Have you ever heard of choco-panda ice cream? Me neither. How about a superhero on a mission to teach kids about nutrition and food security? Or a startup that merges biometric data with facial recognition software used on cows – yes, cows – to help dairy farmers keep track of the health of each animal in the herd? If these sound like the building blocks of some sort of futuristic food and agriculture-focused utopia, you wouldn’t be far off from what went down at the Thought For Food (TFF) Global Summit in Amsterdam on May 26 and 27.

A platform like no other

Mind-blowing ideas and technology – many of them very much in early stages of development – were presented, dissected, discussed and crowd-sourced – all in the name of TFF’s big mission: offering “the world’s leading platform for Next Generation Innovation and Collaboration to address global food and nutrition security.” The Summit included inspiring keynotes as well as unique opportunities like Honesty Circles, Challenge Clinics, Maker Labs and even a Fail Fest (where innovators share their mistakes and lessons learned) – carefully curated to foster collaboration and help young innovators with a passion for food security to get their ideas off the ground. Did I mention there was also a morning rave? Not your typical food conference to say the least.

I sat down with TFF’s Founder and CEO, Christine Gould, who shared more about her vision for TFF’s own future. What started as a platform for engagement and empowerment in food and agriculture morphed into a business competition and now continues to evolve. TFF aims to stand apart from the other food and agriculture competitions, which focus heavily on driving intellectual property (IP) and venture capital funding. “We have an incredible community and a think different mindset,” says Gould. “We’ve already open sourced our boot camp and design thinking lab,” she says. “Now we’re moving toward an open source community where we can build on each other’s innovations to experiment with what collaborative business models looks like and how those can get funded.” She adds that many of the projects that come through the TFF platform are at the stage and scale where it makes sense to integrate them. “How do we actually help entrepreneurs innovate beyond just an IP strategy?” This year’s grand prize winner was Cultivando Futuro, a Colombian team that created an agro-commerce platform leveraging open data to analyze market trends and provide key information to farmers, wholesale buyers and organizations. 

Impact through collaboration and scale

But it’s not just about startups working together. Another cooperation featured at the TFF Summit was EIT Food, a consortium of 50 European partners in business and research aimed at driving consumer confidence and improving global health. Ellen de Brabander, Interim CEO of EIT Food, SVP R&D Nutrition at PepsiCo and one of the TFF Symposium keynote speakers explained more. “It’s a unique consortium because we have key members with key capabilities, funding, and a joint ambition to transform the food sector.” There, they can build ecosystems to accelerate ideas or be a resource for one another. “It’s not about being able to steer them,” she says. “It’s about scaling the idea. That is what we try to bring.”

Multinational food and beverage companies like PepsiCo certainly have the size and scale to drive impact on their own, but when it comes to consumer trust, they can face extra challenges. According to de Brabander, times are changing. “I am fortunate to be with a company like PepsiCo.” She gives the example of their nutrition and sustainability-focused program, Performance with Purpose, which inspires many of PepsiCo’s employees and shareholders today. But when it started ten years ago, many were critical of the company doing anything but selling their core products. Fast forward to today and nutrition is now core to the strategy of the company, where they focus on cleaning up the existing portfolio (e.g. reducing sugar, saturated fat and salt) and making sure new innovations are right from the start, by maximizing positive ingredients, like whole grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy. “Now we have such very ambitious objectives,” says de Brabander. “It’s not a radical change, but now they are integrated as much as possible into the business.”

Harnessing super powers

Exciting tech startups, inspiring collaboration incubators and impactful multinational efforts are no doubt all part of the solution to food and nutrition security. But have you considered the role superpowers could play? Enter AGRIman: the world’s first food and nutrition security superhero. I had the chance to meet this mysterious superhero from Trinidad and Tobago during the TFF Summit, along with Alpha Sennon, founder of WHYFARM, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about agriculture and the world’s food problems. WHYFARM created AGRIman with the aim of changing Agriculture to “Agricoolture.”

I asked AGRIman if he has super powers. ”Yes I do.” he said. “The power or coercion and persuasion to get youth to care about agriculture.” He also teaches empathy and helps kids think about people in different parts of the world who may be experiencing food insecurity. Sennon says that AGRIman is gaining traction and that WHYFARM even offers trainings to help launch localized versions of AGRIman in different countries. One of the next steps is creating AGRIman playbook curriculum. AGRIman is currently funded “through passion.” In other words, there may be ample opportunity for companies with a shared vision to help spread the AGRIman concept even further. Sennon’s big dream is for AGRIman to become a mainstream superhero, inspiring young leaders in agriculture and food security around the world.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Sennon told me that despite the excitement over AGRIman, they are often asked: where is AGRIwoman? “She’s coming,” He says. AGRIman himself explained that they held a competition for kids to come up with a complementary female superhero. The winning concept: Photosynthesister. Sennon smiled, “This is just the beginning.”

I can only imagine what the TFF Summit will bring next year.


Posted by Erin Kappelhof

Photo of Christine Gould by Jelmer de Haas*