The opportunity to think about the future, imagine what’s ahead and place our individual actions within its scope is provided by democracies operating on the basis of trust and future consciousness.
In the context of climate change, future-oriented thinking is more important than ever before. While the histories of the Nordic and Baltic regions differ, their future in terms of bio-based economies, value chains and caring for biodiversity is the same. Therefore, joint exercises in imagining a shared regional future are of the utmost importance in increasing the wider Nordic and Baltic region’s level of integration.
The Future Trends of Food in the Nordic-Baltic Region project was based on this rationale of a jointly imagined future of food for the Nordic and Baltic region. Instead of concentrating on regional differences, this project aimed to find common ground for a future based on inclusivity, transparency, co-creation and society’s ability to shape a sustainable future together.
The project, consists of three parts: a hackathon for startups (futureoffood.eu), several Nordic-Baltic research projects (Megatrends and survey on Covid-19’s impact on consumers) and a publicity campaign to share the results. Its aim is to benefit entrepreneurial minds in the Nordic-Baltic region and serve as a baseline for discussions among policy makers and in broader society.
Thinking about the future essentially means thinking about sustainability.
Riga and Copenhagen, 2020
This book uses megatrends as a way to reflect on the future of food in the Nordic-Baltic region.
Here, futures thinking is understood as an informed reflection on the major changes that will occur in the coming decades in all areas of society. While megatrends are just one of many tools in the future consciousness toolkit, this method proves valid when determining the general direction of the future of food. It consists of several phenomena or a wide-ranging process of change and includes understanding tensions, weak signals and how the trend is formed. The methodology used in this study is based on work developed by Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, which is a leading voice in the megatrends space in the Nordic-Baltic region.
Eight specific megatrends influencing and influenced by Nordic-Baltic food systems are developed and discussed in depth here. A short summary of each is provided below.
We’re living in the fourth industrial revolution — Industry 4.0 — where practices will be intimately connected with knowledge, and knowledge will create practices.
New technologies combined with digital innovations will make it possible to engage with longstanding societal, environmental and economic issues. Furthermore, our personal access to technology, as well as any limits to its access, will continue to influence our relationship with food.
In a context in which data is the new gold, collected from satellites, drones, equipment and machines such as those used by the primary sector and the food industry, nature-based solutions will provide a counter-balance to the “tech-can-fix-it” paradigm.
The 21st century is creating further turmoil in food systems. The present challenges associated with food security, new dietary patterns and the increasing perception of food as a lifestyle commodity will result in growing numbers of conflicting ideas regarding how to produce, distribute, sell and consume food. Climate change, loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation will become even larger threats to the Nordic-Baltic region and the world.
The agri-food industry will become a key player in reversing many environmental issues. The major challenge will be ensuring diets that support human and planetary health, while striking a balance between promoting international trade in food and agriculture and protecting local food systems.
New digital technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchains, digital twinning, internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing, will present new opportunities and challenges for the food system. Digitalisation will ensure the decisions we make are more informed than ever before.
The world will become more connected, and digital services more available and sophisticated, but the digital divide will also become more pronounced.
By adapting inclusive policies, digitalisation will support the development of small and medium-sized businesses in rural areas and mitigate challenges faced by rural areas in general by decreasing the distance between town and country.
While the long-term effects and indirect consequences of the processes related to globalisation are debatable, it’s clear that transparency, human rights and welfare have improved on a global level. However, it’s also apparent that current global structural arrangements do not benefit everyone equally.
Marginal groups will continue to struggle to benefit from the changes surrounding them. A clear indication of this and major paradox is that people working in food systems across the globe continue to be among the most food insecure.
The effects of polarisation will manifest through various social processes — differing possibilities, extremely different opinions, social distancing of groups and lack of empathy. This will have an impact on trust and, therefore, on any attempts to introduce change.
Decoupling economic growth and waste generation will remain one of the most significant and challenging tasks of our time. Implementing a circular economy that promotes the recursive movement of goods and materials through remanufacture, retake, reuse, repair and recycle will be crucial in order to move away from a throw-away culture. Packaging will be reconsidered and single-use items will be phased out.
Food waste reduction will be addressed on multiple fronts. Here, cities will play a significant role, while at the farm level, entrepreneurs in the region will attempt to improve on-farm nutrient cycling.
Both high-tech and nature-based solutions will facilitate behaviour change towards a circular paradigm.
Nature is and will be an important common and individual resource. Its role in securing collective wellbeing will become ever more prominent. Therefore, environmental challenges related to climate change, loss of biodiversity, waste and pollution will be central to any decision-making process, with the central aim of promoting sustainability and resilience.
Environmental regulations will become stricter. Following implementation of these regulations, monitoring institutions will also be strengthened. With this, new non-governmental and commercial players supporting those looking to improve their environmental performance will emerge.
New identities combining traditional and modern ways of engaging with environmental issues will also develop. The role nature plays in ensuring emotional wellbeing will facilitate the emergence of new services and products.
We’re living our everyday lives in a world full of new individual and collective risks. The possibility of these risks materialising as well as the impact of these risks have grown constantly over the past few decades. This has generated anxiety that is now affecting our choices, attitudes and behaviours and, our ability to engage with the future.
Climate anxiety will grow. Meanwhile, people will have to face many of the issues that frighten them. For some, fear and paralysed change will trigger the desire to stay fit and healthy.
Eventually, trust building will become increasingly important in a context in which lack of trust is interfering with a sense of control over personal wellbeing and that of the planet.
Lifestyles — the combined interests, opinions, behaviours, and behavioural orientations of an individual, group or culture — will rapidly change in the Nordic-Baltic region. Collective and individual identities will redefine themselves in parallel to value systems. Dietary shifts will lead to a healthier and more environmentally sustainable Nordic-Baltic region.
The marketing budgets of large food production enterprises will grow. Self-proclaimed food experts and influencers will also gain more power and influence over the personal lifestyle choices of citizens.
Cooking will increase as a hobby rather than a life skill. Furthermore, it will continue to transition from a social practice to an individual experience.
What are the slowly developing yet major trends influencing Nordic-Baltic food systems? You’ll soon find out. In the following pages, you’ll learn more about the importance of discussing the future, what megatrends are, why they matter and how they’re relevant to the region. You’ll then be introduced to eight megatrends that have likely already been encountered in your everyday, and perhaps even professional, life. At the end of this research paper, you’ll have the opportunity to develop your own megatrend.
But before jumping into the future, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. When you come across the term food systems in this paper, we’re talking about “the interconnected system of everything and everybody that influences, and is influenced by, the activities involved in bringing food from farm to fork and beyond”.
Look around you. Maybe you’ve noticed something different today — a new urban garden plot by your apartment or a sustainable option on the menu of your favourite restaurant. If these signals of change occur multiple times, they form patterns. As new patterns take shape, we start to gain insight into where we may be headed in the future. If these patterns repeat over a long enough period of time, we call them trends. And if trends play out over time, they can transform society.
History reminds us that the future is multi-directional. There is no single path towards the future. But if we wish to improve the future, it’s important to understand the possible directions it may take and how we can influence them. The conflict between various paths can cause tension. You might compare it to sitting down at a dinner table where everyone wants to eat something drastically different.
A depiction of interactions in the food system
Adapted from Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, 2019
Stop and reflect on how the food system is transforming:
Futures thinking is a method for informed reflection on the major changes that will occur in the coming decades in all areas of society. To become future-oriented thinkers, we must exercise our future consciousness muscles, a set of psychological capacities that include foresight, planning, goal setting and purposeful behaviour. These capacities enable us to communicate, participate in and lead transformation processes in practical and effective ways.Sharpe, B. (2013): Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope. https://www.triarchypress.net/three-horizons.html Megatrends, the topic we discuss in length throughout the coming pages, are just one of many tools in the future consciousness toolkit.
Future consciousness offsets the short-term thinking pervasive in the public and private sectors. It moves beyond thinking about the next election or annual key performance indicators, shifting away from the immediate future to a long-term perspective. By doing this, we’re able to make deeply informed decisions with a sustainable balance between short- and long-term goals, and perhaps even smooth the bumpy paths of major societal transitions.
In essence, a megatrend is a general direction of development, consisting of several phenomena, or a wide-ranging process of change. Megatrends illuminate familiar aspects of life. These are the changes we already see around us that are likely to continue happening tomorrow. Examining megatrends is just one of many anticipatory thinking and foresight tools.
In this paper, we also focus on the multiple potential impacts and outcomes of these megatrends. In addition, we describe some of the tensions that occur as the food system navigates and negotiates new paths.
Megatrends provide a 360° view on future-related change. These broad trends can be narrowed down by focussing on more detailed trends, weak signals (past or current developments and issues with ambiguous interpretations regarding their origin, meaning and/or implications) and analysing tensions in the system.
Megatrends offer us the possibility to engage with the future — to think about the realities that will emerge from shifts caused by society’s reshaping.
The Nordic-Baltic region encompasses Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the autonomous regions of Greenland, Åland and the Faroe Islands. Historically, these countries have been interlinked and have interacted with one another for centuries. Mutual trade has been the decisive factor facilitating this interaction. In recent decades, the Nordic and Baltic countries have grown closer, collaborating on issues like circular economic models, regional security and digital transformation.
Today’s actions are impacted by our perceptions of what the future will bring — both in terms of opportunities and challenges. Various think tanks are identifying megatrends, and these are being discussed in diverse contexts depending on complexity and the issues at stake. There are many projects and programmes covering different areas such as Nordic food policy, Baltic agricultural systems and future foresight. To date, however, no entity has looked into the megatrends influencing the Nordic-Baltic region and its food systems. As a result, there are still knowledge and awareness gaps when it comes to the future of food, nutrition, health and sustainability.
Despite our differences, the Nordic and Baltic countries have a lot in common. It’s clear that processes such as climate change and circular resource flows will, to a large extent, impact Nordic and Baltic countries in a similar way, and solutions will originate outside national borders, making regional cooperation crucially important. It’s also important to link scientific research with practical business planning and implementation. The Future Trends of Food in the Nordic-Baltic Region project aims to create and present future trends for food in the Nordic-Baltic region in an easy-to-understand format that’s useful for policy makers, startups and the agri-food sector in general.
The Future Trends of Food in the Nordic-Baltic Region project is led by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia and includes partners from the Nordic Council of Ministers secretariat, EIT Food, the Baltic Studies Centre (LV), Sitra (FI), Matis (IS), BIOR (LV), TFTAK (EST), Nordic Food Tech (DK), and LitMEA (LT).
Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, is a leading voice in the megatrends space. They publish articles and reports that shed light on megatrends, as well as phenomena related to them and the links between these phenomena.
Sitra’s megatrend materials, including their megatrend cards, are resources used in a wide range of activities, including education, strategy work, scenario processes and general discussions about the future. Their materials are open source and can be used by anyone.
The megatrends discussed and elaborated in this publication were determined over the course of a number of interactions with project and external stakeholders:
In this section, you’ll learn about eight specific megatrends influencing and influenced by Nordic-Baltic food systems. These megatrends are as follows:
Technology will penetrate all areas of social life.
Food systems will be redesigned with a new set of goals.
Digitalisation is opening new horizons.
Society will become increasingly polarised.
Products will be valued based on the amount of waste they produce.
A new appreciation for the environment will develop.
People will become more anxious and fearful.
New lifestyles will emerge and redefine our value systems.
We’re living in the fourth industrial revolution — Industry 4.0.EIT Digital (2019): Digital Transformation of European Industry: A Policy Perspective. https://www.eitdigital.eu/fileadmin/files/2019/report/Digital-Transformation-of-European-Industry-Summary.pdf As a concept, Industry 4.0 describes a time when people are using digital computing potential to link digitised solutions into data-driven systems. This makes people and organisations more efficient. And of course, it has a substantial impact on society at all levels: global, local, organisational and personal. And while it’s often claimed that these processes are changing society, the real depth of this change is rarely discussed. For example, we can ask ourselves how geographic information systems (GIS) have changed the way people travel or perceive unknown spaces, or, how GIS have shifted the way we interpret the characteristics of land in general. This is exemplified by a 50-year-old forager:
It would be naive to say that new technologies have no impact on our perception of the realities surrounding us. Practices are intimately connected with knowledge, and knowledge creates practices. Having Google Maps or a similar app on our phones allows us to develop new ways of interacting with space, communicate characteristics of our surroundings in new ways and share spatial experiences with others.
History teaches us that it isn’t the technologies we should be looking at when assessing innovations but rather their social implications. For example, the domestication of wild plant and animal species was a crucial innovation mainly because of its social consequences. This technological development allowed us to shift away from hunting and gathering, and towards agricultural societies. Cities have also been highly influenced by technology. In her book, Hungry City, Carolyn SteelSteel, C. (2008). Hungry City: How food shapes our lives. Vintage books, London.elegantly illustrates how the discovery of cold chains allowed cities to grow and disentangle themselves from food production. Meanwhile, a case study on shipping containers illustrates how the ability to agree on technological standards can change global markets and consequently, the way people engage with products.Levinson, M. (2016). The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. Princeton, USA. This rather technical agreement made it possible to link various means of transport and increase transportation speed, thereby simplifying logistics, among other benefits. Just by agreeing on the size and properties of the container box, the transport industry substantially increased its efficiency.
The adoption of technological innovations isn’t a straightforward process. Instead, it tends to be unstructured, complicated and difficult to predict. We have to acknowledge that behind the neatly presented public face of new technologies lies a messy reality with potentially much broader implications than those anticipated. Consider, for example, the power relations associated with the ability to set market standards.
Technology not only reshapes practices at an individual level but also organisations and the way public and private sectors operate. For example, it used to be that a good farmer was someone who knew the properties of the soil, understood the plants or animals they worked with and had developed a sixth sense regarding farming-related issues. Nowadays, a combination of GIS, drones, satellites, AI and well-connected databases can replace the farmer’s knowledge and is probably more efficient in many ways. So where does this restructuring leave farmers? With most agricultural and technological support work outsourced to service providers, farmers more closely resemble managers than stewards of the land.
Countless other examples illustrate how new applications of technologies have caused unintended impacts and domino effects across all social realities. Enterprises and initiatives like Uber, Airbnb and non-banking financial apps have managed to initiate change in retail prices, urban geographies and even laws. These “new normals” reveal that the legal frameworks supposedly regulating these activities are poorly equipped to deal with newly emerging entrepreneurial models and their side effects. New technologies are appearing at a faster rate than ever and regulators are often left to react to these changes, while people jump at the chance to benefit from emerging offers. It’s hard to predict what these processes might mean for food systems. However, again, history hints at their potential impact. The 20th century illustrated that, for a large segment of society, the introduction of technologies in food production facilitated a loss of connection to the process of producing food. They became detached. Technological innovation leading to more processed food has facilitated the loss of food-related knowledge. We can speculate that detachment combined with a loss of knowledge results in loss of interest. If we don’t engage with technological development, the gap between society and the processes taking place in food systems will continue to broaden.
The technological transformation we’re witnessing has facilitated unprecedented improvements in quality of life. New technologies combined with digital possibilities have the potential to engage with some longstanding societal, environmental and economic issues. However, we need to maintain a critical eye regarding these developments. Consider, for example, the rapid spread of food delivery apps like Wolt, Bolt Food and Foodora — while they have increased convenience, they have simultaneously increased access to unhealthy foods. These processes should urge us to question who are the winners and losers in these shifts in practice caused by technologies. We should also raise questions regarding society’s ability to control these processes and to maintain at least some sort of ownership over the direction development takes. Further, we should ask how the pace of change impacts people’s ability to maintain a sense of reality.
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
When it comes to food systems, our paradigms are in a state of constant flux. At the end of the 18th century, the influential economist Thomas Malthus theorised that future generations would face food shortages. Luckily for future generations, Malthus didn’t take into account factors like technological advancements that have helped people produce ever increasing amounts of food. Yet, two centuries later, the debate is ongoing, and we’re still asking, “Will it be possible to feed 9 billion people by 2050?”
The focus on increasing production volumes has largely justified the intensification of food systems. However, the current debate on the future of food systems isn’t just about evading hunger. It’s now evident that the very specific quantitative focus on intensification has overlooked as well as caused a long list and wide range of issues now associated with contemporary food systems. The list is so diverse that literally everyone will have something to be concerned about — food is associated with health, environmental, social, economic, political and ethical challenges.
Food systems face a wide variety of challenges. The problems faced by food systems aren’t new. In fact, armies of researchers, activists, entrepreneurs and policymakers have addressed them for decades. Yet, despite this joint effort, success has been limited. For example, food-related non-communicable diseases like overweight and obesity are more widespread than before and hunger remains an issue. At the same time, food systems are continuously centralising, creating asymmetric power relations as a consequence. A long list of environmental issues prevails, including ongoing biodiversity loss, overfishing, deforestation and land degradation.
So why is progress in overcoming these issues so slow? The answer is likely manifold. It’s because food is an economically lucrative sector and as such, might be reluctant to change; however, it’s also because stakeholders often fail to see food as locked-in systems and therefore challenges are often perceived as separate, standalone issues (rather than part of a complex, intertwined web of issues). Also, the paradigms used to discuss food systems are deeply rooted and therefore strongly tied to the way we think about the issues these systems have. Furthermore, governmental policies and consumer pressure on food systems to change remains limited. Despite recent trends towards healthier and sustainable diets in some subsets of the Nordic-Baltic population, many citizens are not eating in accordance with nutrition and environmental recommendations. For example, the average Swedish diet exceeds global boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions, cropland use and application of nutrients by two- to more than four-fold when the boundaries are scaled to per capita level. With regard to biodiversity, the impacts caused by the Swedish diet exceeded the boundary by six-fold.
The Baltic countries face a very particular situation with its own set of problems. Three decades ago, these countries witnessed a rapid shift from planned to market economy. During this shift, intensification was heavily favoured, the preferred development route; producing more and cheaper was the approach favoured by many decision-makers. This vision and the heritage of kolkhozes (a form of collective farm in the Soviet Union) allowed large farms and food producers to emerge. On the one hand, there is a clear trend towards intensification in the Baltics. On the other, the Soviet system has left these countries with a large number of small-scale subsistence and semi-subsistence farms, foraging traditions, strong rural-urban interlinkages and a tradition of food sharing. This heritage now presents a valuable resource for developing future food systems.
The 21st century is creating further turmoil in food systems. The present challenges associated with food, new dietary patterns and the fact that food is increasingly perceived as a lifestyle commodity has resulted in increasing numbers of conflicting ideas regarding how to produce, distribute, sell and consume food in our complex and interconnected world. At the same time, instability and uncertainty abound. Shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and recessions, expose vulnerabilities in the food system. Imbalance can be felt at all levels, in terms of power, resource use, nutrition and accessibility. Pressure to change will come from all directions — policy, enterprises, consumers and NGOs, to name a few. Throughout the food system these players will face the same difficult question: what are the new goals of the food system? In this context, most are looking for the next one-size-fits-all food system model. However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that properly functioning and resilient food systems will need to be built as a set of diverse and interconnected clusters.
New supranational policies envision a better future for European food systems. In 2019, the European Green Deal was presented as a new growth strategy that transforms the Union into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. Social, economic and environmental sustainability are the main focus of the Green Deal, with the overarching goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero net by 2050, decoupling economic growth from resource use and leaving no person or place behind. This transformation will only be possible with the inclusion of the food system. In a collective attempt to pivot towards a new food systems paradigm, the EU Farm to Fork strategy was released as a cornerstone of the EU Green Deal. It focusses on a healthier, more sustainable and just food system. As Farm to Fork suggests:
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Digitalisation is often presented in a way that suggests it will have a widespread and equal impact on all groups — actors representing the product (such as producers, processors and retailers), consumption (consumers) and those overseeing the process (such as governments). In this way, it appears as though everyone provides the same amount of information and is equally responsible for pushing the digitalisation process forward.
Digitalisation is rightfully associated with high expectations. For example, it’s expected that AI could substantially change farming and blockchains could help improve food traceability. Digital twins could be used to replicate processes in the food system or test new technologies. Cloud computing could support global efforts to improve food safety. AI and big data could help us collect and analyse massive data sets, enabling us to better understand complex processes. And finally, the internet connection itself brings producers and consumers closer, often creating new supply chain arrangements. Just think of how consumers and producers exchange information using email lists, simple web pages or social media. This direct connection linking producer and consumer makes it possible to restructure the logistics needed between them. A shop, for example, can be replaced with novel solutions that support small-scale parcel delivery.
Digitalisation is also affecting the contexts in which food systems are embedded. Consider the Baltic region’s rural territories: economic stagnation and demographic decline have been permanent features of these areas during the past three decades. A population that is ageing and comprised in large part of unskilled labourers has inhibited the development of knowledge-intensive enterprises to support innovative and technical startups. The process of "inner peripheralisation" has led to a growing gap between rural and urban areas as well as depopulation of the countryside. Meanwhile, low population densities in rural areas have led to increased relative costs for ensuring high quality infrastructure and social services. As a result, many rural territories are trapped in a negative feedback loop of people leaving to improve their quality of life while the quality of life in rural areas cannot improve due to low population density. Poor transport infrastructure, lack of housing, low level of education of the rural population and poor access to social services are often cited as reasons why skilled workers aren’t attracted to rural areas. Inclusive digitisation is perceived as an important means to overcome practically all of the issues mentioned above. Furthermore, digitalisation could support the development of small and medium-sized businesses in rural areas of the Baltic countries and mitigate challenges faced by rural areas in general. We’ve already seen small-scale producers using digital platforms like Facebook to sell their goods and then either cooperating to deliver the products sold or using novel parcel delivery systems emerging in the countryside (also enabled by digital tools).
Digital inclusiveness takes on different meanings in the three Baltic countries. In Latvia, the share of households, urban and rural, with access to high capacity networks is among the highest in Europe. Both in Lithuania and Estonia, access to high capacity networks is lower than in Latvia and significantly lower if rural areas are compared. The roles are reversed when comparing digital skills — here Estonia is among the leaders in the EU, while Latvia has one of the lowest scores in the EU. A European Investment Bank Investment Survey concludes that Estonia’s digitalisation index is strong, while Latvia and Lithuania score only “modest” on this index.
Like all societal transformations, the digital transition will create winners and losers. These differences, in terms of how efficiently countries and groups of stakeholders benefit from digital solutions, illustrate the potential threats associated with digitalisation. For example, it’s already apparent that in the agri-food industry there’s a race for ownership over agricultural data which will most likely play a crucial role in any future business model. It’s also becoming more evident that those better equipped to use digital means have more opportunities and can be more efficient in contemporary markets. In other words, structural lines between groups have started to emerge, creating discrepancies in terms of who can access what digital services. This digital divide, if left unaddressed, will only continue to grow.
Despite the incoming challenges, it’s clear that digitalisation’s presence will only grow stronger. Collaboration on digitalisation in the Nordic and Baltic countries has been a priority area since 2017. The goal is to turn the Nordic-Baltic region into a coherent and integrated digital region. Working together benefits citizens, businesses and public sectors in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Digitalisation is also one of the EU’s priorities. And now, due to temporary (and in some cases permanent) closures of bricks and mortar businesses, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to turbocharge the digitalisation trend in the food industry.
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Historically, complete unification was the dystopian threat associated with technological and social modernisation: everyone wearing the same clothes, eating the same food and following the same customs. Extreme globalisation in this context promised a future where people encountered the same of everything everywhere they went. The ability to remain unique was perceived as a luxury in this scenario.
When it comes to food, in today’s world, the most efficient technological and socio-structural solutions are applied around the globe. Just consider the proliferation of Italian and Chinese restaurants, sushi bars, and McDonald’s restaurants. The latter have become a symbol of familiarity when in an otherwise unknown place. Or think about the processed and highly processed foods sold at your local retail chain store — how many of these products could you buy at a shopping mall in another part of Europe? Finally, think of the solutions proposed to strengthen emerging alternatives to conventional food supply chains. Most likely, tools like cooperation, public procurement and farmers markets come to mind. Even in this regard we see unification. For example, Arla, a European dairy cooperative founded by Danish and Swedish farmers in the 1880’s, has now expanded to five other countries.Arla (accessed November, 2020): https://mea.arla.com/company/cooperative/#:~:text=The%20cooperative%20philosophy&text=Our%2013%2C500%20current%20owners%20are,vote%20in%20the%20cooperative%20democracy At the same time, recent advancements in adapting solutions to various contextual requirements have become much more efficient. Society’s growing technological sophistication is ensuring that such adapted solutions are more widely available than ever before.
The effects of globalisation are unevenly distributed. While the long-term effects and indirect consequences of the processes related to globalisation are debatable, it’s clear that transparency, human rights and welfare have improved on a global level. However, while the contemporary world’s global nature is obvious, it’s also clear that not everyone benefits equally from the current global structural arrangements. The first and most obvious reason for this is illustrated by Manuel Castells in his book, The Rise of the Network Society.Castells, M. (2011): The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Wiley-Blackwell. He writes how globalisation is felt differently in various parts of the world: global urban centres become strongly connected, while peripheries mainly remain distant. The same is true when digital connectivity, or the possibility to benefit from global economic, cultural or even political processes, is assessed. What we see is that not everyone benefits to the same extent from technologies or opportunities, not everyone can benefit to the same degree from support instruments or political decisions. This creates distrust and unease surrounding some areas of change and polarises society. OpenDemocracy, an independent global media platform, summarises this sentiment as follows:
Globalisation has exposed new and old fault lines in our society. The problem isn’t that people don’t share the same opinions. Diversity is normal in a democracy. The problem is that it’s usually the same marginal groups struggling to benefit from the changes around them. An example is the major paradox that people working in food systems across the globe continue to be among the most food insecure. The structure and norms prevalent in conventional food systems support employment practices unfavourable to employees.Jayaraman, S. (2012): The hands that feed us: Challenges and opportunities for workers along the food chain. http://foodchainworkers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hands-That-Feed-Us-Report.pdf This sameness is characterised by structural, social and geographical discrepancies, creating inequality and putting strain on tears already existing in the social fabric. Furthermore, the acceleration caused by digitalisation and technologisation (Megatrends 1 and 3) have led to what could be described as real-time decision making. Consequently, there is increasingly less time to discuss the novelties introduced or to assess the structural gaps and voids created. And, there are actors consciously using the change to spread misinformation and fear.
While globalisation has created opportunities, it has done so by leaving structural gaps that cause inequalities. This is facilitating a growing detachment between social groups. There are groups actively envisioning the future and consciously steering development and those that are sceptical and/or lagging behind. This detachment begs the question: whose reality is being built? For many, this reality might be unrecognisable. These processes provide fruitful soil for radical opinions and polarisation. Twenty-first century digital connectivity makes it easy to normalise these opinions. Technologies allow marginal groups to mobilise and link their members, ensuring physical distance has little effect on their ability to develop group attitudes towards the processes taking place. These micro- and meso-level processes are causing substantial macro-level turmoil, consequently affecting structural stability.
In the Baltics, the context for the described processes to take place is favourable. The Baltic countries have high rates of relative poverty risk and income inequalityNovick, J. (2017): Factors of the income inequality in the Baltics: Income, policy, demography. EUROMOD Working Paper, No. EM11/17, University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), Colchester, some groups have substantially less opportunities than othersKrasnopjorovs, O. (2019): Discussion paper: Anatomy of labour reserves in the Baltic countries: a snapshot 15 years after the EU accession. https://datnes.latvijasbanka.lv/papers/discussion/dp_2_2019-en.pdf and there are considerable regional disparities in terms of opportunities, access to services and quality of life. These factors, combined with geopolitical turmoil in the region, suggest that the growing inequalities will be significant in the three countries, and national governments will make countering them a priority. Although the starting point was exceptionally low, income inequality has increased more in the Nordic countries than in most OECD countries since the early 1990’s.Grunfelder, J. et al. (2020): State of the Nordic Region 2020. Nordic Council of Ministers. https://pub.norden.org/nord2020-001/nord2020-001.pdf
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Prior to the industrialisation of food systems, local economies were mainly circular. With greater economic growth after WWII, the take-make-consume-dispose model became the norm. This paradigm also coincided with the growth of globalisation and technological advances (see Megatrends 1 and 4). It meant greater resource volatility, limited gains in productivity, and huge losses of potential value through waste. One of the most shocking outcomes of the linear economy has been food waste.
Linear systems have disrupted nutrient cycles. Humans have radically changed the cycles of important plant nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus as a result of industrial and agricultural processes. Better use of these finite resources is imperative to the future of food production. Industrial agriculture can deplete soil nutrients, which must then be replaced by fertilisers to maintain productivity. If applied incorrectly, these fertilisers make their way into the Baltic Sea through groundwater and rivers, causing eutrophication.
Citizens, industry, civil society and government are calling for a shift from linear to circular production and consumption models. The core principles of the circular paradigm include the preferred use of recycled materials or renewable sources over raw materials, highly energy and resource efficient production, longer lifespans and responsible consumption. In many ways, this isn’t new. The bioeconomy is another popular approach to circularity and the efficient use of resources. Bioeconomy, the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products, is being integrated into the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The Baltic Sea region could potentially become one of the world's leading regions in green growth and sustainable development. Well-developed infrastructure, technological and environmental knowledge, a large concentration of biomass, as well as a cooperative mindset, are instrumental to making this happen. Furthermore, possibilities associated with digitalisation and Industry 4.0 have served as a new impetus for concepts like circular economies.
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this
Human history is a history of the way humans conceptualise nature. There has been a gradual shift from living in harmony with nature to overcoming and controlling nature. The domestication of wild plants is one of the most significant innovations in human history. It has allowed people to settle down, store food and focus on issues that allow them to further improve their lives. This shift served as a basis on which further modernisation was built. Meanwhile, later modernisation continued to strengthen the concept of man’s ability to withstand nature. The classical work of Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, suggests that this process has caused substantial shifts in societal structure and reshaped human-nature relations— the idea that we must adapt to nature has given way to the idea that nature presents a potential risk and therefore requires management. Two engagement loops can be used to explain the relationships people build with their surroundings: metaphorically speaking, one loop is built around the notion of fear while the other is built around the notion of love. Fear is responsible for relationships based on control, alienation and abstraction. Modernisation has successfully pushed nature into this relational loop.
Recent decades have shown that this fixation on controlling nature is the cause of environmental, social and economic problems. And we’re only just starting to grasp the scale of this predicament. The grim conclusions of these explorations are summed up by the climate crisis, environmental degradation and the sixth mass extinction. Even without additional explanation these concepts manage to clearly communicate the bleak nature of the current situation. As a result, we’ve seen growing support for alternative visions that rethink human-nature relations — a move towards love associated with participation, diversity and belonging. On an individual level, growing environmental concerns are generating support for rewilding programmes and biodiversity initiatives. This concern is also encouraging people to pay more for products whose producers can prove that they meet high production standards. Shifts in trendy lifestyles are reintroducing individual interaction with nature as a valuable way for people to spend their time.
The changes already taking place foreshadow substantially broader structural shifts resulting in new human-nature relations. The bio-cultural dynamics approach suggests that culture and environment are intimately linked — any shifts in one will be reflected in the other. Thus, any impacts of the new environmental realities will reach all aspects of social life, resulting in new societal structures and new ways of life. On the political level, the same support for environmentally responsible practices has been expressed by the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, particularly in the assertion that the most sustainable food should also be the most affordable and accessible.
There is growing awareness of the need for new lifestyles and the need to adapt in order to counter challenges posed by the environment and climate change. However, the strain that these changes will put on individual needs and sense of identity is rarely discussed. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that connecting with nature is beneficial for mental health. There is an undeniable link between clean and healthy nature and the physical health of people living in close proximity to that nature. Nature also provides opportunities for recreation and the space to pursue hobbies. It is likewise a place to rest and a place to feel a sense of safety, calm and other sensations. In a rapidly changing world, nature gives us a powerful feeling of rootedness — while everything else moves at a pace that might be hard to follow, nature provides recognisable experiences. There is an emotional well-being aspect to nature.
In the Baltic and Nordic countries, contact with nature takes on a particular form. With the exception of Denmark and Iceland, the countries in the region have a higher percentage of forest cover than the European average. Low population density (with the exception of Denmark) and strong urban-rural relations ensure that people feel much closer to nature. These feelings are strongly related to the traditional cultural role played by the landscape. This manifests in a prevalence towards food self-provisioning, foraging and building identities related to the land. However, it also translates into a belief that the environment can be taken for granted.
Baltic populations, however, have been slow to support the local environment with their wallet. Though these countries are among those with the highest share of organically certified land in the EU, consumer willingness to pay for products grown on certified land is low. This relates to the fact that these countries are likewise among those that spend the highest share of total household expenditures on food in Europe; consequently, consumer choice is heavily influenced by price. Most likely, people are also less willing to pay for high quality products because informal food networks ensure that high quality home-grown food circulates among friends and relatives. In broader terms, this means that while traditions related to environmental identity are widespread in the region, contemporary support for nature is less so. Contemporary lifestyle-related identities are associated with ethical thinking regarding nature, the willingness to become more knowledgeable about nature and the willingness to invest time and money to resolve environmental issues. In the Baltic context, local enterprises have been rather relaxed in their approach toward global environmental concerns.
New identities will emerge that combine traditional and modern ways of addressing environmental issues. These identities unique to the region will merge longstanding traditional knowledge with the politicised engagement common in Western Europe. They will be oriented towards finding solutions that address environmental challenges yet maintain common access and protect common pool resources. A woman we interviewed about her foraging skills describes the relationship between nature and people as follows:
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Fear and anxiety have crept into our lives. We all know the headlines: “2020 the hottest year on record”, “Fish stocks continue to fall as oceans warm”, “Farmers take to the streets to demand a just transition”… the list goes on and on. A 2019 poll found that Europeans are more afraid of climate change than terrorism, unemployment and migration. Worry is a well-known mental state for the contemporary human being — feeling anxious has become universal. The feeling has spread, but that’s not all — the nature of what is causing anxiety has also changed. While historically the main perceived threats were local and linked to quality of life, they are now global in nature and entrenched in our self-perception and lifestyle. Sources of anxiety can be both external and internal human experiences. Anxiety and fear force people to look for greater control, distance themselves from others and adopt an impersonal relationship to their surroundings. This model of engaging reality hampers change.
Our relationship with risk is changing. Decades ago, researchers discussed the notion of risk in society, saying that in modern societies a great deal of energy is given to risk management. However, with time, these risks have become very real challenges that most people, though exposed to them, are unable to understand and cannot influence. Many of these risks used to exist far from our immediate reality — brought to us by the media or movies depicting the future, taking place somewhere most of us will never go. But now, these risks are on our doorsteps, transformed into very real threats. Biodiversity loss, wildfires, the digital divide, new diseases and global terrorism are issues with very real effects. We have experienced and we will experience the effects of these threats throughout our lifetimes. However, instead of preparing to face these threats, fear forces people to distance themselves from them.
Large-scale migration to Europe has made people afraid of losing their identity. The environmental crisis has led to the idea that there is no tomorrow. And now COVID-19 is making people afraid for their loved ones and their livelihoods. The drivers of change causing these fears are very real, and many of these global issues serving as drivers cannot be resolved by small groups of people or, by one country acting alone. We used to believe that one person had the power to change the world. Now it seems the actions of individual people have little impact. This makes the challenges seem imminent and unresolvable. Interpretations are also affected by the fact that even the best experts only partially understand how these drivers function and what their impacts are and will be. Consequently, these drivers offer fruitful soil for misinformation and untested assumptions. Furthermore, fear, uncertainty and doubt fuel disinformation and create an environment conducive to distrust. In order to build a better society people will have to learn to embrace uncertainty.
Under Soviet occupation, Baltic societies were only marginally exposed to many global issues. However, this changed following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a short period of time, societies went from state socialism, to perestroika, to full-on capitalism. The change also came with a crash course in global risks and soon after, global threats. Having less experience with cultural diversity outside of the Soviet Union, these countries tend to be more sensitive towards global cultural flows. Thus, global terrorism and global migration score high among perceived risks.
However, it’s likely that every historical generation feels it’s the one facing doom. The age of post-truth stretches far back into the history of human civilisation. We have to give credit where credit is due — the time we are living in is also associated with the highest individual quality of life in history. At least in the Global West, unprecedented human rights exist, and at least some Nordic countries report a high level of citizen happiness. Although, as the OECD suggests, this might be related to “a feeling of personal safety in a troubled world”. What makes this era different is the speed at which ideas, experiences and knowledge are exchanged.
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Food and culture go hand in hand. Our customs, celebrations, and personal restrictions shape and are shaped by shared values. It’s been like this for centuries — just think of the dietary restrictions associated with religious practices or cultural celebrations. However, these values are not static. Rather, they evolve over time. In recent years in the Nordic-Baltic region, interest has grown in shifting to diets less focussed on animal products and more focussed on foods derived from plants. For example, a 2019 unrepresentative survey found that 23%-41% of Finns, Swedes, Danes and Norwegians are interested in plant-based proteins to protect the environment. Fazer Food Services: Future food. Trend report 2019. http://mb.cision.com/Public/964/2626950/be9af2be37c41b88.pdf Yet, what people eat isn’t based solely on what they believe. It’s also affected by what is available and what people can afford.
Unhealthy diets prevail. The possibility to choose from a rich variety of products, the low cost of available products, lifestyles that are more sedentary, and, most likely, limited knowledge about healthy diets, has resulted in more than half the European population being overweight.Eurostat (2019): Overweight and obesity – BMI statistics. Thus, health remains the main lens through which to interpret the choices consumers make. However, alongside the health-based interpretation there is also a perspective associated with values, interests and opinions. This perspective transforms food from a functional necessity to an extension of self — a way to show who you are, what you believe in and what you need.
Consumption-related values are evolving, especially amongst young people. Nordic millennials are said to be the most diverse and highly educated generation in history.Nordea (2019): Podcast: Managing millennials. https://www.nordea.com/en/press-and-news/news-and-press-releases/2019-07-08-podcast-managing-millennials.html They are also the most individualistic.Deloitte (2018): Gen Y. The rise of the individual. Nordics Millennial Study ages 18-37. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/se/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/Deloitte-Millennial-Nordic-Report.pdf At the same time, an unrepresentative study of young people in the Nordic region shows that they are deeply concerned about global challenges such as climate change, ocean plastic, loss of biodiversity and overconsumption of natural resources.Ravnbøl, K. and Neergaard, I. (2019): Nordic Youth As Sustainable Changemakers. In the Transition to Sustainable Consumption and Production. Nordic Council of Ministers. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1331807/FULLTEXT01.pdf This unique mix makes purchasing behaviour very different from previous generations, especially in terms of decision making around consumable products like food. Young people in the Nordic region lack adult role models to tell them about sustainable and healthy lifestyles. Instead, young people are taking matters into their own hands and getting inspired by other young people such as bloggers, influencers, entrepreneurs and activists.Ibid.
Adapting food to individual needs — also known as personalised or precision nutrition — has become increasingly popular. Differences in genetic makeup, lifestyle and environment mean that everyone responds differently to what they put in their mouth. In a demographically diversifying region, much of the Nordic-Baltic population is no longer eating what previous generations ate 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. At the same time, dietary-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity are the biggest health challenge facing all countries in the European Region.World Health Organization (2019): Towards healthy and sustainable food systems in the Baltic Sea region – a country workshop. https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/events/events/2019/03/towards-healthy-and-sustainable-food-systems-in-the-baltic-sea-region-a-country-workshop
Urbanisation and a disconnect with food production systems is leading to a renaissance within the food system. In the Nordic region, it’s becoming increasingly more possible to make a living from small-scale agriculture as restaurants and consumers demand more local and seasonal produce. Artisanal production, such as cheesemaking, is also experiencing a revival as middle- and upper-class consumers choose to spend their disposable income on high-quality foods and beverages.
Now it’s your turn. What other tensions do you think are linked to this megatrend?
Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. Now, it’s time to reflect. How do you feel about the future of food in the Nordic-Baltic region? Are you hopeful? Concerned? Or maybe even ready to make a difference?
The multiple scenarios laid out in the pages of this paper demonstrate how each megatrend may play out. By understanding the possible avenues to the future, we can help shape that future. We all have an influence, from citizen to producer, retailer, policymaker and researcher. After all, the need to eat is something we all have in common.
As this analysis shows, all eight megatrends are highly interconnected. And as you may have also realised by now, some of the potential outcomes are negative, while others positive or even neutral in nature. As a society, we must do our best to ensure we minimise the number of people left behind in the wake of change.
So, let’s raise a glass of beer, oat milk or whatever your favourite drink may be and say, Cheers! To the future!
Dr Mikelis Grivins - Senior researcher at the Baltic Studies Centre, a research institute focussed on studying sustainable rural and regional development, agri-food systems, farming and innovations.
Dr Afton Halloran - Independent consultant in sustainable food systems transitions, external consultant to the Nordic Food Policy Lab of the Nordic Council of Ministers and host of the Nordic Talks podcast. Afton also holds a research position at the University of Copenhagen.
Maija Kale - Adviser on Digitalisation and Sustainability at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia, project lead and initiator of the Future Trends of Food in the Nordic-Baltic Region project.
A special thanks to everyone who reviewed this paper and contributed to developing the megatrends:
Dele Raheem (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland), Jenna Lähdemäki-Pekkinen (Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra), Kätrin Karu (Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies Tallinna Tehnikaülikool), Dace Resele (Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture), Michel Wettstein (Nature Foods SIA), Nesli Sözer (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland)
And a big thanks to the Future Trends of Food in the Nordic-Baltic Region project participants who set the direction for the trends in Riga on 15 February 2020:
Aivars Bērziņš (Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment "BIOR")
Inese Siksna (Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment "BIOR")
Liene Briede (EIT Food Latvia, Riga Technical University Design Factory)
Kätrin Karu (Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies Tallinna Tehnikaülikool)
Giedrius Bagusinskas (Lithuanian Food Exporters Association)
Agnė Buraitytė (Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Lithuania)
Analisa Winther (Nordic FoodTech Podcast www.nordicfoodtech.io)
Dace Resele (Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture)
Ieva Hermansone (Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia)
Stefan Eriksson (Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia)
Thanks to Sitra for being an inspiration to this project’s methodology and providing an online lecture on 15 January 2020: Jenna Lähdemäki-Pekkinen and Tuuli Hietaniemi
Thanks to EIT Food — the springboard for agri-food entrepreneurs — for their vision to become the leading European initiative that empowers innovators and entrepreneurs to develop world-class solutions to societal challenges, create growth and skilled jobs. EIT Food Business Creation’s world-class programmes are supporting this vision by becoming a springboard for innovative agri-food entrepreneurs with the vision and drive to transform our food system.
Benefits for entrepreneurs joining EIT Food Business Creation programmes:
More information available at: https://www.eitfood.eu/eit-food-projects/category/entrepreneurship
Suggested citation: Grivins M, Halloran, A and Kale, M. Eight megatrends in Nordic-Baltic Food Systems. 2020. Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office Latvia, Riga.
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Eight megatrends in Nordic-Baltic food systems
Mikelis Grivins, Afton Halloran, Maija Kale
© Nordisk Ministerråd 2020
Layout: Gitte Wejnold
Text editing: Kimberlija Anna Laurina & Marika Gintere
Illustrator: Liene Lesina
Illustration concept: Elina Kolate
Nordic co-operation is one of the world’s most extensive forms of regional collaboration, involving Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland.
Nordic co-operation has firm traditions in politics, the economy, and culture. It plays an important role in European and international collaboration, and aims at creating a strong Nordic community in a strong Europe.
Nordic co-operation seeks to safeguard Nordic and regional interests and principles in the global community. Shared Nordic values help the region solidify its position as one of the world’s most innovative and competitive.
Nordic Council of Ministers
Ved Stranden 18
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