The future of food: how Switzerland is contributing to the shift towards a more sustainable agri-food system

By Hana Skreta, Principal, Zurich

Historically food production has been extremely inefficient. Generating some 10% of global GDP but producing 25% of all greenhouse gases, occupying around half of all habitable land worldwide and using nearly three quarters of the fresh water available globally, according to the United Nations. These figures alone illustrate the need for the current global shift in thinking around food production and consumption. “Our agri-food system is the most inefficient system in global economy and therefore a source of significant external costs”, says Elad Ben-Am, who manages the “Food Revolution” fund at Switzerland-based Asset Manager Picard Angst.

Switzerland is not only one of the best and most innovative locations for biotechnology in Europe, but as the home of the world’s largest food company Nestlé, also a hub for agri-food related innovation. Furthermore, it is one of the highest-ranked countries in the world for their percentage of spend per capita on research and development, not only investing in Swiss based companies both at home and abroad but also in developing educational programmes to continue excelling in the sector. Local companies hold leading positions throughout many sectors and thus attract capital and researchers from all over the world to the country, serving to strengthen the trend.

Providing affordable food to a growing global population, while addressing the overuse of natural resources and food-related health issues at the same time, is a big challenge. Elad Ben-Am: “Tomorrow’s food system needs to serve different goals, some of which are conflicting goals. What they all have in common though, is the need for more efficient and sustainable food production and distribution. This can only be achieved through innovation.” There are a number of strands to current and future food and nutrition trends, where Switzerland is well-positioned to contribute to the ongoing shift towards a more efficient and sustainable agri-food system: Sustainable packaging, safe food with a focus on food hygiene, access to better diets to reduce health issues, alternative proteins as well as automation and agritech.

Switzerland offers a great framework for procuring capital for investment in the sector with the Swiss stock exchange being Europe’s leading exchange for life sciences companies, representing around 40% of the European life sciences market capitalisation across Europe’s major exchanges. With the presence of successful international chemical and pharmaceutical companies in the country as well as innovative firms from the medical technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology sectors it is a positive environment for strategic partnerships, licensing, or patent sales. These partnerships are successful within the space particularly where larger companies are struggling to innovate quickly enough to manage consumer demand and smaller more nimble companies are able to step up and really add value to larger R&D projects within the industry.

As consumers develop a keener understanding of what they eat, how they are consuming the food and the impact of that consumption, suppliers must focus on leveraging tech and innovation to address those health and wellness needs. Developing alternative food solutions that look and taste good, that deliver on individual consumer health goals and also provide a sustainable manufacturing solution means we are in the process of a complete global rethink around food technology, and Switzerland is a leading contributor to that effort.


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