Submission is directly relating to Question 14:
What can the U.K. learn from food policy in other countries? Are there any examples of strategies which have improved access and affordability of healthy, sustainable food across income groups?
I represent a social initiative that is currently operating in Finland, with the support of the Finnish Government, to directly improve access to healthy, sustainable food for low income families.
This initiative is a private sector solution, and we are in the process of replicating this model in the U.K., as the data indicates the initiative has been successful in increasing access to healthy food for low income families.
The initiative is called Venner (meaning ‘friends’) founded in 2018 by Tuulia Järvinen (food economist, author), to reduce the polarization of well-being in society.
2. WHY VENNER WAS FOUNDED
More than 10% of Finnish children live in a poor family (over 120 000 children nationwide) and this affects their lives and our society in many ways.
Health inequalities in Finland are one of the highest in Europe.
The need for food aid is growing: approximately 33% of the customers on the ‘bread line’ are families. Poverty means less possibilities, and if family’s nutrition depends on food aid it may lead to poor nutrition, low immunity and even more difficulties in life – a downward spiral.
3. VENNER SOLUTION
For families identified by our Social Services as ‘in need of food aid/assistance’, we are the difference between them surviving on one poor-quality, low-nutrition, convenience meal per day, and three healthy, high-nutrition, family-friendly meals every day. The impact of this includes, but is not limited to:
• Improved energy levels and physical health
• Enhanced mental and emotional wellbeing
• Greater degree of positivity
• Better concentration, focus, clarity and cognitive function
• Higher propensity to participate in society/workplace
• Reduces reliance on health and other services due to improved overall state of wellbeing
• Children go to school after a healthy breakfast which directly improves concentration levels, learning ability and behavior
*All of the above are supported by scientific evidence detailing the benefits of improved nutrition, which is also confirmed by VENNER qualitative data analysis.
4. HOW VENNER ACHIEVES THIS
At the heart of this project is an online platform sharing cooking demonstrations, healthy foods, family-friendly meals, healthy food product brands and well known personalities. Utilizing our featured recipes a weekly shopping list is created, which also becomes our VENNER grocery bag.
Access to this online content is free for families in need, however, the content is paid, Euro 9.90/month, for people who are both willing and able to help.
The revenue from this platform is generated from two sources:
i. Monthly subscribers
ii. Healthy food product brands and supermarket partners
We feature carefully selected healthy food product brands and a supermarket partner, and create informative recipe/cooking demonstration video content including these products. We feature this on VENNER, and they also use this content for their own marketing channels. Therefore, Venner also provides a content creation service for our private sector partners, which is covered by their marketing budget.
Families identified by social services as ‘in need of assistance’ are given free access to VENNER’s site and are able to order VENNER grocery bags directly from our supermarket partner using a voucher code.
The grocery bag contains all ingredients necessary, in the perfect quantities, along with the printed recipes and access to the online site for demonstrations, to be able to cook as a family at home and utilize all ingredients cost effectively and economically.
The grocery bags are carefully created to ensure there is ‘zero food waste’ after all recipes have been prepared for the week. The ingredients are seasonal, organic where it is practical, and predominantly vegetarian.
Revenue generated is used to support the growth of the project, to subsidize the weekly grocery bags for families in need as much as possible, and provide an essential nutritional supplement - in Finland vitamin D deficiency is a known public problem, this is provided to the family for free.
5. VENNER’S IMPACT
As a result of our work we have witnessed:
• Instant nutritious food aid and relief
• Enhanced wellbeing and quality time together as a family
• Environmentally friendly cooking skills
• New experiences, joy and know-how of healthy cooking
• Better nutrition & higher levels of D-vitamin
• Better immunity, less infections, life quality
• Less costs for the society
• More equal possibilities
• Experiences of empathy and positive feelings of belonging and being part of the society
6. KEY ISSUES ADDRESSED BY VENNER
Most policies and initiatives addressing access to healthy food amongst low income families focus solely on food aid, or providing cheap food products focusing on quantity rather than quality, with no consideration of nutritional value or sustainability. This is counterproductive and unsustainable, as the lower the nutritional value of the food you eat, the more food you need to meet your daily requirements!
VENNER understands there are three additional key issues that also need to be tackled to improve access to healthy food for low income families:
• Food knowledge
• Cooking skills
• Nutrition awareness
These issues are a critical part of improving access to healthy food for low income families and reducing reliance on unhealthy convenience and fast foods. Eating healthy food becomes much cheaper when you know how to prepare fresh produce, and therefore, far more accessible to all.
It isn’t just that people can’t afford healthy food, we found they don’t have the knowledge and skills to be able to prepare a meal from scratch in a healthy, and affordable way for the whole family. This is a key issue that makes fast foods and convenience foods seem cheaper. A signifiant percentage of the population do not have the food knowledge and cooking skills to be able to buy fresh produce, affordably, and prepare a meal using these healthy ingredients for the family.
VENNER directly addresses ALL of these issues in a simple and scaleable way, that ultimately empowers people with a skill set to provide for the entire family. This safeguards health and wellbeing for everyone, including future generations.
7. PERFORMANCE DATA FROM FAMILIES HELPED BY VENNER
VENNER have closely monitored the impact on families we work directly with, the following is based on the account of over 200 families based in Helsinki:
• 97% Learned new skills
• 35% cook more together than before receiving food bag
• 75% will use at least one of the 7 recipes regularly
• 46% learned about the benefits of vitamin D
• 90% report having a very high degree of joy (70%) quite a lot (20%) of the food bag
• 80% reported the food bag brought very much (62%) quite a lot (18%) relief to a challenging life situation
VENNER’s initiative is proving that a private sector solution can make a significant impact on the lives of families in need, and directly improve access to healthy food in a sustainable, practical and empowering way.
Many food aid initiatives are largely reliant on food waste, but as targets are in place to drastically reduce food waste, this is not a good solution for food aid to rely upon.
VENNER is a creative, yet practical solution to a social problem, leveraging the business spirit of the private sector. It is self-sustaining, not reliant on charity, and in doing so encourages the families that we help to feel empowered through new skills and knowledge, whilst eating three healthy, nutritious meals a day.
The data shows the benefits of our working model, and we believe this will also help families in the U.K., and indeed, many other countries as we continue to expand our reach.
We would be delighted to share more about VENNER and explore further development through collaboration within the U.K.
Laura Holland, On behalf of: Venner, Finland
3 September 2019