Building a More Resilient Food System in the Time of COVID-19
The Coronavirus pandemic has managed to infect almost every aspect of society, uncovering vulnerabilities in our country’s infrastructure and raising important questions about life as we know it.
The U.S. food system was devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 health crisis, as an already delicate balance between production and consumption became completely decoupled. Many of us visited our local grocery stores during this time, only to find aisles completely barren of produce, meat, and non-perishables. Simultaneously, acres of produce were left to rot, livestock were euthanized when farmers could no longer afford feed, and meat was left unprocessed after slaughterhouses became plagued by coronavirus.
The problem: a stark disconnect between supply and demand. Despite increasing demand for food at grocery stores, a rigid and convoluted supply chain prevented farmers from pivoting their revenue streams from restaurants to grocery stores, leading to an overwhelming increase in food waste. This problem was further exacerbated by the fact that grocery stores operate with carefully calculated inventories, preventing grocers from having large inventories of food items at any given time. Food options available through restaurants, schools, hotels, and amusement parks contribute to the 50% of meals Americans eat outside of their homes, on average. As Americans made an overnight transition to home-cooked meals, serious stress was placed on an already fragile food system.
While the shortcomings of the food system have become incredibly apparent, they were not born in the era of COVID-19. Rather, the globalization of our food system has gradually led to a weakening of our supply chains. Consumers demand that seasonal produce be available year-round, placing immense pressure on farmers, processors, distributors, and other stakeholders to get the products to market quickly. This demand has contributed to the creation of supermarket giants and corporate consolidation as all parties work to make food options from around the world available 365 days a year. To accommodate this globalization, the supply chain for food products has been forced to grow in increasingly vast and complex ways.
The good news? The COVID-19 crisis not only revealed where there is waste in the food system, but accelerated consumer and corporate trends toward a more flexible, resilient, and transparent food system. The flaws in our modern food chain are now clear; The 2050 Company is working to find the solutions.
Increasingly, consumers are demanding that their food products be made from simple, recognizable, whole-food ingredients. Consumers want to know what is in the food that they are eating, and where it came from. The bottom line is simple: customers want to believe in the products they buy. Simple ingredient lists that are ethically and sustainably sourced are a reflection of consumer values and an extension of the consumer’s identity. The 2050 Company hopes to continue to foster a relationship of transparency with its customers by creating clean label products made from ingredients that have been given a second chance. Simple ingredient lists have the power to simplify a complex food system through the redirection of primary food waste streams.
Health and Function
The demand for food that improves one’s well-being is also expected to continue to increase. Consumers are interested in products with functional benefits, such as gut health or boosted energy, and therefore lean towards natural ingredients. Consumers have also become weary of food additives and preservatives, making locally sourced food ingredients appealing. The 2050 Company seeks to source the majority of the produce used in our first smoothie products from Washington state, shortening the company’s supply chain while also building key partnerships with local farmers. Additionally, the powdered fruit smoothies are packed with key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and inflammation.
A recent survey conducted by Yale and Earth Day Network reported that more than half of Americans are open to incorporating more plant-based alternatives into their diets. Additionally, almost 20% of Americans identify themselves as plant-forward, meaning that they prefer 70% of their meals to be entirely plant-based. This market trend has the potential to stabilize a food system that is currently paling in the face of climate change. As consumers become more open to plant-focused diets, livestock-related carbon emissions within the food system will naturally fall. However, despite a recent focus on the impact of meat on our planet, an overwhelming amount of worldwide food waste consists of fruits and vegetables. Without a remedy, the food system will remain as it stands, fragile to disruption and far from sustainable. The 2050 Company seeks to redirect food waste by offering an alternative that preserves the nutritional contents of the produce while transforming it into a product with a more permanent shelf-life.
Our final trend is perhaps the most noticeable to consumers sheltering in place during the pandemic. The demand for nonperishable foods is higher now than any other time in recent history. Long lasting products help to limit the number of trips consumers must take to the grocery store, while also reducing food waste related to spoilage. The 2050 Company transforms perishable produce into a product with an extended shelf-life without sacrificing food storage space. While many food manufacturers have turned to artificial preservatives to achieve longevity, we are able to use specialized drying technology to reach a year-long shelf life with zero additives. Customers can enjoy the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables they love year-round, while reducing waste and freeing up freezer for other foods.
When leveraged strategically, these market trends have the potential to revolutionize a food system in need of serious reform. The 2050 Company is positioned to meet these market demands head-on and deliver products that customers can benefit from and believe in. Resiliency of the food system and the variety of food products should not be mutually exclusive. Perhaps consumer needs and environmental needs can be satisfied with the same simple, yet innovative food solutions.
Julia Lanoha recently graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a Master’s in Bioengineering and is interested in pursuing a career that allows her to focus on addressing patient access to healthcare. She firmly believes that public health and environmental health are inherently intertwined and is passionate about sustainability efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.