World Nutrition Forum: The future starts now

Here is an article reporting about the World Nutrition Forum held recently in Austria.

It presents the future of animal productions quite along the same lines as I think.

Efficiency, innovation and location will become the key components for the future.

Efficiency will act as a “natural selection” between the species farmed, as an increasing need for protein combined with a limited volume of feedstuffs and water will decide what productions can grow the most and which ones might not be able to do so. Poultry is definitely a winner thanks to its low feed conversion ratio and to its relatively high water use efficiency, pork is uncertain, and cattle will have the toughest time, although cattle is the only production that can transform cellulose into animal products, so the production systems will likely change and offer a different kind of future for beef.

Location of production will follow the location of the consumer markets. With a population increasing strongly, as well as their standard of living is improving, Asia will become a very active production area. This probably will also be the result of a need to reduce transport costs, as well financially as environmentally speaking.

Innovation, as I have mentioned in previous articles, will be a key driver for the future of animal feed and of animal productions. I am quite glad to read that the industry is fully aware of this need, and also that they see their future in “creating value” more than just “cutting costs”.

Although the conclusions of this forum are quite encouraging and positive, the next step might be the challenging one: how to turn these great ideas into systems that will work and will ensure the long term future of the production side as well as of the consumption side? It will all be in the proper planning and execution that this will succeed.

Rabobank: Sourcing grains critical in animal feed-to-food chain

This is an article from World-Grain.com about a report from Rabobank on their outlook of a growth for meat of 50% between now and 2025 and its consequences on feed-to-food value chains.

Albert Vernooij, author of the Rabobank report ‘Changing Industry Landscapes’ says “The global feed-to-food value chain has switched from being supply driven with a long-term sustainable share for each link in the chain, to being demand driven. This is placing the retail and food service sectors in the leading positions, and farmers and abattoirs (slaughterhouses) have become the weaker links”.

Certainly the retail and food service, because they are the closest to the final consumer have the best position to connect to market demand, but I disagree with his statement that the value chains are demand driven. Most of meat products are commodities and retailers and food service companies buy at the lowest price a rather undifferentiated product. Most slaughterhouses and farmers are still purely production driven, or more accurately put, volume and cost driven, instead of being profit and niche driven. Only very few value chains are really market driven, although most are marketing driven, but that is not quite the same.

If we are what we eat, what will we eat in the future?

The past 50 years have seen, at least in the Western world, the development of the consumption society. The emphasis has been on consuming always more, by having an apparently unlimited quantity of increasingly cheaper consumption goods available. This trend happened in the agriculture and food sectors just as well, and followed a rather simple patter, actually. Mass consumption has been coupled to mass production, thanks to intensification, technical and technological progress and, last but not least, marketing.

Junk foodTechnical progress improved yields and productivity, while marketing was aimed at creating more, and new, needs. Our food has become standardized, industrialized, and processed in a wide variety of forms. As the emphasis moved to lifestyle and convenience, which came along with the rise of mass distribution, cheap energy and suburbia, we lost the connection between ourselves, the origin of our food and nature. Food became just things you buy at the supermarket, already packed in plastic and cardboard.

Now, we have come to the realization that this high production of waste, be it packaging material, be it blemished product that do not look good anymore while still perfectly edible, be it the overproduction of manure and its minerals, or be it the massive use of antibiotics and pesticides is not sustainable. Of course, much progress has already done to reduce this waste and there is a growing trend towards organic and traceable, but at this stage it not clear yet whether this is a true change in our behavior or whether it has more to do with a social status and marketing issue.

However, what the current situation might be, the fact that we understand that we cannot keep on intensifying and wasting the way we did, will inevitably bring a more fundamental change in how we consume in the future.

Some people predict such changes as the astronaut diet made out of pills, the use of a computer to tell us what and how much of it we should eat based on our activity level, or the tissue culture to replace meat, and many other scenarios. Will any of those ever happen? Who knows?

Personally, I believe that food as a very strong psychological connotation. We associate food with experiences and, although there are differences between cultures, that emotional bond will stay.

Clearly, the consumption society with all its excesses is coming to its end, and maybe the current economic crisis, which also originated in the excess of having it all at any cost, could very well be the turning point.

The next evolution is probably going to be a balanced approach between consumption, which we need to some extent, and the necessity of preserving what keeps us alive. There will be different graduations of this balance between geographic regions, but sustainability is the only way forward, as I mentioned in my previous article (Sustainability: as natural as balance).

Intensification is showing its limitations, waste of manure and of packaging are also hitting a wall, energy is getting more expensive and makes the production and the transport of food more expensive, too. This will reshape how we want to consume our food, how and where it is produced, how it is presented to us.

Cattle feedlotWe still are in a society where some people get obese by eating lots of food as quickly as they can, while they have less physical activity than the previous generations, thanks to automation. That food is produced on intensive farms and feedlots where the animals grow and fatten as quickly as possible, as they eat lots of food, while not having much physical activity. Similarly, in our society meat producers use hormones to boost growth and carcass quality, while body builders and sport professionals use steroids and growth hormone to boost their performance. Interesting similarities, don’t you think? We are indeed what we eat.

So, in a conservation society, should we expect the farms to be led by the need to preserve? This almost sounds like the farms we had at the beginning of the twentieth century. I think that there will be some of it, but the efficiency of production as well as the efficiency of preserving the environment will be much better, thanks to new technologies. We will have high yields, and at the same time, we will have highly efficient systems to use water, to recycle waste and preserve the fertility of our soils and the balance of our oceans.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

The PR and the reality about earth-friendly production

On Earth Day, Meat & Livestock Australia unveiled its campaign about the eart-friendly character of their production (see the article).

One can wonder if this concept is more about PR and rethoric than it is about true higher standards. Hopefully it is, but since there is quite a bit of space in the production areas, planting a few trees and leaving areas for wildlife habitat does not really seem like a particularly challenging task. Unless the impact on the environment can be monitored and tangible results can be shown over time, this could just be no more than a marketing approach to ask a few pennies for their meat without changing the cost structure. The market will decide.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Canada’s meat, grain sectors eye EU trade

This is an interesting article, that shows that when you want to be market-driven, opportunities will come your way.

Here is the story of Canadian beef that might be sold in the EU, if the producers are willing to change their production system (by going hormone-free). While this means higher production cost, the sales price that they get makes them actually make a higher profit margin.

Story at http://www.nationalpost.com/related/topics/story.html?id=1658785

Value chains are a great way to develop a niche

In the food production world, just like in other business sectors, there are been two major successful strategies.
One is to produce a non-differentiated commodity at the lowest cost possible. The number of units compensates what is lost in margin per unit.
The other is to produce a limited and controlled volume, and to market it to people who will pay a premium for it as they see an added value in the product.
So far, nothing too revolutionary here.
Generally, other strategies seem to have failed, either because the niche started to expand too much and was losing its specificity. The product becomes something of a better commodity, but not a specialty anymore. More players start to enter the niche and very quickly, the margin per unit drops and so does profitability. The deathblow generally comes when people start to try to counter this decreasing margin by cutting costs in the wrong places, quality being the most obvious.
The mass commodity producers, who try to create an artificial differentiation, by creating an illusion of specialty, cause another type of failure. This marketing tactics usually fails because the difference is mostly an illusion and the customers realize that quickly.

Value chains are very useful for smaller producers who want to market a good superior product.
Often, they are local producers with limited resources. They know how to produce well, but they miss the marketing arm or the industrial arm of the value chain that they are in.
On the other hand, also at the local level, there are other businesses that have the other links of the chain, but that have no production of their own.
When these players join forces and truly collaborate to offer to the right type of customers the type of product that is right for them, the value chain can become very successful. In a previous article, there is a presentation of the Angus Beef story, which also started in such a way.
In order to be successful, a value chain needs a number of basic elements.
The product must indeed differentiate itself by recognizable and superior physical characteristics. Over time the mystique will be created, but do not expect to sell hot air for very long.
The partners need to indeed be partners and play together. This is a critical part of such a joint venture. The worst thing that can happen is a lack of commitment, or worse one of the partners trying to force his own agenda before the common interest. The most successful partnerships come from a balance of power between the parties involved, and also by the necessity of interdependence, as they all should miss – and not be able to easily replace – the other parts of the puzzle.
Another key element is the will to pursue, as very often, and mostly in the early stages, the progress will meet many setbacks. This discipline needs to be applied and someone must fill this role, to constantly enforce the quality specifications and all agreements that are need and made to make the value chain succeed.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.