Food100 plays matchmaker for food industry innovators

“Farmers and chefs need to talk to each other”

Roel Schutten (above, left) is Director of AgriFood Capital and one of the initiators behind Food100, a network bringing together diverse future-oriented food pioneers and influencers. He explains the importance of uniting leaders from across the food chain.

The AgriFood Capital Foundation is a consortium in which governments, entrepreneurs and knowledge institutions join forces to stimulate the agrifood sector in the south of the Netherlands. In addition to his AgriFood Capital role, Roel Schutten is one of the founders of Food100, a different type of food network, which recently presented its annual Food100 list of ‘promising food visionaries.’

Clearly, Schutten’s hunger for a fully networked food system remains unsatiated. He explains Food100 and his passion for bringing together leaders from across the food chain.

Why is Food100 important?

In our food system, we need to move away from a focus on price and move towards a focus on value. Food100 tries to bring together the people who make a positive contribution to that change – across the entire food chain – and puts them in the spotlight. The list constitutes a careful selection of innovators with a ‘can do’ mentality. All the people on the list are working towards a shared ambition from different perspectives.

What does Food100 add to existing network initiatives in food?

There is no other network that brings together food changemakers from across all sectors, generations and regions. Food100 brings all these ‘islands’ in the food chain together, from farmer to chef and everything in between. At the same time, we also unite those at the helm of companies with up-and-coming talent in their sector, which leads to cross-fertilization.

The value of the list lies in people’s willingness to share their challenges, ambitions, solutions and even failures. And although the network itself consists of only one hundred people, the individuals on the list send out a powerful message and exemplary leadership to everyone in the sector.

Why is it important for Food100 to connect the entire sector?

You cannot innovate alone. And yet innovators often focus on their own circle. Farmers talk to farmers, and chefs talk to chefs, but not enough with each other, even though there is so much to gain within the food chain. The utility of Food100 is that primary producers become acquainted with those who work with their products and add value to them.

“Farmers talk to farmers and chefs to chefs but not enough with each other”

- Roel Schutten, AgriFood Capital

Why is AgriFood Capital a founder and promoter of Food100?

AgriFood Capital unites stakeholders in Northeast Brabant to work together to come up with innovative solutions to problems concerning sustainability, nutrition and health. The agrifood sector is both economically and socially of major importance to this region: there are some 7,000 companies involved somewhere along the food chain – all the way from the farmer to the meal on your plate. There are 54,000 people employed in this sector. The region is one of the frontrunners of the current food system, and we are clearly seeing signs that we are hitting the limits of that system. The region is in effect an ecosystem of agrifood entrepreneurs.

But such a system doesn’t take provincial or national borders into account. Innovation begins with an open attitude towards everything and everyone around you. This is the only way you can keep up with the fast pace of change and stay up to date with developments in knowledge and technique. We don’t believe in a regional approach to these challenges but choose instead to adopt a national and international focus.

“Innovation begins with being open to everything and everyone around you”

- Roel Schutten, AgriFood Capital

What effect does Food100 have in concrete terms?

Everyone wants to have tangible evidence of what effect this kind of initiative has. But sometimes you need to invest in the long term without any pressure to produce a result. Food100 allows participants to interact with each other, to learn from each other, to share their values, and to discover their motivations – not with any particular agenda or concrete business case in mind.

We plant seeds. Some of these seeds grow quickly, but others take three years to germinate, and by that time it’s impossible to retrace precisely when, where, and by whom the seed was sown. But the fact that we had to select from more than 600 entries this year, that people wish to be a part of this movement, and that people are proud of their place in the network confirms our conviction that what we are doing is valuable.

This interview is an edited version of a longer article published earlier in Food Inspiration Magazine, a digital trade journal for food service professionals.