European agri-food trends worth keeping an eye on

As we look ahead to pave the way for innovation in the agri-food system, BGI has gathered 4 top European trends to keep an eye on.

Around 4.5 million people are part of the European agri-food industry. In Portugal, the agricultural sector is responsible for employing around 281 thousand people, and has more than 39 thousand companies, of which 97% are micro and small companies - according to data from Banco de Portugal. The agri-food sector is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Portugal and the EU, and it continues to grow and innovate. New ideas flourish and new startups are born to further revolutionise this sector, which long ago stripped away the image of the elderly farmer leaning on a stick.

However, as agri-food undergoes an intense process of modernization, there is a need to understand the influences that drive the transition from the food system to a healthier and more sustainable one.

Discover 4 trends you should keep an eye on, if you are a player in this sector or aspire to be part of it in the near future.

1. Regenerative farming practices

More large-scale farms and corporations will begin to adopt regenerative farming practices.

Regenerative agriculture aims to improve soil health, reversing the effect of environmentally unfriendly agricultural practices used in the past, and increasing biodiversity and productivity in agricultural fields. This has been and will continue to be one of the main trends in the sector, as increased awareness and financial incentives have resulted in greater acceptance of these practices by large-scale companies and farms in 2022.

Philip Fernández, Agricultural Project Manager at EIT Food and guest speaker at our upcoming i-Danha Food Lab Annual Event 2022, points out that farm owners are increasingly aware of the benefits of regenerative agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture has gone from being a ‘marketing strategy’ to becoming a real solution to current unsustainable food production models. By restoring the environment, and increasing biodiversity and food quality, producers at all levels, from smallholder farmers to large corporations, are starting to explore and transition to regenerative agriculture practices. - Philip Fernández, Agriculture Project Manager at EIT Food

2. Alternative proteins

The market for alternative proteins - especially meat alternatives - will continue to gain space.

New players are working to perfect alternative proteins and ensure a wide range of meat-free products on supermarket and restaurant menus. In addition, more and more consumers are choosing to reduce their meat consumption and replace it with plant-based food options, even those who may not consider themselves vegetarian or vegan. According to the Smart Protein pan-European survey, 46% of consumers surveyed in 10 European countries have already reduced their meat consumption.

In addition to plant-based substitutes, more space is given to new alternatives that do not harm animals, such as "cultured meat" - a type of real meat produced in the laboratory directly from animal cells. These products are not vegan, vegetarian or plant-based, but real meat, made without the animal.

3. Younger people’s role

Younger generations will play an active role in shaping the way we think about the environment and food.

While current generations ask themselves "what kind of world will we leave behind for our young people to live in?", another important question would be "what kind of young people will we leave behind to live on the planet?". And the truth is, "Never before has a generation been so proactive in the way we think about food and the environment," said Food Systems Champion Mike Khunga.

Tomorrow's youth will inherit a planet that will be four degrees warmer, with serious consequences for the air they breathe and the quality of the food they produce. Aware of this, Gen Z demands a seat at the decision-making table. Youth environmental activism has received attention in recent years, with figures such as Greta Thunberg. Furthermore, a survey commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) reported that nearly half of young people surveyed from 23 European countries said they considered "global warming" one of humanity's most serious problems. Also "environmental degradation" ranked second on the list of top concerns with 44%.

In 2022 and 2023 we are likely to see more young people starting innovative agri-food businesses, as well as new youth movements in the food, climate and health space.

4. Environmental Labelling

This year and next, we are likely to see more food brands implementing ecolabel initiatives.

According to data from the European Commission, since March 2022, the total number of licences has been increasing. Likewise, most EU eco-labeled products have seen an increase in the number of licences and products granted, which shows a growing interest in green products from businesses, citizens and retailers. In September 2022, 2,270 licences were granted for 87,485 products (goods and services) on the EU market.

In addition, consumers are also more concerned about product labelling. The EIT Food Trust Report 2020 already demonstrated this concern, noting that consumers care about the quality and safety of food, and are concerned about confusing and misleading claims on food labels. So there will be more room for improvement this year and beyond.

(Text adapted from EIT Food)

Paving the way for agri-food innovation in Portugal

There is still a lot to be explored in the Portuguese food sector, but BGI and an ambitious network of academic and business partners are creating opportunities to innovate this sector. One of the initiatives has been implemented since 2016 in the Municipality of Idanha-a-Nova: i-Danha Food Lab.

One of the most pressing agri-food challenges in Portugal is the recruitment and retention of talent in rural areas, so back in 2016, the Municipality of Idanha-a-Nova challenged BGI to combat desertification in the region and place Idanha-a-Nova at the forefront of healthy and sustainable food production. This is how the i-Danha Food Lab project was born, aimed at creating opportunities from the rural environment of Idanha to the world.

Many results are already in sight, namely the creation of jobs, the attraction of national and foreign investment; the implementation of programs, events and pilot projects in the territory; and the opening of the collaborative laboratory Food4Sustainability, an auspicious result of the i-Danha Food Lab.

i-Danha Food Lab annual Event 2022 by BGI

This year, i-Danha Food Lab will have its annual event from November 4th to 6th. BGI, Food4Sustainability, EIT Food and the Municipality of Idanha-a-Nova will take all stakeholders from the agri-food sector on an incredible journey in a historic and exclusive train to the village of Monsanto (Idanha-a-Nova) to celebrate these and other achievements, share knowledge and discover new opportunities for the sector. We invite you all to come aboard this Innovation Train! (Tickets available here).

Also read: The paperless office: our 3 tips to go paperless

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