Improved innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship and talent for the food sector are fundamental to the countries’s economic success, not only today but in the very different future of what we call: Food 4.0.


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Improved innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship and talent for the food sector are fundamental to the countries’s economic success, not only today but in the very different future of what we call: Food 4.0.

University-Business Collaboration to lead Food 4.0

The next food revolution is under way.

1 Food 1.0 was simple cultivation;

food 2.0 was built on mechanisation and manufacturing;

Food 3.0 was the product of advanced technology, processing and genetics.

In Food 4.0, nine billion people around the world must be fed safely, sustainably, affordably and securely. And consumption is changing. As populations become wealthier, there is strong evidence that they call for a more meat and protein-intensive diet, with all that implies for food production and the consumption of scarce resources.

The Food 4.0 revolution is likely to be knowledge-intensive, collaborative and integrative. It may be built on big data, nano-technologies, genomics, and communications technologies. Or it may be the product of renewables, ecological policies, better consumer education and environmental literacy.

In all likelihood, it will be birthed by all of these. However it emerges, the countries’s food sector wants to be a leader in this new world. To lead, firms must benefit from highly talented graduates as well as world class science and inventiveness.

The Food Sector must pull more of this excellence in inventiveness through into innovation if it is to prosper in Food 4.0, and food companies must attract talented graduates into the whole supply chain. They need high quality engineers and marketers to work alongside farmers and horticulturists. These pressing business needs must be integrated into and supported by long-term industrial strategies from government.


Food 4.0 was supported by a steering group of senior figures from across the industry, civil service and the academy.

Members of the Food Economy Task Force Steering Group, Supporting these were working groups on talent and skills, science and translation and land use. Members of the Food Economy Task Force Steering Group was following extensive research and consultation the Task Force has come to ten conclusions and made six recommendations.


* Despite its demonstrable success in many countries, food industry is fragmented with a long value and supply chain and hundreds of thousands of small companies, including farms and fisheries.
Food lacks the unified voice with which to address government, research funders, universities and the education system that other sectors – such as automotive or pharma – have developed.

* The problems of a fragmented sector contribute to the generally weak links between businesses and universities. They must be improved through effective collaboration and research.

* There is enormous value to legislators, universities, colleges, schools, and the public in growing the value of the food sector. Universities and colleges will benefit from more research and better graduate employment prospects. Business will have access to greater inventiveness and more tailored graduate talent. And government will have a growing and strategically vital industry, alongside evidence to support policies that deliver sustainability. It would be a major strategic error to miss the opportunities created by the next food revolution.

* The government’s industrial strategy is primarily focussed on agricultural technology development. Its remit needs to be broadened to include the entire end-to-end value chain from lab to landfill. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland share many of the collaboration challenges faced by England, but have developed more integrated strategies to deal with them. These could be broadened and shared across the UK to increase innovation and produce a better educated workforce for the sector.

* Only a few universities have a clear sense of the research, innovation and educational needs of the food economy. And few partner with universities across Europe on the challenges of the food economy. Conversely many, if not most, food businesses do not have a strategic and long-term relationship with universities. This is not uncommon for sectors dominated by small and mid-sized businesses.

* There are too few high-quality collaborative mechanisms that join up the food industry with universities and the publicly-funded innovation system. And there are not enough translators able to work across industry, universities, and research institutes.

* The sector fails to present a coherent, consistent, and visible message to school children, their parents, and their teachers, which can attract them into food-related courses at university and college, or from higher education into food economy jobs.

* The production of food requires access to land, water, and energy, and it impacts on the environment in many ways. These include the emission of greenhouse gases, the amount and quality of water use, biodiversity, and human health via nutrition. The food industry, therefore, is inherently connected to other sectors. This interdependence needs to be recognised and navigated.

* Agricultural landscapes supply fresh water, have a role in flood prevention, offer significant cultural, amenity and recreational value, and provide habitats for biodiversity. These services often arise not from the management of single fields or farms, but from all land management in an area. For example, downstream flood risk may depend on all upstream farms. We call this approach the landscape perspective. The market is not currently incentivising approaches that unite business, government, universities, and the publicly funded innovation system to promote farm management to deliver multiple benefits for society at the landscape scale.