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Entering the Green Age

2050 will mark the Green Age when big data leveraged the real value of the food ecosystem, inspiring generations for 1000 years.

Photo of Jochem Bossenbroek
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Verdify

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.verdifood.com www.verdify.nl

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Wageningen

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The Netherlands

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Netherlands

What country is your selected Place located in?

The Netherlands

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

This is the country where I was born and raised, as well as my parents, grandparents and now my children too. For my children I wish a healthy environment they can be proud of and that allows them to thrive in their purpose. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Netherlands is well known for its role in the Golden age - when the Dutch were among the world's most effective traders, sailing the oceans to buy and sell goods. It was in this age that the country collected tremendous wealth, providing the fundament for steep economic growth ever since. The Dutch built thousands of windmills throughout the country – still marking the landscape - for all kinds of production work, including wood processing to provide the raw material for crafting trade and naval ships.

This tiny piece of history demonstrates the innovative spirit of the Dutch. The system of openly selling and buying stocks in a company was even invented in Amsterdam, the capital, to crowd fund the required investment for building ships and financing long-distance trade missions. Although the Netherlands is much smaller than France, the UK and Spain, it was a tough competitor of these countries. Today, the country's GDP is not far off from much larger European nations.

The innovative spirit is mixed with a highly practical and down-to-earth mindset. This translates to every aspect of the culture and economy. Traditionally Dutch people eat a lot of bread, since it can be prepared and enjoyed quickly, and can be easily carried to the workplace. The Dutch government for decades stimulated to drink milk 'The white motor' to get rid of the huge amounts of milk produced by millions of Dutch cows and believing this white drink supports good health.

The practicality radiates best from the Dutch model of 'polderen' that is characterized by frequent talks between various stakeholders, e.g. the government, companies, and inhabitants, to find consensus over a specific topic – preventing much conflict.

Today, the country's economy is thriving, but the population is infected with a rising prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes. The Dutch do not consume the prescribed amount of fruits and vegetables even though the country is home to one of the world’s leading universities in food and agriculture.

Every Dutch person has healthcare insurance and access to high quality care but most people have no clue about its cost. Yet, like in many EU countries, healthcare is the single biggest budget item of government spending at EUR 18 billion currently. Another key issue is the aging population. It is predicted that the younger generation will not be able to carry the (healthcare) cost of the elderly in the near future. Surprisingly, healthy nutrition is a topic that receives almost no attention during the six years training of a Dutch medical doctor.

What currently leads to strikes in the Netherlands is that animal farms are pushed to implement strict and costly measures to decrease the massive outflow of polluting nitrogen emission. The government tries to resolve this problem by buying up and closing hundreds of farms. Polderen no longer works here. Slowly it is understood that the tiny land is not a great match with the huge numbers of livestock that currently walk on its surface.

Coming from the Golden Age, is the Netherlands now ready for the Green Age?

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

41500

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

17000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Today, challenges to the Dutch food system are mainly found at both extremes of the food supply chain. At the start, the emission of nitrogen by livestock - farmed to provide the meat and milk loved by the Dutch and abroad - exceeds the target values by far. This results in NH3 gas in Dutch air, which can be harmful for the airways, and NO3 streaming into surface and ground water, potentially ending up in drinking water as risk factor for developing cancer. It is a technical challenge to filter out nitrogen molecules from the drinking water and thus a large risk to public health. Nature suffers as well from high level of nitrogen in the soil, resulting in low biodiversity and low levels of minerals that are essential to living systems.

Currently the Netherlands has 166 areas that are officially marked as vulnerable, entailing that further quality decrease has to be prevented by minimizing nitrogen emission in and close to these areas. Since 2019, after a court decision, strict European are enforced which has led to a sudden halt in construction activities and traffic volumes allowed around the 166 areas – hindering economic growth and bankrupting construction businesses. In a country with an overheated housing market, the halt in construction has further blocked dreams of many people to live in desired places.

Meanwhile, a lot of people have lost their feeling and connection with food. Whereas in the past entire generations learned how and what to cook from their parents, now they are often too occupied with careers and other responsibilities. Children do not learn how to cook nutritious meals and convenience foods are starting to dominate their diet. It is scientifically established that poor dietary habits are associated with a range of chronic diseases and indeed their prevalence is continuously rising in the Netherlands. Add this to the nitrogen threat, a sedentary lifestyle and high levels of stress to imagine the outcome.

In 2050 the situation will be different. Nitrogen emission will have been brought to a halt through ever stricter European environmental policy. Other problems are experienced: The Netherlands is now accepting large inflows of refugees from ever-yet unstable areas in the Middle East and Africa. This brings societal and political unrest and leads to steep demand for housing and food and unease over how to finance these. Meanwhile, the ever-aging population and fundamental belief in the right for early pensions has led to huge societal cost of taking care of the elderly, nearly all suffering from one or more chronic diseases. Global warming has transformed the country’s climate into Mediterranean, with higher temperatures and much less rainfall in summer, more often resulting in failing harvests if unaddressed. While salty sea-water levels are threatening to overflow low laying Dutch lands, prices of drinking water rise even quicker.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Working towards the Green Age, all stakeholders in the food supply chain have to line up to make the desired outcome inevitable: delivering nutritious food that exactly meets individual dietary needs and preferences of society, while nourishing the health of Dutch earth and ground water.

A key requirement is that all stakeholders, including in agriculture, farming, wholesale, processing, retail, consumption and policy understand the sense of urgency to fundamentally change the current situation. In addition, they need to be empowered with a moving vision of the desired situation: symbolized by means of ‘The Green Age’ which generations to come in the next 1000 years will refer to as the age in which the world learned how to feed a huge population without depleting the resources of Mother Earth. Finally, the tools and insights to make it happen need to be provided – creating opportunities for innovative SMEs and scientists to deliver the required technology.

What is the sense of urgency? Farmers are deeply unhappy about the strict policies and their declining profit margins. Wholesalers are ashamed of having to offer farmers lower prices each year under the pressure of producers and retailers. Food brands struggle to deliver products that now have to be low in sugar and fat but still tasty while competition is immense. Retailers are blamed by all other stakeholders for food waste, pressurizing food prices and making the entire supply chain suffer. On their end, heavy competition and seemingly few opportunities for differentiation leave them with little choice but to minimize food prices. Profit margins are tiny. Consumers’ health is declining, and they are overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of food brands that no longer can be trusted. The Dutch government is unable to stop growth of healthcare spending – naming a few deeply experienced reasons to change.

By offering a powerful vision, the hearts and minds of people representing the stakeholders might be moved to work along. In a culture where ‘polderen’ has been highly effective, with mutual buy-in to the vision, the Netherlands can be one of the first countries in the world to demonstrate how the Green Age can be shaped to address the challenges.

What is left are the required tools to make the vision feasible. Verdify is an innovative Dutch startup, introducing an unprecedented AI-powered platform for full health personalization of recipes and matching food supply and demand. The technology can be applied to guide consumer decision making in what to eat on a daily basis and facilitate supply chain planning of food companies. It can thus empower the food ecosystem in a scalable manner for providing nourishing food while minimizing food waste. The latter might just be the way to free up space to increase stakeholder value along the chain. Together with the small army of other pioneering Agri and food companies in this country – it is without doubt that the vision can be realized.  

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Farmers will be guided in adapting use of their land according to reliable information showing which crops are in demand, in what volume and in what season. These insights stem from real-time data and accurate predictions about consumer purchases.

Because consumers are guided towards diets rich in seasonal produce and low in animal protein, farmers will be able to shift to practices that need much less water, feed, and fertilizer and hence pollution levels will fall drastically. Consumer data will show a growing demand for high quality vegetables, creating a whole new way for agri firms to differentiate, also on price level.

This creates good opportunities for wholesalers to differentiate and pay fairer prices, leveraged by the fact that consumers spend less on meat and have more budget for nutrient-rich vegetables. Food brands will experience a true revolution because the demand for processed food will drop in large numbers – resulting from dietary shifts towards fresh instead of processed food. However, data will be available to demonstrate new demands, e.g. for fresh and healthy sandwich spreads, creating opportunities to launch new minimally processed products under existing or new brands.

Retailers will discover novel ways for differentiation, other than on price. For example, they might be inspired to boost the convenience for consumers in planning, buying and preparing for nutrious meals. Plus, when retailers are able to predict and influence their customers’ buying patterns, they will be able to plan procurement at much higher precision, entailing they don’t have to throw away high volumes of food.

Consumers on their end will have the tools to change food habits for the better on a long-term basis. That will save the majority of diet-related disability adjusted life years that plagued society in 2020. The Dutch government will celebrate having expelled the plague and will see billions in budget that can be attributed to other purposes.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Koen woke up with gentle sounds of flowing water, his bed slowly moving as if he was sailing down a river. Opening his eyes, he still found himself in this fantasy as his bedroom projected images of waves, trees on the shore passing by and the sun setting on the red and purple horizon. “Alright, Jura, switch to day mode” he spoke, and the bed stopped moving, the sound faded, and the lights became normal. While the window shutters opened, he stepped out of bed and walked to the bathroom. While emptying his bladder, the toilet measured more than 50 biomarkers in the urine and transferred the data to Koen’s digital twin in the cloud. After taking a shower and getting dressed in freshly ironed clothes, prepared by his robot aide, Koen looked in the mirror in his bedroom. “Mirror on the wall, show me how I’m doing this morning”. Instantly a dashboard appeared with graphs and diagrams of health parameters. “You are doing great Koen, but your vitamin A levels are slightly under the norm” spoke the mirror. “I’ll ask Jura to prepare you a coconut-carrot smoothy”. While Koen walked downstairs, he already heard the grinding sound of the juicer. After gulping down the smoothy, despite the Jura’s recommendation to drink it slowly, he put on his jacket and left for work.

Koen was data scientist at V-inside, a leading company in data science and business software for the food industry. Last year he had felt a bit lonely. Being in his late 20s he had been longing for a partner in life but found the search for a good match not easy. His introvert character didn’t help much. Luckily, he had met Joelle at an Easter breakfast party that was organized by V-inside for employees and business partners. While enjoying their whole grain courgetti sandwich (luckily the caterer had provided him with a gluten free version based on his food profile in the cloud) and an oat milk cappuccino, he started talking with Joelle. She was working for a large agriculture collective, so they had many topics to fill their conversation. She was interested in what was the latest innovation he was working on. He explained about how they were now building the software for Tubetube: the advanced system of underground tubes that connected every house in the country with local retailers. The pneumatic tube system – based on the technology already used decades ago for quick transfer of blood samples in a hospital – was now almost ready to be activated. Not only would that remove the delivery vans from the streets, but the system would also directly prevent food waste and packaging material. Retailers could now send their customers the exact amount of grains, vegetables and fruit for preparing the Mediterranean diet inspired recipes from the V-platform on exactly the required time, even omitting the need for a fridge in each house. Joelle was thrilled: “how wonderful to live in 2050 and experience these wonderful changes!” she exclaimed. The excitement of the situation was made precisely what was needed for the spark to jump between the two.

Now Joelle and Koen were looking for a home that met their desires. They had found one on a former farmland close to the city and were ready to make an offer to the seller. Where 10 years ago cows had been grazing more than 10.000 houses had been built within 2 years. The land was finally released after cleaning the soil from extreme nitrogen levels. Much land had become available since growing crops these days, partly in fancy crop skyscrapers, required much less land than having cows.

The collective that employed Joelle managed the operations of close to 4000 farms throughout their country, including nine ‘cropscrapers’. Their job was to analyze the information collected by V-inside from customers and retailers to plan the amount and type of crops for the upcoming season. This was mainly done automatically, but they had to communicate with the farmers who were still a bit computer averse and preferred to work outdoors. The collective also traded with retailers – were price levels were automatically recommended based on exact food demand data and seasonal availability. Joelle was happy she could offer farmers a fair price for their produce. Her father had told her about massive farmer strikes in 2019. Now she could not imagine such a thing.

Her father, Joe, was approaching an age of 80 years. It was a blessing he was still in relatively good health. As pensioned banker he had lived a sedentary lifestyle for 40 years. Yes, he did go to the gym each week, but frequent stress and working late hours had minimized that effect. Indeed, he had suffered from hypertension and obesity and was warned that heart failure was on his path. Joe’s wife had discovered V-inside that year, worried about losing her husband. It was simpler than she’d imagined to set up a detailed personal profile, including food preferences, allergies, diets that correspond with the dietitians advice, blood values and even genetic traits. Turned out that the bacteria living in your gut need to be nourished as well so she ordered a feces test online, for him and for her. With that profile, she could now use the V-app to see delicious meals that exactly matched both their needs, and even the taste preference of her daughter when she would visit. In a few clicks she could order either the ingredients which were home delivered in the same hour or choose for delivery of that meal fully prepared. Yes, it was a bit more expensive to have it delivered, but so easy! When Joelle told her mother about the upcoming Tubetube system she was as excited as her daughter.

In 2040 the country had celebrated that for the first time, healthcare spending had not ranked as number one, but number two on the government budget. Now, in 2050 it was even number four. Social spending to fill the pension gap of the aging population was now number one. This breakthrough had been fueled by the landmark government decision to reimburse fresh food expenditures for every citizen. The decision was a success as it had led to tremendous savings on healthcare. Most discussion had been about the definition of fresh food. All stakeholders in the food ecosystem were invited to join the discussion, further inspired by clinical trials demonstrating the large health effect of personalized eating styles: data-driven polderen still successfully applied to come to a widely supported definition.

The group most reluctant to accept a new definition were the big food brand houses. It meant that 50% of their products would not fall under the definition and these would thus not be covered. Joelle’s favorite chocolate brand included. The brands were afraid that sales would drop tremendously. A recent change in the top of the companies from those who pensioned to a younger generation had helped. The new girls and guys at the top much better understood that shareholder value should no longer be the single measure of success, but stakeholder value should be at least as important.

Luckily consumer data pointed towards various gaps in the market that could be filled by the brands. For example, the Dutch still preferred to eat a sandwich for breakfast and lunch. To empower them taking in sufficient vegetables on a daily basis, there was now a big unmet need for vegetable sandwich spread. All types of variations, including with plant-based protein, were waiting to be developed. Plus, companies like V-inside could provide useful insights to line up their R&D activities with new food regulations and habits. Finally, they bought in.

That evening Koen and Joelle were enjoying their freshly made gluten free pasta Bolognese. The pasta was printed by their all-purpose food machine. All they had to do was plugging in a small reservoir of red lentils, grown in the east of the country, and the machine would do the rest, including the cooking. Koen was bragging to Joelle that soon the software of their company could be used to connect the Tubetube system to the food machine so it would be even easier. They simply would have to allow connection to Tubetube in their personal V profile and the rest would happen automatically. Then they were laughing out loud about something they heard on the radio. A lady in government had announced that 2050 would be remembered for the next 1000 years as the start of the Green Age. "Jura, please play some romantic dinner music."

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

1 comment

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Photo of Itika Gupta
Team

Hi Jochem Bossenbroek  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit: http://bit.ly/2X4ZxQk

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.