The Future of Food: harnessing nature

Fixing the food system by “harnessing nature, rather than torturing it”: this was the theme of Eden McCallum’s recent panel event on the Future of Food.

We looked at some exciting possibilities both from outside, in terms of ground-breaking innovations, and from within, through working with farmers and food companies to change their ways of working. Our panel of independent consultants brought cutting edge knowledge from their work in regenerative architecture, collaborative supply chains, carbon neutral food production, and alternative proteins. And they concluded that while the system faces dizzying challenges, the long-term prospects for the sector are positive.


Our food system is very successful. We have increased food output 10x in the last 80 years and can now feed 7bn people with 1.7x more calories per person from less agricultural land. But this has come at the expense of both human and planetary health. The current agricultural system is not sustainable for the environment or for farmers: our food system works at a ratio likely to be >20:1 in favour of efficiency vs. resilience, while nature is coded c.2:1 in favour of resilience vs. efficiency.  So our existing system is fundamentally vulnerable.

Peter Wortsman

Regenerative agriculture, where Peter Wortsman’s consulting work with farmers and food companies is focused, brings improved soil health and biodiversity (and hence ecological resilience), as well as economic resilience for farmers. But transitioning is not straightforward. Specifically, as demonstrated in a UK-based study from Savills, regenerative agricultural practices can return a profit after 6 years. Farmers therefore need economic support to get to year 6. They also need help with learning how to implement regenerative practices. Furthermore, the food value chain isn’t currently aligned to regenerative practices. Here, food companies have a crucial role to play, and there are positive examples emerging, such as Tesco and McVities signing longer term agreements with suppliers to reduce supply chain cost and risk; Nestle, Arla, Carlsberg paying a premium for regenerative practices, and start-ups (e.g. Ethical Butcher, Wildfarmed, Hodmedods in the UK) working directly with farmers and selling to consumers, bypassing the mainstream food value chain.

Keith Coleman

Keith Coleman shared some of his experiences in circular agriculture innovation with his algae-based food start-up Brilliant Planet, an example of rethinking the food system and harnessing nature to produce a plentiful, carbon negative, nutrient dense food source. Algae is abundant and grows exponentially; an algae bloom can produce 10bn kg of food from 20kg of algae in 30 days – equivalent to what the highly productive Punjab region in India grows in a year. In its Moroccan manufacturing plant, Brilliant Planet is “scaling down the ocean”, using the sun, sea and wind to grow local Moroccan algae in local, bio-relevant sea water 1) as a food source and 2) to capture carbon – leading to “the world’s healthiest food and lowest cost carbon capture”. They identify specific algae species that produce e.g. omega 3, beta carotene. By-products are fresh water, oxygen and a de-acidified ocean. Keith also described the need to “harness nature rather than torture it”, to adopt a regenerative and circular mindset vs. extractive, and to reorient broader dietary thinking around healthy nutrients (vs. “whole things to eat”), ditching ultra-processed foods.

Debora Fang

One category with an important role to play in changing consumer behaviour is alternative proteins.  Food industry advisor Debora Fang pointed out that we have already come a long way from plant-based food being only bought by vegans and vegetarians. The scale of flexitarian demand is a key driver of growth and innovation in the alternative proteins sector, mainly driven by environmental, health and ethical concerns. Notably, 37% of respondents at our event were flexitarian. Growth has been supported by significant technology development and communications efforts by innovators, early adoption by the foodservice sector, investment from large FMCGs/retailers seeking new high-growth categories and brand extensions with green credentials, and financial investor interest. However, sales and investment growth have slowed in the last c 18-24 months. Taste, product functionality and health credentials have significant room to improve, prices are high, and companies have yet to demonstrate an attractive growth model. There is groundbreaking innovation in better plant alternatives and new technologies such as precision fermentation in dairy, and cell-based meat. However, the industry will need to continue to attract material investment to fulfil its sizeable potential.

In the long-term, our panel concluded, prospects for fixing the food sector are good. As climate risks materialise, younger consumers in particular are aware of the climate impact of food choices. Technology continues to develop, including through AI in agriculture, and in the alternative proteins space. Government policy and regulatory efforts directed at the food sector are ramping up, and ESG investment pressures aren’t going away. Food companies and investors are looking to invest in disruptive innovations, in particular those with a clear and fairly short-term path to profitability.


  • Peter Wortsman – Consultant in regenerative agriculture, formerly with Monitor, Deloitte, and Tesco as well as agricultural technology startup Cervest
  • Keith Coleman – Co-founder of circular agriculture innovator Brilliant Planet, former partner at Monitor, Cap Gemini
  • Debora Fang – Consultant to food companies and NED of Burcon Nutrascience, formerly with Unilever, Danone and Bain