Future-proof food & beverage products
Investigation of the Sustainability Nutrition Balance (SNB)
The world’s food system faces a great balancing act (World Resources Institute (Searchinger & et al., 2013)). By 2050 it must feed around 10 billion people (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, 2017) in a more sustainable way: without increasing the area of agricultural land, using less natural resources and, very importantly, emitting less greenhouse gases. In addition, diets should be healthier and meet human nutritional needs. They should prevent both malnutrition and non-communicable diseases, like obesity and cardiovascular disease. The research area of sustainable nutrition attempts to provide answers on how to meet these challenges.
A main challenge for food and beverage producing companies is to become ‘future-proof’ with respect to health, environmental and other sustainability concerns. Future-proof food and beverage products have a right balance between the amount of nutrients and the environmental impact. This concept is called the Sustainability Nutrition Balance (SNB). It identifies whether a product or product group fits into a healthy and sustainable diet. In several steps the SNB-score can be determined and give directions towards the development of products that meet nutritional as well as sustainability requirements. Blonk Consultants developed the optimization tool ‘Optimeal’ to grasp this full picture, study healthy and sustainable diets and investigate the SNB-score of a product (portfolio).
Determine the Sustainability Nutrition Balance
The balance between nutrition and the sustainability impact (e.g. environmental impact) is the key for determining whether a product or product group is future-proof. A product (or product group) that provides nutrients which improve the quality of the current diet with a low sustainability impact will have a better SNB-score than a product that contains nutrients that we tend to consume in excess (like salt or saturated fat) and/ or with a high sustainability impact. Optimeal can assist in understanding the SNB-score, and support in product development for improvement of the score. The analysis consists of several steps:
1. Define the realistic (or desired) food product consumption level
In the first step a realistic (or desired) food product consumption level is defined. The product of focus needs to be available in or added to the current diet in a realistic quantity that can be used as starting point for the assessment.
2. Define Sustainability Nutrition Balance (SNB) by stepwise optimization
In this step the balance between the environmental impact and nutrient density is assessed. The amount of a product in a diet is varied in steps, for instance from 0 to 500 gram of product in 10 steps. The change of environmental indicators of the total diet is calculated at every step. If the environmental impact reduces with increasing amounts of the product in the diet the SNB-score is favourable: the product has a good balance between sustainability performance and nutrition.
3. Improvement of SNB-score
After step 2 the SNB-score can be improved to create a (more) future-proof product, which is healthier and/or more sustainable. There are different possible directions for improvement, related to nutritional value and sustainability:
- Reduce the content of nutrients that have an upper limit for daily intake (salt, saturated fat etc.), and that are easily overconsumed in your region in your region of scope.
- Increase the content of nutrients that are conceived as essential and which are commonly under-consumed in your region of scope.
- Reduce the sustainability performance for indicators with a negative impact (mainly environmental impacts, but can also be health effects or price).
- Increase the sustainability performance for indicators with a positive impact (for instance social or economic aspects).
For example, the SNB-score of a certain product can be improved by addition of specific vitamins. Or reduce the carbon footprint at the production location, means of transport or choose for alternative ingredients.
Feedback on nutritional and environmental performance of your product
In short, Optimeal gives feedback on the nutritional and environmental performance of your product in the overall diet. This feedback shows directions which can help to decide how to change the composition of your product or whether to improve the sustainability performance of your product.
An example: Investigation of SNB-score of milk
We will demonstrate the described above steps using an example. Let’s say we are investigating whether dairy is a future-proof product. We want to know if milk can easily be substituted for alternative food products, calculate the SNB-score of milk is and see if it is possible to improve the product and make it (more) future-proof.
Step 1. Defining the realistic or desired food product consumption level
The product of focus needs to be available in or added to the current diet in a realistic quantity that can be used as starting point for the assessment.
Dairy is part of the current diet, so we can start from the current consumption. If we would be investigating almond milk for instance, we would have to create a starting point. Almond milk could be put into the current diet besides the other beverages in the current diet or replacing other beverages in the current diet by almond milk.
If the composition of the healthy current diet has changed due to step 1, then an optimization is done to meet the nutritional constraints that determine a healthy diet again. This is the starting point of step 2.
Step 2. Define the baseline performance by step wise optimization
Next, the amount of the product of focus is varied in steps within the diet, optimizing at every step. At every step the diet is adjusted to meet the nutritional constraints. This means that at every step the amount of other food products is increased or decreased to make this happen. At every step the environmental impact of the diet is also calculated. The results of the stepwise optimization for milk for the impact on climate change is displayed in Figure 1.
The analysis shows that the relationship between nutritional value and the environmental indicator greenhouse gas effect for dairy products is virtually neutral in a Dutch diet. In other words; as a source of useful nutrients dairy products are just as environmentally efficient as the products used to replace them (Blonk Consultants, 2015). The results of the stepwise optimization for dairy for the impact on climate change are displayed in Figure 1. The gradient of the line in Figure 1 is the actual SNB-score. The lower the SNB-score the better the profile of the product of focus. The SNB-score can even be negative, which means that the environmental impact of the diet decreases when more of the product is consumed. This is demonstrated in Figure 2. The SNB-score of dairy is close to 0. Compared to the SNB-score of meat, this is very low. This means that dairy is much more future-proof than meat. The SNB-score of bread though, is below 0. This means that increasing the amount of bread in the diet can result in a lower environmental impact of the total diet, while keeping the diet healthy.
Step 3. Improve SNB performance of products
This principle can be used in product development. Improving your SNB-score means your products become more future proof in terms of health and/or sustainability. The goal is to create future proof products. Therefore, the ways to improve the SNB-score are investigated in step 3. There are different possible directions for improvement of the SNB-score.
In the case of dairy, the SNB-score would improve if the dairy product would be fortified with vitamin D. It would also improve if the carbon footprint of the dairy farm could be reduced, for instance by using feed additives that reduce methane emissions.
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