Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the Ecosystem

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As an innovation advisor within the food and agriculture space, I accept the following fundamentals. I know that

  • innovation, entrepreneurship, and the ecosystem are interconnected. 
  • successful entrepreneurship is anchored in innovation. 
  • magic happens in the innovation ecosystem—organizations turn ideas into products and services to create economic impact, bring opportunities to market, and solve global challenges.

The Food & Nutrition Innovation Institute at The Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy inhabits the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship, and the ecosystem. The Institute’s Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship Summit is a wonderful opportunity for me to tune into trends, meet others who are solving old challenges with new ideas, and bask in the energy of people who are changing the world of food and nutrition. 

During this year’s Summit, two food trends rose to the top. If you’re in the food and agriculture industry, keep an eye on them. 

1. Food as medicine is gaining ground. Significantly. 

Precision nutrition, personalized nutrition, and food prescription services (i.e., farmacies) are taking off. 

Many believe farmacies are the future of health care. Why? Growing scientific evidence shows that food and nutrition can 

  • prevent, manage, or reverse some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and
  • improve some disparities and inequalities in our health care system.

This movement is taking hold in North Carolina, where I live and work. 

In January, the National Institutes of Health announced a $170 million award over 5 years to develop algorithms that could predict individual responses to food and dietary routines. As part of the study, RTI International is partnering with Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences to co-lead a new center that will coordinate this exciting research. 

To quote Marie Gantz, PhD, a senior research statistician at RTI who will lead the research: “Despite the importance of a balanced, nourishing diet, there is no one-size-fits-all approach—more precise and dynamic nutritional recommendations are needed to improve health for individuals. This has been impossible to achieve with the current standard food guidance. This work will give us unprecedented insight into the interplay between nutrition and health.” 

North Carolina’s Heathy Opportunities was the nation’s first comprehensive program to test and evaluate the impact of evidence-based, non-medical interventions. Food is one of the pilot’s four priority domains and includes fruit and vegetable prescription reimbursement, healthy food box deliveries, healthy meal pickup, and medically tailored meal delivery. Other states are introducing similar programs.

Entrepreneurs and innovators who are watching the food-as-medicine trend are creating digital offerings. These services use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help consumers enjoy the foods that are right for their needs, lifestyle, preferences, and tastes. These entrepreneurs are also creating

  • platforms that allow clinicians to prescribe food as medicine and
  • app subscriptions that allow consumers or patients to conveniently choose, procure, and enjoy foods that fit their needs, lifestyle, preferences, and tastes.

As an example, Seasons Health brings nutrition prescriptions, diverse food choices, delivery and pickup logistics, and reimbursement together in its comprehensive food-as-medicine platform. The company has raised tens of millions in investment funds, has partnered with leading health care systems in half a dozen states, and has plans to be nationwide by the end of 2022. 

2. Sustainability and sustainable practices are competitive differentiators. 

Food companies—and any companies, really—that want a competitive edge are investing in sustainability. It’s one of the strongest motivations behind food innovation today. 

Consumers want food systems to be responsible. They want to know 

  • where their food comes from,
  • what’s in their food and its packaging,
  • how their food is grown or raised, and
  • the environmental impact of the food products they choose.

Food companies are responding. As food companies work to ensure sustainability across their supply chains, they’re looking at regenerative agriculture and asking whether or how to invest. Regenerative agriculture, with its focus on improved soil health, may help us improve food quality, nutrition, and food security and mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Food companies are also paying closer attention to cellular agriculture and tissue engineering of animal meat and proteins. These technologies promise better taste, nutrition, and variety than current plant-based meat alternatives, which fall short in food functionality, mimicry, and nutrition. The next challenge for cellular based agriculture is demonstrated scalability and proven safety, health, production, and stability. 

It’s an exciting time to innovate in the food industry. We can help your organization

  • explore personalized nutrition, 
  • advance regenerative agriculture practices, and
  • introduce sustainable packaging practices.

I’d love to know more about the food innovation challenge my team can help you solve. Get in touch. 

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