Forum Institutional

How the new future of nutrition puts holistic health first

Consumers want healthier and more nutritionally balanced food.

Consumers want healthier and more nutritionally balanced food. Image: Pexels

Wolfram Alderson
Executive Manager, Human and Environmental Health, Kuwaiti Danish Dairy (KDD)
Andrew Moose
Head of Health and Wellness, World Economic Forum
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Consumers are increasingly seeking healthy, affordable food but the market is dominated by unhealthy choices.
  • Global issues, such as climate change, geo-political conflicts, and the pandemic, are putting pressure on food and nutrition security.
  • The 'Metabolic Matrix' aims to serve as one example of how the food and beverage industry can reengineer its products to improve human and environmental health despite these challenges.

Now is the time for laying out the pathways to a new future for sustainable and healthy food. Simultaneous impacts from accelerating climate change, international conflicts, economic pressures, and supply chain disruptions continue to challenge consumer industries’ progress toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and pose a significant threat to food and nutrition security.

Waves upon waves of communicable and non-communicable diseases combine to create unprecedented, and unsustainable challenges, to human health. Both COVID-19 and increased levels of metabolic disease are negatively affecting multiple systems of the body and are weakening individual and societal resilience.

Demand for healthy, affordable food

In the midst of these challenges, consumers are increasingly seeking healthy, affordable food (over 70% want to be healthier, and over 50% have prioritized healthy eating as number one on their list). A number of food companies are now working to respond to these increases in demand for healthier food but for many, today’s “default” food environment continues to be dominated by unhealthy choices.

Food companies will need to significantly alter their food portfolios in the coming years to transform the default environment and surround these consumers with healthier and more nutritionally balanced food choices. For many food companies, that means fundamentally changing food portfolios and re-engineering many food products to make them healthy, nutritious, tasty, affordable, and widely available to consumers.

Have you read?

One example of a food and beverage company that is taking on the challenge of re-engineering their portfolio to put nutrition and human health first is KDD, a 60-year-old manufacturer in the MENA region and member of the World Economic Forum. It has forged a sustainability strategy featuring three pillars: people, planet, and nutrition.

The centrepiece of KDD’s nutrition strategy is to focus on foods that promote metabolic health. To guide this work, they have developed a science-based framework called the Metabolic Matrix. In June of 2021, the Forum featured this work in an article titled Food meets health: How a new approach to metabolic health could tackle chronic disease. The Metabolic Matrix was also featured in the New Frontiers of Nutrition community paper: Achieving Societal Resilience: The Nutrition Opportunity, released in April 2022.

KDD’s Metabolic Matrix model is an innovative, systemic, and collaborative approach to addressing growing concerns about how the food and beverage industry impacts human and environmental health. In the interest of inspiring other food companies to take similar steps and in the spirit of advancing global health, KDD has published an info site on the matrix and also shared the model at an international medical symposium on metabolic health and nutrition. The matrix is based upon three high-level goals for nutrition: support the brain, protect the liver, and feed the gut.

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How is the World Economic Forum promoting responsible models of consumption?

KDD is currently leveraging this evidence-based tool which categorizes products and ingredients according to their impact on metabolic health to apply it across their entire food and beverage portfolio. KDD is now reengineering many of its products and evolving its business model to embrace these changes.

A publicly available methods paper is currently under peer review which will offer a roadmap for other companies to inspire and guide them in potentially undertaking similar portfolio re-engineering efforts to improve metabolic health and mitigate chronic disease at scale, contributing to an improved food environment and improvements in global public health.

Implementing such a comprehensive and systemic approach has come with significant challenges associated with consumer preferences and beliefs, taste appeal of products and costs. Over the course of implementing this work, KDD has maintained its focus on eight “gears of change”.

Eight 'gears of change'. Image: KDD

Professor Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Forum, has called for future food systems to adopt a “platform for action” approach, enabling stakeholders from various sectors and geographies to develop public-private collaborations that meet local needs while collectively aligning and coming together to address global ones. This approach fundamentally has three traits:

  • Its focus is on platforms - not institutions, projects or pilots.
  • Its energy goes towards bolstering and aligning efforts, rather than duplicating them or approaching them piecemeal or in silos.
  • It requires a scaled, collaborative, cross-sector and solution-orientated mindset from the outset.

The goal in sharing the details of the metabolic matrix and the experiences of KDD is to build more momentum towards a “platform of action” through the Forum’s New Frontiers of Nutrition initiative, where many companies come together, along with the public sector, to share critical learnings, remove common barriers, and accelerate industry-wide steps to shift the default environment to an abundance of healthy, nutritious food choices that support individual health and strengthen societal resilience.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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