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20 March 2017

Can Sweden become a leader in optimizing supply chains of food products?

Rapid population growth is by no means a food security challenge. At the same time, the fact that there might be 9 billion people in the world by 2050 is also an opportunity to create sustainable solutions for the food industry and develop new business models. For Sweden, with its big food imports and high consumption, the stakes to turn food security challenges into opportunities are high. One way to do that is to increase resource efficiency.

The new report by The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) and some representatives of the Swedish and international food industry, such as Unilever Food SolutionsAxfood and Tetra Pak Nordics, makes a comprehensive evaluation of food supply chains in Sweden. The report is part of a project on resource-efficient business models and offers ways to optimize the use of resources along the supply chains of the food industry. With the vision of making Sweden the leading nation in resource efficiency, the report defines objectives and proposals for an action plan.

The team who worked on the report takes the planetary boundaries framework as a rationale for setting benchmarks for improving the resource efficiency of food production. Staying within the planetary boundaries can be achieved by establishing circular material flows, replacing the linear material flows that dominate today’s food systems. 

Circular approach also offers synergies between resource flows, encourages the use of resource-efficient materials and thus, increases demand for materials with higher utilization rate. As an example, the report introduces a zero-tolerance policy against untapped food waste throughout the food chain – from primary production to consumption, by the year 2050.

Challenges for resource efficiency

Yet, it is a long way to go till full resource efficiency is achieved, and there are a few obstacles to overcome. The major shortcoming stated in the report is a lack of knowledge about what happens in the Swedish food value chain processes. Such knowledge is necessary for identifying resource loss due to inefficiency. The IVA project team made an analysis of the entire Swedish food value chain – from primary production to consumption and recovery. This analysis revealed that low price on food is one of the main reasons of why a lot of food is wasted each year. Another important discovery is a lack of information sharing among stakeholders in the industry, which makes it difficult to identify potential problems and opportunities.

Finally, the report draws attention to the political support that is needed for the Swedish food industry to become more sustainable and competitive. Providing an enabling environment in the form of policies and legislation would equip the industry with a better framework for higher resource efficiency. The report also suggests to identify and create instances in both the industry and the government, which would be responsible for monitoring resource efficiency.

Overall, despite the challenges, the prospects of the Swedish food industry to become more sustainable and competitive are high. And they can be realized with better incentives.

IVA’s report on the Swedish food industry contains many more suggestions, specific objectives and business models. You can find the full report here!

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences

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