enable low-income families to buy more fresh produce
4. Innovations that bring people at all income levels closer to healthy and sustainable plant-based foods and without stigma, whether it’s growing, cooking or eating; and whether it’s about physical proximity/access or improved general visibility and transparency of the foods (this could be business models, community initiatives, communications or digital approaches).
- E.g. Heru Urban Farming in St Louis in the US grows healthy, fresh produce for the local community, especially the most food insecure, while also providing education and training on growing, cooking and healthy living
And finally, two key areas of potential importance (that we had less time to explore in this first workshop) could be around:
5. Innovations that increase the diversity of people, in the broadest sense, in the plant-based movement: products, meals, brands etc. that appeal to a broader range of people and communities.
6. Business models that create and distribute value more evenly. Plant-based innovation alone can only achieve so much, however well-designed and well-intentioned. To push beyond the limits and failings of our current economic system (that drives so many of the inequalities related to food and diets), plant-based innovation needs to be part of broader strategies for reducing inequality and business models for sharing value more evenly.
We’d love to hear your examples of inspiring plant-based innovations with potential to help catalyse more healthy, sustainable diets.
Where do you see plant-based innovation (in the broadest sense) already happening, that aligns with the solution areas above? What other plant-based innovations do you see, that have the potential to catalyse a just transition towards healthy and sustainable diets? And what other solution areas might we be missing in our list so far?
Join the conversation and share your thoughts here.