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Mike Watkins. The consumer of the future will only purchase fresh food for immediate consumption

Economy / -

Mike Watkins nielsen intervista

Watkins explains how this Universal Exposition is an opportunity for companies to increase their social responsibility; through a revolution that is already underway.

With his participation in Expo Milano 2015 in a debate on the changes of food internationally, Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight for Nielsen, explained how in the future supermarkets will become smaller and less impersonal. "The consumer is becoming more demanding and tending to purchase more online and is much less loyal to the label or brand and more attentive to healthy products, with a constant demand for fresh food for immediate consumption." How will businesses respond? According to Watkins, in the next five years we will see the biggest change ever experienced in selling models.
 
Italy is the home of good food and Slow Food. But there is no track record of success in gourmet e-commerce. What do you think is the reason for this? Is it because we Italians are not keeping up with the times, or maybe because we need to see and touch the food that we buy?
From my point of view, it is only a matter of time. The data in our possession shows that in France and in the UK food purchases online are increasing. Although it is true that compared to Italy these countries have a highly developed network of major distributors. But I am sure that the Italian market has great potential for the future, mainly because of its variety of products at the regional level, which should be highlighted  highlighted.
 
At the ANCC – Coop seminar in Expo Milano 2015 in June, you spoke of the supermarkets of the future. Will there still be room for products with special labels, such as those that indicate the Carbon Footprint?
 
Consumers are showing interest in new directions on the possible source of the goods, that are simple and easily understood. A concrete example is "Food miles", which shows the distance traveled by a food product from the place of cultivation to the point of final distribution. This information is taken into account by consumers today, and it is said that in the future the same thing will happen with the Carbon Footprint.
 
How can Expo Milano 2015 affect the future of businesses and consumers? How can companies improve their contribution to society?
I think that this Universal Exposition will be a watershed moment for the business world. Expo Milano 2015 is a key moment on the debate on the role of the agri-food companies, especially for the development of social responsibility which commits companies to contribute to the growth of social concerns. Also more and more companies will finance the development of programs for nutritional education.
 
We’ve talked about the future and consumer behavior. Where do you go to the grocery store? Small markets or the supermarket?
As a citizen, I do the shopping for the family like everyone else. With the ways that I think will be common to all in the coming years, I only put the products in my cart that our family needs for up to three days, so that we always have food that is fresh; and I purchase food in various specialty stores, not all together in one place, so as to have a guarantee of quality.
 
 
 

Famine and its causes. History of an economic theory that saves lives

Economy / -

amartya sen storia teoria economica salvavita
© Steve Raymer/CORBIS

Famine. Economists define it as a serious and prolonged decrease in the availability of food in a given geographical area, resulting in an increased death rate and a birth rate and population and its sub-groups in decline. The children of Biafra define it with its effects: hunger.

Famine is not far off, whether we are leafing through the history books or through atlases. And the numbers, particularly in more recent times, are astounding.

In the 18th century there were sixteen periods of widespread food scarcity in France alone. In modern Europe the last great famine plagued Ireland (1816-17, 1846-47) and the Soviet Union (1921-22, 1932-33). Among the non-European countries, the most affected were India (1838, 1861, 1866, 1869, 1874, 1876-78, 1897, 1899-1901, 1943, 1965-66); China (1877-78, 1887-89, 1916, 1929-30, 1959-61); Congo (1960-61); Ethiopia (1973-74 and 1984-85); Bangladesh (1974); and North Korea (1995-99).
 
The most tragic famines of the last 100 years, perhaps, were those that exploded between 1959 and 1961 in China where between 15 and 30 million people died from hunger and related causes. Likewise, in 1943, over 3 million people died in Bengal, India and 2.5 million people in North Korea.
 
The economic analysis of the Bengal famine of 1943
Something has changed, however, in understanding the mechanisms that trigger these conditions. In 1977, Amartya K. Sen wrote Starvation and exchange entitlements: a general approach and its application to the Great Bengal Famine. The Indian economist was the first to note that the reduction in food availability per capita does not satisfactorily explain the waves of famine in an economy of exchange and can be refuted by empirical data. The current supply of rice and other food grains in 1943, Sen points out, was not much lower than in earlier years. There was then a lack of statistical testing of the assumption of a trend of excessive population growth rate in underdeveloped countries compared food production trends.
 
Instead, Sen noted that virtually every known famine has decimated a number of working groups (agricultural workers, fishermen, artisans and barbers in Bengal; agricultural workers in Bangladesh; agricultural workers and shepherds in Ethiopia), and focused heavity on what he has called "securities exchange", i.e. the individual's opportunity to exchange goods with other food. In fact, his case study showed inflationary pressures typical of a war economy and the wave of hoarding caused by a fear of price increases causing violent alterations in the possibility of exchange of labor or of other goods with rice, which was the main food staple. In short, certain groups used their economic power to handle a large amounts of food, snatching them from the lower classes.
 
The inadequacy of income
The World Bank, in the World Development Report of 1980, developed a thesis based on the famines of Ethiopia (1973-74) and Bangladesh (1974) that they were caused not by a decrease in the average amount of available food per capita but by local decreases in income from agricultural work.
 
Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998. Now, everyone knows that the inadequacy of income is by far the main cause of malnutrition and its credibility outstrips the cruel Malthusian-inspired theory that lack of food is due to an increase in population. WIth it Amartya Sen gave economists and legislators around the world a new tool with which to study world hunger. Understanding its causes, as with any disease, it is a fundamental step towards eradicating it.
 

Decentralization is the next wave of sustainable growth in food production

Innovation / -

David Orban decentralizzazione

A new wave of technologies and global communication are benefiting decentralized and distributed organizations that are outcompeting centralized and hierarchical ones.

In our quest to feed an increasing worldwide population, through the industrial revolution of the 19th century and the green revolution in industrial agriculture a few decades ago, the tendency has been to centralize. Monocultures, ever larger consolidated developments, industrial scale meat production or fisheries have been the winning recipe to follow. While achieving unprecedented levels of output, this has occurred at the cost of a very high environmental impact, and of a fundamental vulnerability in the supply chain. Hybridized wheat needs increasing amounts of pesticides to be effectively protected, and its cultivation puts pressure on soil, water supply, and impoverishes the ecosystem. When a new infection occurs, the entire production is imperiled, as there is no naturally happening variability and the population is exposed in total to the damage. This is what is happening to banana cultivation, for example, where fungal infections are spreading worldwide, made radically more harmful by the propagation of banana trees by cloning, where each tree is equally unequipped to counter them.
 
Solar Energy
The availability of new technologies, and our capacity to rapidly learn their positive effect in agriculture and food production through global communications, is now showing a possible alternative both in terms of crop variety, and in terms of organization of cultivation. Solar energy of course has been forever the fundamental driver of cultivation through plant photosynthesis. What will happen when, as it soon going to be possible, agriculture will switch to solar powered machines and solar power based fertilizer production? Its decentralized nature will transform the way farming is done at any scale.
 
Manufacturing, the collection and application of knowledge, finance, and many other areas are showing similar shifts that point towards decentralized and distributed networks being implemented both at local and global levels. 3D printing, vertical farming, urban gardening, online learning, modern financial instruments implemented via cryptocurrencies are some of the examples of this development.
 
Network Society
This set of simultaneous technologies is growing exponentially, with the common feature of being decentralized, and organized in a network. This contrasts with the centralized and hierarchical organization of today’s traditional society and its basic functions. The shift from the old to the new structure will subject the Nation State and its supporting pillars to an unprecedented pressure. The Network Society Project creates a vision and analytical tools to allow individuals, enterprises and the society at large to deal positively with this unstoppable change. (Full disclosure, the author is the founder of Network Society Research Ltd, the London-based global nonprofit behind the Network Society Project and its studies).
 
As we shift from centralized to decentralized solutions, the change is going to be complex. A major challenge is in adapting the rules and regulations that tend to favor the established solutions, at the cost of delaying the adoption of new, potentially more effective ones. With the standard precautionary justification of consumer protections, lobbies interested in preserving the status quo dominated by incumbent industry players are effective in swaying policymakers’ to stop the progress, or to proceed with excessive caution. However, if we learn how to embrace the change and rapidly test evolving solutions that incorporate new approaches, the emerging organization is going to be able to create resilient, sustainable societies that allow individuals to thrive.
 
 

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