A visit to Mugioto Bakery in Tokachi, Hokkaido was a highlight of the Japan leg of the 2017 Nuffield Global Focus programme.
Mr Masanori Sugiyama is a businessman who realised that running a chain of bakeries in Tokachi would not be financially sustainable over the long term because of the price sensitivity of bread and baked goods.
Mr Maeda, a wheat and vegetable farmer in Tokachi was facing similar challenges with downward price pressure in a commodity market.
What seemed like an unsurmountable problem for two very different businesses has become a success story over the last few years. The two businessmen collaborated on a project to use the locally grown Tokachi wheat from Mr Maeda’s farm, in the baked goods sold in the Mugioto bakeries.
Bread is a food that can be bought in Japan very cheaply and round the clock, but by focusing on creating a product from local wheat, Mugioto are able to sell their product at double the price of the competition. Four years ago they moved from using 100% imported wheat to 100% Tokachi wheat.
The farmer, Mr Maeda, until that point had never tasted his own wheat in any product.
The Mugioto site has a small wheat field, a stone mill and windmill for milling the flour. Customers are able to see the process from field to finished baked goods in one location and become part of the process. Children are encouraged to visit and take food education lessons where they take part in activities including pizza making.
Japan has around 40% food self-sufficiency, but in bread wheat this figure is only 3%.
The Mugioto bakery’s corporate brand is now focused on local food production for local food consumption and with the passion of farmers in the Tokachi area, they are ensuring sustainable and healthy food production for the future.
2017 seemed to pass in a blur of countries and interviews as I researched how vegetables are used to improve health outcomes and tackle human nutrition issues.
I have seen different practices and policies in the countries I have visited but there is international agreement that vegetables are beneficial for our health, even though in some countries, consumption is quite low.
I presented a summary of my findings to the product developers, procurement and commercial team working in the vegetable category at Bakkavor in April and it was a great opportunity to discuss what needs to change within the food manufacturing and the retail sector.
Health claims are helpful but are not silver bullet for communicating with the consumer. The key is finding a format that makes vegetables easier to access in today’s busy lifestyles.
My core argument is that when the various actors in the food supply chain work together to address the needs of the consumer, positive change happens.
International dietary guidelines are consistent with the message that a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables should be eaten per day. The Chinese take a prescriptive approach and recommend 3-500g vegetables, 50% of which should be dark. The South Koreans stipulate 2 portions of vegetables with every meal and their population surveys show they have sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
In New Zealand where 80% of the population are familiar with the 5+ a day message, ideas such as the Vital Vegetables range and Vitamin D enhanced mushrooms take advantage of the new health claim regulations to communicate benefits of high nutrient vegetables to consumers. The Chip Group programme to reduce fat levels in take-away fried chips is another health intervention initiative.
These are methods of health promotion, firstly providing information for the consumer to make a choice and secondly, changing production so that the consumer does not have to change their behaviour.
I will be speaking about diet and how the environment shapes what we eat at ASSET2018, Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday 30th May ASSET2018, QUB