“The story of food powder has never been told, even though it’s thousands of years old.”
That’s what Henrik Stamm Kristensen, the founder and CEO of Blendhub, the world’s first multi-localized food production network offering food-as-a-service, made clear to us.
With a lot of our food originating as powder across the supply chain today, it could further hold the key to solving many of our current and future dietary, sustainability and food hunger issues.
In this second part of the interview, we take a look at the broader food market in the world, and the role food powder and its contributions to food traceability, sustainability, zero waste and nutrition will play in the grand scheme of things. In part one, we explored the history of Blendhub as a company and its core philosophies.
A need for powder-based food “…Food powder has been around forever, and it is the biggest single food product in the world.”
Kristensen explains how “after World War 2, a frenetic race started with millions of new food producers offering more food choices with longer shelf life to reach consumers far away and this started the boom of processed food with long ingredients lists.”
He highlights how in the past, humanity was more reliant on fresh goods and pure dried ingredients, based on a huge amount of different vegetable and animal proteins, whereas today, this has changed to “blackbox” designer foods with doubtful nutrition values and too many ingredients. Through the use of technology and the global move towards increased transparency, consumers today have a true possibility to decide what they want to eat and why they want to eat it which can be seen in the recent growth of plant-based protein diets.
After all, the global plant-based protein market is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 8% during the forecast period 2019-2025, according to a recent study.
“Today, we are using mainly 10 protein ingredients from plant sources, whereas a hundred years ago we were using 30,000. So, this whole [focus on] food that is processed anytime, anywhere using very few protein sources means that in the bread industry for example, where 95% of all bread products are based on wheat, [this is not sustainable].”
That is where food powder comes in.
“The reason for us to select powder is because we believe that it’s the most sustainable source of food and nutrition. With fresh food, we’ve seen so much waste, as you cannot plan how much of a certain vegetable will be consumed, or how weather conditions will affect crop yield for example.”
He gives an anecdote about how in a country like Spain, producers can set estimates for how much lettuce will be sold, but in the journey to retail many get discarded for not looking appealing enough or having slight damage.
For example, consider what happens to a perfectly good apple that has a bump on its side. Retailers can’t sell such an apple, so it is often disposed of, leading to unnecessary food waste that ranges from 20-50% of total production of fresh fruit and vegetables. With food powder processes, this undesirable apple could be turned into perfectly usable powder, regardless of visual appeal.
Impact of powder-based food on farmers
“What has happened at the farmer level during the last 50 years is that farmers [joined] together with big food companies around what we call cooperatives and other [organizations] where farmers were supposed to get a part of the cake.”
“Agriculture cooperatives based on fresh produce are always depending on the processing industry, final consumer preferences and price sensitivity, which is a top/down situation where farmers are the ones paying the price if anything changes or goes wrong.”
He explains that “what has really happened is that farmers are producing the basic raw materials (which can be fruits, vegetables or animals), but are often getting the worst price because all along the value chain, and starting with the ingredients producer, so much money is poured into the value added processes.”
“If farmers could participate directly in a process where excess fresh produce is converted into powder, that would become a perfect buffer for zero waste and thereby an additional income for powder sales to value added recipes with full traceability and up to 2 years of shelf life.”
In this top/down scenario, given the cost of these processes, and in pursuit of the cheapest price for consumers possible, farmers are forced to act as the cost buffer for the distribution chain, leaving them with little earnings. However, there is a possibility for them to invest in new assets and technology to help mitigate this, which is where Blendhub comes in.
Technology for a paradigm shift in the food industry
Among Blendhub’s many missions is to help any stakeholder in the agri-food value chain “use technology to predict recipes and consumption and thereby to streamline the future work of the farmers to know exactly what they should be planting for [maximum revenue].”
One of the ways they plan to achieve this is by expanding their IP developed technology and software under the Blendhub umbrella into a novel data platform and offering strategic impact investors to participate in what they call CloudBlending PaaS (Platform as a Service).
“Some of [our] technologies are so powerful that we actually want the rest of agri-food value chain and any other stakeholder to benefit from this technology.”
Additionally, for Blendhub, it has always been about education and raising awareness. Through the Cloudblending platform, they want to help the sector’s 500 million SMEs, as well as banks, investors, and venture capitalists, to start understanding how they can create traceability, security, and prediction at a much faster rate than ever experienced before in history.
“As for SMEs, we provide them the tools to develop and launch products faster, address new markets or market needs and compete in innovation through services such as pay-per-use production services, R&D and quality, traceability and prediction services that leverage advanced technologies from the supply chain and the market. In addition, our delocalized production model gives us greater capacity to react and adapt in the event of climate catastrophes or pandemics such as the one we are currently experiencing with COVID-19.
“So going back to farmers, for example, they have the possibility with the data collected on the CloudBlending platform to understand what [crops] they should plan in the next season because there will be a requirement for new recipes based on consumer feedback, and not only listening to the multinationals who tell them to plant wheat, maize or soy.”
The importance of food traceability and BlendHub’s role
“When you look at the ingredients list of a food product you understand you look at a “blackbox,” and the first thing you ask yourself is ‘where are my ingredients coming from, how and where have they been cultivated, how are farmers dealing with their local community, etc.’ There are so many questions around the cultivation of one ingredient.”
He explains how customers are not only interested in knowing the origin of an ingredient, but also its purpose in the recipe. Certain ingredients have a certain mouthfeel (a common industry term). If a chocolate milk drink has a thickness to its mouthfeel, for example, customers should be able to tell which ingredient is producing this sensation or flavor.
“At Blendhub, we have started qualifying ingredients and sharing why we are using one over the other with our customers.”
Again, Blendhub’s goal is to educate and inform, and as such, their traceability practices are not about deciding whether the source of an ingredient is good or bad.
“We don’t want to be the judges. We want to inform the public about their food so that they can decide if they want one product over the other.”
Power-based food vs. fresh food products
A question often posed by the public is how food powder and other superfoods compare with fresh food in terms of nutrition.
“Food powder is actually coming from fresh ingredients and its nutritional value is exactly the same as fresh food products,” Kristensen said. “The reason to focus on powder is that we are actually able today to provide nutrition – individualized nutrition – for anybody, based on any protein source, combined into powder-based recipes.”
“Let’s look at the story of milk, a major focus point in the Middle East. Now, the story of fresh milk is a very interesting one because more than a century ago, we started drying it. The reason for drying it was not because we wanted to make milk powder. It’s much more convenient and affordable to sell the fresh milk as is rather than incur more costs into processing it into powder.”
“No, milk was dried to avoid waste, and this is why skimmed milk powder or milk powder as an example was sold to Africa historically. It would be transported there in powder-form, and then retreated and diluted in water in Africa and repackaged as a fresh product,” essentially serving as a near identical substitute for the real thing. “It was also dried to be able to formulate tailor-made powder-based recipes like infant nutrition, which was invented by Henri Nestle, who had a formulation ready by 1867.”
The role of food powder during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic
Kristensen shifts our focus to the overworked medical staff struggling with increasing COVID-19 crisis around the world, saying that “We cannot bring cooks to prepare fresh food for all these people.”
He believes Blendhub and the Cloudblending platform can help in this regard.
“We can create any recipe with all the nutritional value that the human body needs, instantaneously. So, when you look at the situation, [the fact that we have spare capacity at our hubs], and the capability of producing powder from recipes that are basically online, within a day or a week, we can start creating sustainable nutritional meals that you just mix with water to be able to feed all these people.”
“This is why, again, this demonstrates why food powder has such an important role in communities around the world when there is a crisis.”
Packaging and sustainability
Finally, we inquired about the packaging that goes into Blendhub’s final packaged product.
“One of [our] stakeholder groups are the consumer packaging material and machinery manufacturers. What we have done is invite them to participate in our platform, so that they can offer their solutions to our partners, network and customers all over the world and install with us according to our global replication model.”
The future for Blendhub
In essence, Blendhub is a platform for pay-per-use services to help food companies and brands develop and launch products more quickly, tackle new markets and compete in innovation through advanced technology for data analysis and a network of multi-localised hubs. As such, they are always on the lookout for partners to help them expand their global vision.
“We are trying to select the right partners that have a sustainable impact approach and that is exactly why today we are opening our hands on the platform both to investors who believe in impact investment or also to many different partner stakeholder groups so they can start impacting together with us. This is part of the value proposition that we have been working on for the last 10-15 years.”
If you are interested in Blendhub’s revolutionary business model and what they’re offering, you can learn more on their site here.