Food4Innovations – Food, Innovation and Technology

"with effort and attention everything can growth sustainable" – Small stories from Wouter de Heij (CEO of & blogging in Dutch via

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Welcome to the Dutch Food Initiative, but persevere now! Let go of the old and create the future in Open Innovation.

On September 30th it was announced that TNO Food is moving to Wageningen to merge with FBR (WUR). The new center (sic!) carries the working title “Dutch Food Initiative” and will be the final step in the cooperation between TNO, DLO-FBR and TIFN that started in 2015 under the pressure (or was it inspiration?) of the Top sector Agri & Food.

According to the press releases about 50 TNO-employees will be transferred to DLO, I hope with the cooperation of the work councils of both organizations. I shouldn’t call them DLO anymore, because recently the name has been reformed to Wageningen Research. The latter seems logical, the name of the university being Wageningen University. The cooperation form called WUR has – as far as I know – no legal status, but that won’t be long now.

This fusion (or is DLO simply taking over TNO Food?) has been in the air for at least 15 years. Around 2000 it was already considered, and in the past 10 years the plans have popped up at least twice a year. So yes, fine that after 15 years of doubt the fusion is being effected. Two largely state financed – and on certain elements competitive – research institutes was a bit much for The Netherlands. And now we’ll hope for Economic Affairs to be so wise as to refuse “third parties” to form new state institutes inside the domains of food technology and food health.The state-R&D landscape has after all become too crumpled over the past 15 years.

The state-R&D landscape has after all become too crumpled over the past 15 years.On the sidelines I already hear governments patting themselves on the back: “Look, the golden triangle works!” People who know me a little, know that I find that concept utter nonsense. Hundreds of millions of euros are wasted every year and to the simple question “Which 5 innovations have emerged from TNO or DLO over the past 5 years?” the only answer is silence.


DLO, by which I mean the old practical research, has for decades been at the basis of the Dutch Agri-Food success. But it is no more. Lust for the large European projects that are mostly a money-merry-go-round, elitist thinking focused on fundamental research and an ancient workforce are better descriptions. With employees that by habit “stay put until their pension” there is little creativity, innovation and energy left.

For almost 20 years I’ve been working in this sector, and over 10 years with my partners in a fully private environment. Fortunately we’ve stubbornly decided 10 years ago to start an incubator next to the private R&D. Meanwhile our government has introduced a naïve PPS-policy, without regarding a) the need for high-tech SME, and b) the fact that governments or state institutes are never allowed to compete with private business (see also Commission Cohen, 1998). In 2012 I wrote three articles about this. DLO and TNO are comparable with the public broadcast: a public broadcast cannot compete with a commercial TV-network by broadcasting only popular programs.

In the end the situation has become worse over the past 10 years, something the Dutch food technology sector will duly notice in the coming ten or twenty years. This can be illustrated by the following numbers:

  • At the end of the nineties, about 550 people worked at ATO-DLO (predecessor of FBR-DLO i.e. the new Dutch Food Initiative), now less than 20.
  • At the end of the nineties, about 1200 people worked at Unilever Research in Vlaardingen, now less than 250.
  • About 10 years ago 200 people worked at NIZO, now the staff seems to have diminished to less than 100. They’re not doing very well.
  • The institutes focus more and more on “recipe optimization” (read: less fat and less sugar); new technology research is no longer a real priority.
  • New conservation technology research at WUR has in 10 years’ time produced zero extra insight, products or value. This activity has now completely shifted to private parties. DLO should stop with this, as far as I’m concerned.
  • The agro-mechanical research has been complete “cleared away” (IMAG-DLO). The machine and real technology focus have vanished from WUR and DLO anyway.
  • No appealing innovations have been created by the institutes in the past five to ten years. (Who can come up with 5 appealing examples? Well?)
  • At Heinz Global R&D (Nijmegen) the number of R&D employees has been reduced to between 100 and 125. Kraft Foods R&D USA is also shrinking.
  • Danone R&D: a beautiful new building in Utrecht, but overall less R&D people are employed in comparison to 10 years ago. Currently probably around 100-200 FTE in The Netherlands. Focus lays on food-medical research; naturally a deliberate tactic of Danone.
  • FrieslandCampina R&D: a big new building, but overall less R&D people are employed in comparison to 10 years ago. Currently probably around 200 FTE. Strong focus on the more-with-less strategy (see also Roadmap 2020). Little to no focus on new technology or disruptive other new products.
  • A lot of pilot factories are closed (potato and fries line at FBR, milk line at the University, pilot bakeries at NBC, noticeable shrinkage at pilot-greenhouses in the Westland, less pigs practical research). How can you perform application research or NPD if you don’t have any ‘real’ facilities left?
  • The “food and health / nutrients / dieticians” department of TNO no longer exists. This group has been incorporated in the Food Centre (Voedingscentrum) and afterwards lost in the cutbacks. Who within the Dutch food R&D is still dealing with the recommended daily allowances (RDAs)? Who makes the update for the Vitamin D norm?


I could continue endlessly. Nothing to be happy about.

Innovation isn’t executed through repetitive research, through PowerPoints or reports, through websites or through the training of young talents. Nor is innovation realized either by the efforts of process managers, project leaders or consultants. No, innovation is about ideas, concepts, prototypes, launching customers, startups and markets. What’s necessary for that purpose: creatives, developers and engineers, entrepreneurs, investors and customers with guts.

The new Dutch Food Initiative has the ambition to grow again to 240 FTE, is what I just read. But in fact the number of R&D staff (expressed in FTE) has in the past 15 years been reduced from around 2500/3000 to much less than 800 now. What particularly strikes me, is:

  • that business is paying less and a lot of financing comes from the government;
  • that there is little ROI on this government financing (except well paid and well educated researchers, not especially needed by the market by the way);
  • less technology development (and especially GMV-members yearn for new technology), and much more focus on the applications (often at higher professional level…);
  • less innovative, in-depth and creative fundamental research. More likely ‘engineering bureau’ style services by government institutes;
  • less innovation ( = new products and technologies on the market) resulting in little examples for the multinationals;
  • large scale initiatives in a killing competition with the existing business (think of Algae park and WUR).

Back to the WUR (Dutch Food Initiative). The less competition the better, I say as high-tech entrepreneur and CEO of TOP. The less offerings of R&D, the more request for specialized private companies like TOP bv. So, fine? No, not fine! A country like The Netherlands can only stay on top with very good, creative and fast-paced institutes. Therefore their clients (companies and Economic Affairs) need to crack the whip over the Dutch Food Initiative. Long ago I wrote a 20 point plan for a good R&D ecosystem; that plan is still current I think. The takeover of TNO Food by WUR is a fine first step, but what is needed now is true disruptive innovation and stepping up the pace AND making this knowledge and insight available for free to Dutch business.

The public broadcast and the private channels will go down together if no clear guidelines and appointments are made regarding the role of the public broadcast. This is also valid for the Dutch Food Initiative. By keeping working on the research of back then, this center loses its reason for existence. So become transparent, dare to break off research lines, open the shutters. Involve smart third parties in setting up research lines for the future. In short: put Open Innovation on the agenda. Don’t stick to the past. TNO has got hold of a nice subject with food printing. And biocascading (large scale processing of residual streams) would be a great collective theme. But technologies like AMAP, PEF and HPP don’t belong at Dutch Food Initiative anymore. These old technologies are now rolled out in practice in a way that they should let go of these subjects. In short: Move on! Dutch food Initiative should be at the forefront, no more listening to the top sector with the old mastodons like Unilever, FrieslandCampina, Vion or Greenery.

In short, let go of the old (in which I include people but especially the subjects), be at the forefront (ATO-DLO method 1997-2002!), and in the new economy start to make an Open Innovation program that looks ahead ten years. Involve third parties (I’m available!). And don’t be tempted to do easy research on a practical HBO method. The bar must be raised.

PS: Every creative business developer, every experienced researcher, and every technology developer at TNO and DLO (you may see flowers but you should smell a rat) I would like to ask to come by. This is the moment to switch over to a commercial innovative company. Have you got energy and do you want to move forward? TOP is the place to work for. You may see flowers but you should smell a rat. Be brave, and dare to jump over to a real commercial company. You wouldn’t want to just do your time until your pension now, would you?


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Carbohydrates are balancing item and tubers are limited permitted in #softpaleo food, I think

We can rightly say 2013 is a paleo-year. In 2008 I wrote my first article on this blog. Never before were there so many newspaper articles and books published. Without mentioning paleo or prehistoric diets, Kris Verburgh (The Food Hourglass) and Ralph Moorman (the Hormone Factor, Grocery Coach etc.) wrote rather #softpaleo related books. Both like to refer to the evolution and the fact that genetically speaking we relatively don’t change much. Nature designed our digestion and metabolism to digest food as consumed since the beginning of mankind – about 200,000 years ago. Over the past 50 years our ‘environment’ has experienced huge change, which also explains the “unhealthiness” of modern man.


My father gave me the NRC newspaper article “Man grew up on tubers” by Wim Kohler. I’ve read it with great pleasure. I got the impression that Wim Kohler is making an effort to subvert ‘paleo’ using the “tuber-argument”. He also mentions the controversy amongst the designers of the modern paleo diets. Yes, it’s correct, if you follow Melchior Meijer, Lindeberg, Moorman of Verburgh for a while you’ll always find differences in emphasis that could make you believe there’s a battle of faith going on. I think this image is incorrect. The dietary advice of named experts shows a 90% match. The basis is a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and nuts, a bit of meat, fish and crustaceans. And plenty of (animal) fat. Furthermore there seems to be consensus about resisting wheat products like pasta and bread. And of course all modern nutritionists think we should be very careful with sugar and sugar containing products like sodas. Most of them also advise to minimize the consumption of dairy products (unless limited fermented – I’ll get back to that) to a couple of portions per week.

The newspaper article specifically mentions starchy tubers. To this group belong potatoes, carrots, red beets etc. Wim Kohler states that modern man’s DNA contains up to 18 copies for alpha-amylase (a starch degrading enzyme in our saliva). In short, that we modern man are very well capable of digesting starch. I think nobody will contest this point.  The starchy tubers mentioned earlier form a fine energy source and we modern man can indeed convert starch to (mono) sugars.
Starch from tubers – often with a more favorable glycemic index than bread – forms as far as I’m concerned a good part of our daily nutrition. Potatoes contain RS, vitamin C and fibers. The aforementioned nutritionists will not contest this. But the question is how much carbohydrates do we need and how to limit the intake of carbohydrates in an environment of abundance. Paleo – or let’s call it #softpaleo – is highly suitable for that purpose.

And what about those tubers? These should mainly be eaten in the evening as energy balancing item. If your weight is healthy then you should not lose weight. And after the daily consumption of healthy amounts of proteins (1.2 grams per kilogram bodyweight), lots – and lots – of vegetables in different colors, nuts and some fruit (no more than two pieces), tubers in the evening form a terrific part of your meal. So those are potatoes, carrots etc, but consume these tubers moderately. Just a bit, not too much. Rather tubers than wheat, bread, rice or pasta. #softpaleo is not completely without carbohydrates, maybe only low-carb compared to the food guide pyramid. But #softpaleo is without wheat/bread/pasta and preferably without sugar (so no sugar in your coffee, and no sodas). A healthy #softpaleo food pattern contains carrots and potatoes (sometimes chips😉 ). It’s not without a reason that already three years ago I wrote that a classic Dutch meal is rather healthy.

More about healthy food patterns:
Softpaleo nutritional advice of a chemical technologist specialized in food technology but not trained in nutrition and health

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Tinkebell – SAVE OUR CHILDREN: The (mineral) phosphate case is entirely comparable to the oil case. Let’s learn from it right now!

We live in the penthouse of Maslow’s pyramid, an in this penthouse we have managed to make food cheaper than ever. Perhaps even too cheap, since we throw away about 40% which doesn’t exactly make it very sustainable. We also take oil from the earth for our energy demand, and to enable large scale food production we extract huge amounts of mineral phosphate (mining) which is then turned into fertilizer. That’s why I don’t like food waste and the call for biofuels. The largest global challenges are 1) too many people, 2) too much use of energy/oil/gas, 3) availability of clean drinking and irrigation water, 4) available farmland, 5) lack of phosphate/fertilizer. Version 4 of this PowerPoint has by now had almost 2000 views.

A first analogy between oil and mineral phosphate: it’s better to turn oil into plastic than to burn it for the benefit of heating or transport (= cars). And it’s better to use sunlight (sun panels), wind and tides as new sustainable energy sources. Analog to this energy case you could state that the global supply of mineral phosphate should be used for feeding the world population instead of creating biofuels. And above all we should return all human and animal manure onto the land again.


There is a possible second analogy concerning ‘our collective global consumption’. The larger the growth of the world population, the larger the average consumption per person – thus increasing the use of oil and phosphate per consumption – the larger the problems become (exponentially).

It is with good reason that a couple of years ago my dear friend Katinka and I made a movie “Save Our Children”, which denounces indirectly the growing world population.  Unfortunately in the short term oil and gas will be (too) cheap, resulting in slow progress of the energy transition as well as the phosphate transition. This is why I think our challenge in the 6th Kondratieff Wave will be to be independent of fertilizer or petrol.


  • Source: oil, coal and natural gas
  • Peak: 2020 – 2030
  • Important producers: Middle East, Russia, Norway, …
  • Important consumers: Europe, America, China
  • Medium / Mode of transport: petrol, diesel, kerosene, electricity and hydrogen
  • Objective: transport, heating, technological processes, lighting
  • Alternative sources: wind, sun, tides, …, …
  • Efficiency improvement: LED, electric cars, better insulation, electrify, batteries, …, …


  • Source: (mineral) phosphate
  • Peak: 2040 – 2050
  • Important producers: Morocco
  • Important consumers: Europe, America, China
  • Medium / Mode of transport: animal manure, fertilizer, struvite
  • Objective: growing plants for humans and production animals
  • Alternative sources: algae and seaweed, fermentation of residual flows, humane manure, …, …
  • Efficiency improvement: reduce meat consumption, meat substitutes, reduce food waste, bio cascading, …, …

There will be plenty of people – often to the right of the political spectrum – who say: “Your story isn’t quite accurate!” or “I don’t see a problem yet, why should we act not?” or “Each next generation is entitled to its own problems and our children may solve their own problems”. Whether it is because of my upbringing or my study at the Technical University Delft or not: I believe we have the moral duty to act now. And I believe we have the moral duty not to push too many ‘invoices’ onto future generations. It is with good reason my political thinking is to the green-right side of the spectrum. I am pretty liberal and pro free market thinking, but if it comes down to sustainability or environment or the future of our earth, I think we should have a precautionary approach.

People who think just like me want to ‘do something’. Of course, a better environment starts with you, in short with personal lifestyle adjustments. But collectively this won’t be enough. That’s why I think this is the major task for our politics. The solutions are almost always financial tools. By increasing the price of the source (taxing fertilizer, just like oil) and reducing the price of the alternatives (for instance subsidizing digitate reuse from manure-fermentation). I also think the development of new ‘efficiency technology’ can be stimulated. This also calls for government subsidies AND investment capital out of funds.

I’m preparing a article listing all policies to create a sustainable phosphate future.

Finally, I frequently write about our innovation policy. The objective of innovation policy should be in the longer term sufficient employment in companies and organizations in The Netherlands. These future companies compete in a global market and there must be a demand for their products and services.  ‘Flat’ trade – NL only as transit country – will not generate the necessary added value. So self-production and using our own technology is the first step. Dutch (government) as ‘launching customer’ is a good start. But it would be even better if we come up with revenue models based on technology (machines, software and high value knowledge-based services). That’s why my advice to political The Hague is: Aim for the phosphate transition and especially aim for new phosphate technology. This subject must and can be positioned. In case new top sectors will be re-invented – to which I oppose – it shouldn’t be an energy top-sector nor a water top-sector. In fact, a phosphate top-sector should be established.

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Daan Roosegaarde in the spotlight:  “Not having ideas, but #doing and the right execution directed at impact, that’s what it’s all about.”

On my Facebook page I saw an irritated Daan Roosegaarde walk out of the #CollegeTour interview. That made me curious enough to watch the complete TV broadcast. Almost the entire interview was about a subject that I’m intrigued by: innovation, ideas and #doing. In short: Innovation Management. My big hero Schumpeter described it well, almost fifty years ago, that ideas are often a combination of existing elements, calling them rightfully “neue Kombinationen”. Many of my clients and partners have little creativity and therefor are always looking for the “best idea”. Quite funny, because I think now more than ever there’s an abundance of ideas. Google the internet, or get in contact with other creative minds: a large list of new ideas is quickly found or created. That’s not the issue.


I totally agree with Daan Roosegaarde that only #doing matters. Only the realization of an idea determines the question whether an innovation has truly become an innovation. Without realization there is only a cute development (prototype) or worse: it just remains at “having an idea”. The process from idea to prototype to innovation (hence impact guidance), that’s the essence of good entrepreneurship. Without impact no innovation. And without #doing you’ll never realize the intended impact. That’s why I understand what Daan is doing. And that’s why at TOP BV that is the true mission for our company and all projects we execute: #doing!

Half way through the program – after several times of having dealt with the question about the difference between an innovative idea and a new combination of two existing elements – Daan described it beautifully:

Bowling or Ping-Pong, that’s the question.
A nice big heavy ball that you slowly roll into a corner, hoping something will fall.
I don’t believe in bowling ball anymore.
I believe in Ping-Pong, a tiny ball, rather cheap, but quick in interacting with others, making your story.Being the group that DOES it and starts acting.

It actually is about creating an atmosphere in which clever minds get to it. That’s how you can make a difference. To me, a bowling ball is a metaphor for a lonely researcher or typical inventor wanting to do everything by himself. Often solitaire, focused on knowing even more about the subject, but not creating impact, not #doing. In that context I strongly encourage everyone to read Robert’s Rules of Innovations II, with the terrific subtitle “the art of implementation”: “A correct execution makes the difference, dear scientists and advisors”. Mobilizing and inspiring smart and creative people may well be the most important skills you should have as an entrepreneur. Strong leadership including the right timing for pushing and letting go.

Daan getting mad at the researcher of TU Delft (Bob Ursem) I found rather childish. Maybe he got too emotional or angry and was afraid of losing control. Or maybe that woman in the program was right: “Daan has become Icarus, getting too close to the sun”. He should be unselfish and simply admit that Bob Usem was the original inventor of the idea. He should be on top of it and explain to interviewer Twan why he does what he does. But I do understand his emotion, for it really takes blood, sweat and tears to – against all odds – eventually realize the smog-tower. It costs a lot of energy and money. Nice for bowling ball Bob Ursum to have been at it for 18 years already, but obviously he needed Ping-Pong ball Daan to create the desired (media) impact. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for them being on the stage together, putting each other in the spotlight? That would have been respectful. And Daan should show that kind of grandeur. No, Daan has revealed his true character during this College Tour, in my eyes not showing “strong leadership”.


In another article on internet Daan was compared to Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. Both examples of amazing modern high-tech entrepreneurs. I think this comparison is too much honor for Daan. He is a fine artist who knows how to reach the media. But he definitely is not an entrepreneur (nor does he pretend to be one). What the College Tour program should have focused on, is what is indeed needed to innovate successfully.

It is not science (often just having an idea, and only sometimes a prototype) nor the art/media (with a prototype or art object or media impact) that leads to more entrepreneurship, to more activity and employment. No, it’s the high-tech entrepreneurs that mobilize their teams and get into a DO-mode. It’s also about prototypes and launching customers (the first users or clients). And of course with high-tech entrepreneurship it is about marketing (visibility) and sales. Bob Ursem and Daan Roosegaarde both have some essential skills that, provided these are embedded in a greater team, can lead to success. But both lack other important skills, which they should humbly confess.

I’m disheartened about the future of the present Netherlands in which point-scoring contests to get media impact seem to be the standard. We do indeed see too many narcissists on television and in the papers. Both Daan and Twan are into that. I’m disheartened about the lack of high-tech entrepreneurship in our country (we do need Dutch Steve Jobs’ and Elon Musks). And I’m disheartened by the lack of serious (financial) resources needed to really innovate. This Daan-Twan-College-Tour case shows again the lack of insight and knowledge in journalists, politicians and officials in The Hague about the essence of innovation and high-tech entrepreneurship. That’s where my gloominess origins. Whithout knowledge you can’t direct properly. Without insight and knowledge we will never get to good policy. That’s why I’m disheartened.

Summarized, success needs:

  • A good idea, or even better, a working prototype;
  • A vision on the (latent) market;
  • A fantastic multi-disciplinary team;
  • Strong leadership, especially a boundless amount of perseverance;
  • More than enough financial recourses.

And success in the future should especially lead to:

  • More employment in The Netherlands;
  • Strong (new) companies. Prepare by putting large SME’s in a network;
  • Products and services that make the world more beautiful, more fun and more sustainable;
  • Customers and users.

Where in The Netherlands are the main bottlenecks?

PS: On my Facebook page you’ll already find an active discussion about this subject:

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With a smile: What the Dutch Guideline good nutrition 2025 could look like. #hormonalfactors, #softpaleo, #flexitarian20

Last week the Health Council published her new guidelines good nutrition. The last version of 2006 needed updating, so now we have the 2015 version. The largest improvement, in my opinion, is the shift from ‘substance-thinking’ to nutrition- and food pattern-thinking.

In addition moderation of meat consumption and increase of the consumption of vegetables and fruit is being implemented. Also further moderation of the consumption of alcohol is being advised, and drinking of sugar containing beverages is being discouraged. Fine advice as far as I’m concerned. The advice to specifically eat legumes (I’m in favor!) and also daily a sufficient amount of nuts (also in favor!) I found surprising. I wouldn’t have thought the Health Council would take it that far, simply great.

The margarine-thinking (instead of limited butter) and the recommendation of 90 grams of wholegrain bread (don’t get me wrong; always better than white bread) to my opinion are less conveniently formulated. This also goes for the use of food supplements (I am in favor of D, Magnesium, extra Omega 3 and a multi-vitamin pill for the sentiment) and the advice concerning dairy. But I think that’s just a bridge too far. An advice like this is always intertwined with political considerations, and deviating too far from the 2006 guidelines or from what is customary in The Netherlands could be inconvenient, they must have thought at the Health Council.


Just because it’s a dreary Saturday and inspired by my friend Ralph during an app-session last night, I thought: “What could the advice of the Health Council look like in 10 years’ time?” I expect that advice to migrate more in the direction of #softpaleo (or #hormonalfactor or #paleo 80/20). With a smile I therefor give you a proposal for the Guidelines good nutrition 2025:

The advice 2025 in short

In this advice the Health Council outlines which foods and food patterns lead to health gains. To this purpose the Council has systematically assessed the scientific knowledge about the relation between nutrition and chronical illnesses among which auto-immune illnesses and metabolic syndrome. Foremost we have spoken with experts from the field among which lifestyle coaches. Based on this the new Guidelines good nutrition are formulated:

  • Become a flexitarian, in short eat (fresh) vegetal food and sufficient proteins (animal, vegetal, fish, eggs) food pattern – also called #softpaleo or #hormonalfactor – according to the following guidelines
  • Eat daily at least 300 grams of colored vegetables. 400 grams would be even better.
  • Eat daily about 200 grams of fruit, much more isn’t necessary.
  • Eat legumes a few times a week.
  • Eat daily a limited amount of potatoes or other carbohydrate-rich tubers.
  • Stop eating bread, pasta, rice and other customary carbohydrate sources.
    Modern humans have no need for a big amount of empty-energy sources anymore.
  • Eat about 15 grams of unsalted nut-mix per day.
  • Take a few portions a week of (fermented) fat and protein-rich dairy products.
  • Eat fish once a week, preferably fat fish.
  • Drink daily three cups of tea. And drink more water every day.
  • Use vegetal oil (like olive oil) or fat (like coconut fat), and don’t use margarine. A little butter once in a while won’t do any harm.
  • Replace unfiltered coffee with filtered coffee.
  • During the week alternate the consumption of red meat with white meat and meat substitutes. Limit the consumption of processed meat.
  • Don’t drink sugar containing beverages. One glass a week at a personal feel-good moment is allowed.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, or at least not more than one glass a day.
  • Limit the use of common salt (sodium chloride) to a maximum of 6 grams a day.
  • There is no need for the use of food supplements, yet it is recommended.
    A daily extra dose of vitamin D (2000 IE), Omega3 and magnesium is fine. And a multi-vitamin pill is unnecessary, but won’t harm you either.
  • Love your partner. Kiss on a daily basis and make love several times a week. Grant each other some space and avoid stress. Inspire and support each other. Be positive.
  • Take sufficient exercise on a weekly basis, preferably outdoors. Ride your bike, go for a hike or play sports. Even better: go to the seaside or a lake.
  • Don’t become a health freak or preacher, but inspire your circle: after all you also wish a long and healthy life for your kids, parents and colleagues.
  • Dare to sin against these sensible Guidelines healthy nutrition and occasionally enjoy small portions of scrumptious products.

For comparative purposes you’ll find below a summary of the new advice published by the Health Council last week.

Summary of the 2015 advice according to the Health Council

In this advice the Health Council outlines which foods and food patterns lead to health gains. To this purpose the Council has systematically assessed the scientific knowledge about the relation between nutrition and chronical illnesses. Based on this the new Guidelines good nutrition are formulated:

  • Follow a more vegetal and less animal food pattern according to the following guidelines.
  • Eat daily at least 200 grams of vegetables and at least 200 grams of fruit.
  • Eat daily at least 90 grams of brown bread, whole-wheat bread or other whole-wheat products.
  • Eat legumes every week.
  • Eat at least 15 grams of unsalted nuts per day.
  • Take a few portions a day of dairy products, like milk or yoghurt.
  • Eat fish a few times a week, preferably fat fish.
  • Drink daily three cups of tea.
  • Replace refined wheat products by whole-wheat products.
  • Replace butter, hard margarine and cooking fats by soft margarine, fluid cooking fats and vegetal oil.
  • Replace unfiltered coffee with filtered coffee.
  • Limit the consumption of red meat and especially of processed meat.
  • Drink as little sugar containing beverages as possible.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, or at least not more than one glass a day.
  • Limit the consumption of common salt to a maximum of 6 grams a day.
  • The use of food supplements is not necessary, except for people belonging to a specific group with a supplemental nourishment advice.

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Farmers are ingredient suppliers and should handle the volume knob themselves to control pricing

Three years ago I stated very unpopular “Farmers are no food suppliers. They mainly produce anonymous bulk ingredients, that most of the time are exchangeable. This system looks like the sale of crude oil: several providers, a world market and – unfortunately for the farmers – no OPEC”. Of course this sentence doesn’t seem very empathic. After all we like to look at the farmer as the one who produces our food, we like the romantic image surrounding that. And yet it is true. Proof is the current situation: “again prices are low, too low; and again financial support is demanded from Brussels”. On top of that, to satisfy the electoral constituencies, over-producing farmers receive money from Brussels. Only a limited amount of agro-undertakers has the potention and scale to become an extremely good ingredient supplier, because they can produce against sharp pricing (often at large volumes) and can combine this with good service (and sales).

Let me get straight to the point. Prices per unit being low only has one reason: over-production (= too much volume in the market). Farmers collectively produce simply a little too much. There just is too much, making prices low in a cyclical way and sometimes for a longer period of time even continuously. Most products – meaning most ingredients – of farmers are exchangeable on a European or global market. And where volume-offer is consequently too high (it probably is about a few percent) and the demand is reasonably stable (or sometimes a little lower, think of the Russian boycott), prices per unit of product are strongly reduced. Often even below the manufacturing cost. The farmer then is forced to eat into his assets or to accept a payment for labor lower than the minimum wages. Farming products (being ingredients) simply have a very nasty price-electricity. A little too much supply and prices plummet.

I can hear you think: “No, it’s the supermarkets that squeeze the farmers”. Well, let me enlighten you: that is only partly the case. It’s more a matter of there being NO relation than there being one. The supermarkets mutually rival and will calculate the lowest possible price for their customers. But their supplier rarely is directly the farmer. The suppliers of supermarkets are large central buying organizations (like Greenery), processors (like fresh-cut industry) and food producers (like Unilever or Hak). Most farmers and nurseries sell their products to these suppliers. And as long as they deliver an anonymous bulk-ingredient, the producers (being the farmers and nurseries) will also receive an anonymous (low) price. The intermediary especially looks for constant quality, low price, security of supply and service. When the offer is too large – the current situation – the farmers simply have bad luck.

Another way of thinking is that the supermarkets should ask higher prices from us, their customers, and that this raise in price can be paid to the farmers. The painful reality is that there is no relation between the consumer price in the supermarket, the purchase price of the supermarket and the farmer’s price. Even more so, when the farmer’s prices are low, the processor’s margin tends to rize, something the consumer doesn’t even notice. A good example of this phenomena is FrieslandCampina (FC). The price of raw milk had declined over the past 8 months (this was to be expected since the milk quota is abandoned and farmers are buying more cows and milk more liters per cow), but FC shows nice profits. Other reasons why the price of recourses can’t be correlated to consumer products are: carcase balance, seasonal influences (good or bad weather), sustainability of the agro-resource, the true cost price of processing, etc. etc. Each intervention through consumer prices therefor is pointless. Each political ‘solution’ through VAT or other taxes for food with the goal of getting a fair pride for the farmer is doomed to fail. There is no relation, making intervention nonsense. Supermarket representative Marc Jansen makes a good point on his food log.

In the meantime the financial problems with nurseries and stockbreeders (pigs, cows, chickens) are becoming unsustainable. Farmers quit on a massive scale, which is a very bad development. A strong agricultural sector is of the utmost importance to 1) environment, 2) landscape, 3) food sovereignty and 4) the rest of the economy. But what could be the solution for the farmer? More subsidy? No, I don’t think so, and certainly no production volume increasing measures. Maybe we should give the farmers a basic income? Not very realistic either.

In my opinion there are only three mindsets that can solve the problem of too low prices:

  1. Farmers start (again) to make specialties (think of Tasty Tom)
  2. Farmers start (again) to process their own product to consumer goods (and even sell under new brand names?)
  3. But above all: turn the volume knob. Produce less, collectively.

The key question is how to implement these three advices. Numbers 1 and 2 belong to good entrepreneurship. Maybe 5 to 20 percent of the farmers could or should do something in this direction. However, it needs money, expertise and a big investment, means only owned by few agro-entrepreneurs, and even less entrepreneurs dare to actually implement those means. Besides that, a large part of the initiated innovation projects fails. It’s part of the deal, and that risk should partly be carried by society. Granting innovation subsidy to the farmers for mindsets 1 and 2 could be an instrument. Now Brussel seems to have some tens of millions of Euro’s available. Of course only a drop in the ocean (especially when you relate it to the GMO means; almost 1 billion ‘evaporated’), I’m also pessimistic about the ROI on these tens of millions. Without professional help of food designers, marketers, supply chain experts this will never work (I believe a professional is only an expert when he can prove his experience with a track record). Preferably these externa professionals will share in the risk of the farmer.

But what is the solution? Unfortunately I think there should be a ‘system’ that turns the volume knob (= less production). The farmers’ collective will have to introduce this mechanism which takes the excess volume (when prices are too low) from the market. Now I’m not a fan of re-introducing government purchase schemes. Nor do I like a star quota system. A system in which the farmer’s price is being compensated is also outdated. In the past this has led to large overproductions. In none of the cases I see a role for our government. The sector is hurting themselves, so they should pick up the challenge. I expect a creative solution that will be implemented AND maintained AND paid by the sector itself. And the supermarkets are not ‘guilty’ to the situation (even though they make good use of the low prices, and I can’t blame them) and I don’t see a large role for them in creating solutions.

These kind of complex adaptive problems (CAS, also see cynefin model) should be tackled by multiple partial solutions. The framework can be found here: “Blueprint for grand design”. The big boys should fend for themselves, but will have to apply some extra environmental and animal care demands. The smaller entrepreneurs can be supported if they want to go “unique” (see 1 and 2). The entrepreneurs have to take the initiative.

Our government could play a role with:

  • Prevention of non-sustainable goods entering the EU. Battery cage chickens are prohibited, so import of those should also be prohibited.
  • Prevention of EU subsidy being used to implement more agricultural area or processing. This was the cause for the current problems.
  • Assist at constructing a ‘volume reducing system’ with the sector (LTO) in the lead of these projects, instead of government or ministry.
  • Bend subsidy into income support (basic salary?) and only for countryside maintenance (nature!)
  • Reduce the use of fertilizer by increasing its import fees, promoting the reuse of animal manure, and increasing the price of cattle feed shipped into the (Rotterdam) harbor from outside Europe.

Seeing the big picture, getting the system, understanding that there are only a lot of partial solutions. And partial solutions shouldn’t be naïve, turn down the volume knob, but do it directly. It’s so simple. Or is it time for a European food-OPEC?

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About the AH colouring resolution and lazy food technologists

Cheaper and more with less seems to result in a dead-end street. Therefor the call for added value – an other word for innovation – is logical. In this process I follow the  principal of “keep moving”, quickly develop ideas into prototypes, market them and adjust them based on the first reactions of the market. The major movement seen in society at the moment is, as I see it, less “chemical”, more fresh and as much products with recognizable ingredients as possible (call it natural).

An example:Albert Heijn recently asked her suppliers to refrain from using colouring from the ‘Southampton Six’. Innovation, that’s the key. As a scientist I think this is premature. These six individual colourings are probably innocent (which doesn’t mean I declare candy with these colourings healthy!) though there is sufficient substansive discussion about the Southampton research method.

Yet I do understand AH, even more so: I think it is a brave and wise decision. My own circle, me included, do wish for a less complexity in an already complex society. Next to that there are sufficient reasons to take the results of scientific research with a scoop of salt. Food and health are complex matters in which ‘scientific certainties’ from the past all too often proof to be not so certain.

The food sector shows too many characteristics of the banking sector. Products got so complex that nobody knows exactly where they’re at, nor gets the effect on the whole picture. Food and health research to combination-effects – concerning ‘health’ and ‘non-health’ of ‘particles’ – is taking its first steps. And especially the long term effects of ‘cocktails’ are unknown.

As an innovator I therefor say: “accept this new reality”, and react to it. After all, we don’t develop products for scientists, but for modern consumers. A few years ago I described the use of chemical ingredients or adjuvants as non-creative. Product developers taking the ‘chemical’ route I called ‘easy’ and ‘lazy’.

The AH colouring resolution will hopefully incite us food technologists to become more creative again. If the market enforces restraints, we will have to think of alternative solutions that do fit these new outlines. Consumers deserve products that fit within that new reality. My advice as a marketeer for manufacturers is mainly to look closely at the possibilities of new non-chemical processing technology based on physical principles (pressure, electricity, diffusion, etc.). Natural high-tech food without the use of ‘chemical’ forms a growing market.