Frans Muller (Ahold Delhaize) on The Future of Food: “The financial question is crucial for a successful transformation”

Co-authors Jorg Snoeck and Stefan Van Rompaey showed their book The Future of Food in advance to Frans Muller, CEO of Ahold Delhaize, and asked him for a reaction. He emphasised that it is important to understand the complexity of the situation we are facing. 


Transformation costs money

“The challenges in the food transformation chain are major and affect many different fields: climate, food security, ecosystems, waste, social relations, etc. For this reason, it is important to take a broad view of the entire chain, in all its aspects, from farmer to consumer. That is also an essential condition for a better balancing of supply and demand.”


“In addition, it is important not to lose sight of economic realities. Transformation costs money. So who is going to pay? Everyone in the chain wants to make a profit: the farmer, the manufacturer, the retailer. There are competitive factors at play and we also need to remember the purchasing power of the consumer. For this reason, transformation can only be successful once some of these elements, such as the financing of climate improvement measures and the stimuli for regenerative agriculture, are regarded as precompetitive.”


Creating a level playing field

“Financing and support will be crucial to the transition towards a more sustainable food system from farmer to consumer. This is where government can play a role by creating a level playing field. The European Green Deal with its 'Farm to Fork' strategy is a good start that can help to get a movement for change under way, although it is also possible to criticise some of the choices made.”


“Another equally important task is to make consumers more aware and to restore their confidence in the food sector. The sector will need a convincing plan of action, open and honest communication, and the ability to demonstrate that it can be a reliable partner. We must be able to show that we are there to guide consumption choices, not dictate them. In this respect, I see a key role for the standardisation of information, with nutritional labelling (the Nutri-Score, Guiding Stars, etc.) and, later on, even climate labelling.”


Omnichannel supermarket will survive

“Climate themes and environmental dilemmas remain an urgent concern. We must strive to achieve a (net) zero growth in greenhouse gas emissions, the recovery of biodiversity, and the regeneration of healthier soil. Technology and digitisation can help us in these matters. Upscaling and technological development will go hand in hand with authenticity and naturalness. Finding substitutes for animal proteins is an important factor in helping to repair the damage done to the climate. Yet even with all these necessary changes, I believe that the omnichannel supermarket will continue to be the most important sales channel for the largest part of the consumer market.”


“The COVID crisis has strengthened awareness of a number of issues. People are now cooking more at home and have more respect for food and its production. Convenience is also becoming more important and health now occupies a higher position on the social agenda, as does climate change.”


A final question: what does Frans Muller hope to see on his plate in 2030? “Providing we can ensure a sustainable stock of fish by that date, I would like to see a nice sole, turbot or brill!”


The Future of Food - A new recipe for the food sector is published by Lannoo Campus in Belgium and Van Duuren Management in the Netherlands. It is available in a Dutch and an English version. The book is available in bookstores and, for larger online orders, via this link.