At the first Food Cluster session in April 2021, the focus was on how an entity like the V&A Waterfront, which operates at the consumption end of the food value chain, might make a positive difference to the system overall.
More than 22.5% of the area of the V&A Waterfront’s shopping centre is dedicated to food and food-related products (excl. grocers). This is more than double that of most regional shopping centres. Our two successful food markets – the V&A Food Market and the Oranjezicht City Farm market (OZCF) – together are home to 150+ successful small food operators.
On the value chain from production to consumption, the Waterfront is firmly at the consumption end of the chain. Given this, what are the opportunities for the Waterfront to make a meaningful contribution to addressing some of the problems in the food system?
This first open session of the Food Cluster set out to explore this, against the backdrop of the overarching food vision for the precinct:
Collectively creating an inspiring example of a just, sustainable food system that supports health and wellbeing.
This vision has been comprehensively unpacked here.
The Cluster consists of a coalition of the willing: colleagues and collaborators who share this vision. It seeks to amplify existing initiatives where they are relevant, and to partner to innovate, learn and act. The precinct of the Waterfront can be a sandbox in which to prototype, learn and improve, ultimately sharing the outcomes so that others may use what works, and scale what works best.
Potential areas for SOLVE engagement
While many areas of focus were proposed, debated and agreed, resource constraints meant only two priorities were immediately adopted. These are:
1. A food hub
The rationale behind this is that with 80+ food outlets, the aggregated procurement spend across the Waterfront is potentially a game-changer for local producers. However, restaurants and other outlets have three major considerations when they choose their suppliers:
- Reliability (quality and delivery)
- Convenience (delivery, billing etc)
For these reasons, most prefer to deal with well-established, reliable and efficient businesses rather than individual producers.
The “middlemen” businesses which supply outlets at the Waterfront, however, do not necessarily have any commitment to any of the values defined in the food vision for the Waterfront.
One potential solution for both Waterfront businesses and independent producers, therefore, might be an aggregator business which shares our values, and with that as their filter sources suppliers who also meet the expectations of the commercial buyers and are competitive price-wise.
The advantages of this aggregator, or Food Hub, are:
- Wholesale opportunity to the Waterfront – plus immediacy (short supply chain – fresher produce)
- Convenience and freshness for buyers
- Expanding market access for local independent producers
- Support for and development of small and regenerative suppliers (including support in developing business skills)
Umthunzi Farming Community, a market platform creating empowering economic opportunities for small-scale farmers which sadly has gone out of business, shared some cautions which are critical considerations for the working group for the Food Hub:
- The cost of infrastructure is high, and needs to be offset with off-take agreements to ensure consistent access
- Logistics are expensive on a small scale: a Food Hub needs volumes to work. It also needs large scale markets that provide enough choice; and shoppers who understand and share the principles
- To be viable, a Food Hub will need to service both wholesale and retail customers, and will have to be quite strict to avoid spreading itself too thin on the farmer side
A working group focused on the Food Hub was set up and will in due course report back on this.
2. Emergency food relief
With Covid, the Waterfront doubled down its existing food relief efforts, adding the Heart of Filling the Belly campaign to the existing support for Ladles of Love and Homestead. Heart of Filling the Belly directed budget to buying produce from small-scale farmers who had lost their markets, and worked with dark kitchens on the precinct to produce warm meals to meet the exponentially increasing hunger in the City. The development in the Cluster asks: knowing that hunger is not a function of the Pandemic but an everyday reality for millions, how might we transform our emergency response into something that is sustainable?
It found a willing partner in SA Harvest; and ideas flowed about food rescue initiatives. These included:
- The lobby influence of the Waterfront brand to influence farmers and retailers to waste less – to not throw away food that is non-export quality, odd-shaped etc
- Engagement with the Port of Cape Town with regards to saving food that is about to be lost due to windy days – “windy day markets”
- Recognising that farming on the Waterfront property is not price-competitive, it can nevertheless demonstrate new technologies; or showcase what can be done in small spaces
- Investigate a food-subsidy model. Specifically, produce from small-scale farms may often not be price-competitive when measured against the output of commercial farms, but these enterprises nevertheless have an important social impact. The Waterfront may consider buying produce, and selling it a lower price as part of social investment. Is there a way to calculate the return on investment for a subsidy model that allows urban farmers to become more viable through subsidy?
Other projects, for future engagement
In addition to food that can be rescued for consumption, other categories of food waste include organic waste that cannot be consumed, and inorganic waste. How might we extract the value in these categories?
This might include bees, fresh produce, or seaweed. There are rooftop solutions, canal solutions, and tech solutions. Among the Cluster there are many who already have initiatives underway and are keen to support further –PwC on the precinct has a rooftop food garden; and the Waterfront has its “Octopus Garden” constructed of ecobricks, which produces tons of fresh produce donated to feeding schemes.
How might the Waterfront amplify the innovation agenda – where is there need, and where is there opportunity?
Whatever it is that consumers demand, restaurants and food retailers will supply – and the converse applies too: whatever it is that restaurants and food retailers market, shoppers and diners will try. How might behavioural science be enlisted to increase consumer awareness, and nudge our food value chain into increasing their support for sustainability, inclusivity and opportunity?
There’s a richness of stories about food that needs to be told. Part of the Cluster is about documenting the work that is done – the projects that succeeded and those that didn’t; the synthesised learnings that emerged; the research and the intelligence that emerges from that.
As time and resources allow, each of these focus areas will be picked up.