We held a workshop to exchange ideas with stakeholders involved in the food and drink sector and learn about what we both understand by ‘localised food manufacture’.
The workshop opened with a welcome and presentation about the Local Nexus Network project and covered the network theme ‘From smart engineering to Shared prosperity’, defined ‘redistributed manufacturing (RDM)’, and described the three objectives of i. assessing the knowledge base, ii. Creating a community interested in this field and iii. Defining the research agenda.
The 1st Session asked the question: What are the challenges and opportunities of localised food manufacturing?
The session was an interactive session that introduced how we currently define ‘localised food manufacturing’, what we mean by ‘manufacturing’ or ‘processing’ and what we mean by ‘redistribution’ (typically from fewer, larger units to more, smaller units) . The concepts and options for the future were described using 2 example products of bread and tomato paste and considered the viability of different products in terms of scale, geography, economics, sustainability, employment and efficiency especially for water and energy.
The 2nd Session asked the question: What CHANGES and CONDITIONS would need to be in place by 2040 for there to be a significant increase in localised food manufacturing?
The second session was an interactive session and we set the scene by stating that currently in the UK approximately 1-2% of all food is locally grown/processed and asking the participants to consider What would it take to have approximately 30% locally grown/processed food in 25 years time?
The 3rd Session brought together the main points of the day and opened the floor for any final comments from stakeholders.
Several challenges but also opportunities for RDM were noted:
|Challenges||· Downscaling machinery to small-scale
· Traceability and food safety
|· Acceptance/desire for more variable food
· Greater polarisation of society given possible price implications
· Inertia and drive from corporates for maintaining the status-quo – power arrangements
|· Political will to take on the status-quo
· New legislation and intervention needed
|Opportunities||· Better and more efficient water and energy use
· Synergies for waste heat
|· Implications for local businesses, entrepreneurs, health
· Potential to reduce risk associated with long supply chains
|· Political capital and local development zones (LEP)|
There was also considerable discussion on the ‘conditions’ needed for RDM:
- RDM needs to be ‘market driven’, with a clear market ‘pull’; enterprises need reassurance.
- RDM will not happen overnight, and may be of a ‘generational’ (25+ years) nature. This is due to general inertia in the system due to current investment and concern about new markets.
- There needs to be a significant ‘ease of entry’ for new businesses, which may require new grants and social changes.
- Technological innovation and especially increased automation could both help and hinder RDM. At what point, for what operations, does automation prove better than people?
- Finally, there would need to be a change in food culture towards local = better, which could well be on a generational timescale.
The full workshop report is available here.