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The Challenge Lab for a Sustainable Future

Our Sustainable Future
Photo by Rafael Albornoz, via Unsplash
“More than half of Gen Zers believe that Climate Change is the single biggest issue our planet is currently facing” many teams claimed as they presented their consumer research findings at the Plant Futures Challenge Lab 2022.

Naturally, therefore, climate change is one of the biggest factors why adults (mostly younger generations) prefer shifting their dietary preferences to plant based products. And they rightly do so as livestock contribute to 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of land use, and 70% use of freshwater. The second biggest factor is health and as Ayesha Sherzai, Vascular Neurologist, said in the symposium “food and diets are the main drivers for diseases like dementia and alzheimers and switching to a plant based diet is the first step in the right direction”.

The solution isn't that simple after all. Commercial agriculture is by-itself unsustainable and the cultivation of soy for alternative meat contributes to as much emissions as rearing pigs and chicken. Agricultural systems have been dictated by Big Ag companies for at least the past century and therefore are profit motivated and unsustainable. This is where ‘plant futurists’ come in and devise innovative solutions for companies attempting to break the Big Ag nexus and shift towards sustainable practices for a greener and healthier Earth.

Last month a set of exceptional individuals with a common motivation to shift food systems to a plant based paradigm to mitigate climate change, enhance nutritional diversity and advance food security and sovereignty collaborated with ten innovative organizations across different sectors as the professional partners of the challenge lab. The teams collaborated with these organizations over a period of 14 weeks to dive into the respective sectors by conducting primary and secondary analyses, going on field visits and finally recommending actionable items for the organizations to incorporate in their strategies. The challenge lab achieved what it set out to do - bring together ‘plant futurists’ and connect them with leading organizations to give them agency to develop innovative solutions to impending problems faced by the expanding plant based food sector. All of the partners applied the recommendations presented to them in their ongoing strategies with many also offering opportunities to extend their partnerships with the teams.

The challenges given by the organizations were not only inherently multifaceted but across organizations, the team were working on a varied set of problems. Aromyx, a data-driven biotechnology company that detects and quantifies human taste and olfactory receptors to develop better tasting products, tasked its team to conduct a market research of its competitors and target audience to increase their market size. Similarly, we also had global companies like CJCJ that is bringing a new protein source - mycoprotein to create alternative meat that tasked their team to conduct market research for their new alternative in US markets. In this case we saw the team coming up with market research for a new target audience based on diets, age and location as well as what K-food dishes they should produce and market. Finally, they also gave recommendations on what words and terminologies they should use in packaging.

More than half of Gen Zers believe that Climate Change is the single biggest issue our planet is currently facing
Photo by Dose Juice, via Unsplash

Companies like Amy’s, Cal Dining, and Hunneeus tasked their teams to work on environmental indicators. Hunneeus Winery is a family owned winery based in Napa and as the company mentor, Rodrigo Soto, General Manager, mentioned during the case challenge, “We need to get thinkers outside the industry to give insights on things we haven't thought about as traditional wine makers'', the team set out to do exactly that - their consumer research concluded that wine drinkers purchase wine more based on its sustainability indicators then health benefits. They found that soil and carbon sequestration are two avenues that Hunneeus can work on and recommended them to attain two certifications, Demeter, which is a wine maker sustainability certification, and B corp. On the other hand, Amy’s tasked the team to conduct market research on what specific environmental indicators matters most to consumers with an emphasis on Gen Z’ers. Finally, the team for Cal Dining renamed more that 70 items on their menu after conducting consumer research as to what food item names appeal most to consumers. The team was also tasked with reducing Cal Dining’s greenhouse gas emissions and demand for animal products. At the end of the case challenge, Samantha Lubow, Cal Dining’s sustainability coordinator announced that they will extend their project with the team.

The response from every team mentor was overwhelming and exceptionally positive during the final showcase. Christina Ra, the Vice President Marketing and mentor, concluded by acknowledging the value addition of the deliverables provided by the team. She went on to say that the team was treated as a part of the marketing division and their consumer research for Gen Z’ers was so insightful that they will implement it very soon. Similarly, Katie Marston, the Chief Marketing Officer of Once Upon A Farm and mentor, also mentioned that their team’s recommendation to add a subsidiary company named OFarms to appeal to older demographics is something that the company will incorporate.

Photo by Maja Petric, via Unsplash

The purpose of the Challenge Lab is two fold - it brings together young professionals with the common goal of transforming food systems and secondly, it provides a bridge between these professionals and mission driven companies. The platform not only created meaningful and value driven relationships between young professionals - plant futurists - with leading companies advancing a new paradigm for the food sector but also equipped plant futurists with the agency to ideate and drive solutions in these companies. The ulterior motive of this platform is to develop a space for like minded young professionals and mission driven organizations to bring about active change to support fair and equitable food systems to a plant centric paradigm.

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