David Hughes is Emeritus Professor of Food Marketing at Imperial College London, and Visiting Professor at the Royal Agricultural University, U.K. He has lived and worked in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Africa and South East Asia and has extensive experience as an international advisory board member with food companies and financial service organizations on three continents. He does not only talk, but walks his talks doing real business. For 20 years, he was a Non-Executive Director of Berry Gardens Ltd – a U.K. farmer-owned berry fruit business. With an American business partner, Hughes established, grew and sold a branded fresh produce business which served supermarkets in the USA. Around the globe, he works with supply chain companies in food and beverage – including farm input, growers, manufacturers and ingredient companies, retailers and food service firms – to assist them in management training, strategy and decision-making.

Asked how he thinks the Covid-19-crisis will impact demand for fresh foods, he says we now understand we ought to eat more healthily, even if we didn’t do so during lockdown - many of us ate more salty and sugary snacks and confectionery.

However, coming out of lockdown, people clearly pay more attention to healthy food, as we realize bad eating habits impact our health and make us more vulnerable to the new corona virus.

So do governments.

Pre-covid, governments were already taking steps in applying taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages. Post-lockdown, even governments in liberal societies will step in. They now fully realise the cost burden of citizens being unhealthy. Their newly acquired attitude accelerates what was already going on. But now they will even more surely go for salt and sugar taxes, “apply heavy duty regulation” and, as Hughes says, “skull and bones Front of Pack labelling”.

Urban horticulture
Fresh foods will become ever more popular as they are considered healthy foods. Sales and consumption of highly perishable fresh foods such as salads depend on an peri-urban area. Hughes brings back to mind Johann Heinrich von Thünen's model of the ideal agriculture. Von Thünen was a nineteenth century economist on agricultural land use, who demonstrated that horticulture has its logical and efficient place just around cities and not far away from its consumers.

Especially in countries like the US and city states like Singapore, where agriculture is located in a radius of 1.000 kilometers from where urbanites live, Von Thünen is back in a 21rst century edition: hydroponics and vertical farming. And, says Hughes, there’s big Californian money developing and promoting it. Is vertical farming going to feed the world? Nope. It’ll nourish high end consumers.

Further on in the conversation, Hughes comments on how Ocado - the British online-only grocer - is using hydroponics next to its regional distribution centers, to enhance its image competing with brick and mortar grocers who use it to add theater to their shops.

Do you think urban vertical farming is going to feed cities? Watch the video and let us know in the comments.

What is vertical farming?