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Food and Drink

Wayne Martindale

Wayne is an Associate Professor at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) where he leads the Food Insights and Sustainability Research Cluster. He trained as an apprentice with British Sugar plc and Bush Boake Allen Group in the 1980s, completing his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1993. After a few years of working as a marine biologist at the University of Florida, he realised life was more than messing about on boats and went to work in the phosphate mining and the UK fertiliser industry. In 1998 he was managing technical communications at Levington Agriculture and now works with some of our best-known food brands guiding them to carbon neutral manufacturing.

One business success

  • The beginning of 2021 was clearly reflective for all of us because of Covid-19. A real shining light in all of this turmoil was our team in Food Insights and Sustainability, we developed an investment programme for a carbon-neutral food system with 60 EC industrial and research partners. This highlighted the need for innovation in reaching carbon zero across our NCFM networks. Even with Brexit just behind us, we worked with over 20 other European research partners to provide a real UK advantage with a ‘build back better’ industrial programme of work.

Two challenges for the sector

  • My first challenge for the next year is to really embed Science Based Targets into the added value claims being made by the UK industry.  We need to enhance them because our credibility is under the spotlight more than ever with global scrutiny, digitalisation and social media. NCFM guidance and research in this arena help the UK food and beverage manufacturing industry to innovate and deliver to international standards including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Net Zero outcomes. Without embedding science, this is not possible and it is a challenge with the grip of fake news on our society.
  • I have been a scientist long enough to know that not all consumers will necessarily be as interested in the science here as I am. This means we need to co-create communications that resonate with consumers. This is my second challenge. It is crucial because changing how food is consumed will provide some of the most effective ways of decarbonising the UK food system. Part of the roadmap to carbon zero is innovative New Product Development that results in less food waste and balanced nutrition. This is strongly influenced by social media and online purchasing in an increasingly digitalised marketplace where it is exciting to be part of the drive to transform our food system to Net Zero.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • With the caveat that, ‘all forecasts are wrong, but some can be useful’, my first forecast is global trust in food will be in the balance. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw what happens when things go badly wrong. We can even remember people saying the ‘death of British agriculture’ was nigh. That forecast was very wrong; so wrong, and there is a current requirement for the food manufacturing industry to qualify its values to the UK consumer. The release of media, such as the recent Seaspiracy movie, clearly shows it is in our interest to be transparent and qualify these values in a world where social responsibility drives much of what we do as businesses.
  • My second forecast is that demonstrating how Net Zero will actually happen is an absolute must because it conveniently packages so much of what we need to do. This will not go away and there will be so many spin-out advantages in meeting it. It is far more than a trend and it is worth considering our importance where a Swedish schoolchild and UK professional footballer have transformed thought leadership in our food industry more than anyone else in the last twelve months. Scientists, businesses and experts are very much on the back foot here. We need to find better ways of communicating or settle for this, I think we will do much better.
  • My final forecast is the rethinking of how we work in the last year has changed how we interact, and I think it will continue to do so. I feel privileged to do the work I do where I am an observer or commentator of what happens in commerce. We often identify where innovation is cutting through and where it is best placed for impact in my line of work. The use of online communications has made many aspects of contacting experts easier, and I think this will develop a far more open industry and research collaboration. Diversity of where our talent and ideas come from will be far less constrained by qualification or background. Our own NCFM projects in Africa and Asia demonstrate this, we have now seen how a generation of digital entrepreneurs have changed how investment happens and the next step of change or disruption is already looking to the role of global business in social governance. The expectation that there is a typical route through business is well and truly gone - long may that continue. We will be stronger at welcoming talent from our global community.

May 2021