How Rotterdam is pioneering a food revolution

Rotterdam - GreenPort project

GreenPort is a collaborative project with local and national government and the port authority

Sharon Janmaat (1)
Sharon Janmaat-Bouw

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Climate change, global urbanisation, and increasing migration are just a few of the many issues putting stress on food systems. Rotterdam is proactive in planning for a future where the city will have to re-shape its supply and demand for produce. Produce Business UK speaks to the city’s food cluster project manater Sharon Janmaat-Bouw ahead of her seminar at
The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference to find out more 

The third industrial revolution, the transition from fossil fuels to green energy, means more than an alternative way to power homes, businesses, and transport. It also has an impact upon the way food is grown, distributed, and ultimately consumed by society. 

A move towards a circular economy, also known as the next economy, where waste and resources are significantly reduced on today’s levels, is being aided by innovative technology. Yet, while the tools exist, not everyone is taking advantage of them.

However, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is embracing the next economy, a particular area of interest for cities given the projected increases in urban populations. It is not just challenges that this transition poses, but also opportunities, and Rotterdam is keen to ensure it is involved in these developments, especially around food clusters.

“The Rotterdam region is leading in food, clean technology, and the medical industry,” says Sharon Janmaat-Bouw the city’s project manager for food clusters, working in the Rotterdam development department.

“These industries are changing rapidly under the influence of technological innovation, and the awareness of depletion of natural resources. To keep this forefront position, innovating is essential.

“The transition to a bio-based, circular and sustainable economy is generally done by connecting the innovative power of the existing industries. This interplay in chains, networks and clusters in the GreenPort [Port of Rotterdam project] involves production, supply, processing, trade and logistics, using innovative capacity and knowledge development. Nowhere else in the world are these aspects so strongly brought together as in our region.” 

The heart of fresh food 

The Rotterdam region is home to over 6,000 food companies, with Janmaat-Bouw stating the sector has 43,000 employees, with a turnover of more than €24 billion. Speaking at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, she will outline how Rotterdam is building its next economy in part based on this private network throughout the food chain, and this includes involving universities to train the next generation of workers.

“In order to facilitate the transition, our region needs workforce on all levels with next economy skills,” she explains. 

“A [collective] of regional educational institutes have requested assistance in delivering the entrepreneurs and employees of the future. Close collaboration with knowledge institutes has yielded an agenda with concrete targets for in-depth, comprehensive and future-oriented research into the economic and social challenges of the food cluster.”

Janmaat-Bouw continues to explain that with the Port of Rotterdam the world’s second largest importer of fresh food, and Europe’s largest deep sea port, it acts as a gateway to over 500 million people making it a significant player in global food systems. 

“This region contains a Smart Grid infrastructure with the ambition to connect the region’s economic hubs with an independent data network to enable autonomous operations,” she adds. 

“By connecting this network to a solid management structure, the availability of data, networks and flows can be [assigned] to new business models. In anticipation the City of Rotterdam is working on several pilots of experimentation, such as valorisation of food waste flows, production of sustainable energy, flexible labour contracting, and a smart logistics system.” 

Love they neighbour 

Janmaat-Bouw observes how the geographical layout of Rotterdam has enabled the building of relationships among these food clusters, with a variety of companies operating in a small area. 

Due to the high density, but easy and within reach, nature of Rotterdam many companies are now working together to create solutions for the accelerated future needs of the global food chain.

It also encourages investment, with the establishment of new businesses and infrastructure. The Port of Rotterdam plays an integral role in attracting this influx of investment given the amount of fresh produce it handles. 

“The Rotterdam region is the obvious location for getting these innovations off the ground,” says Janmaat-Bouw.

“These innovations are brought about in a complementary and competitive network of companies, facilitated by knowledge institutions and the government. As a cluster, the companies are able to work together to estimate and share risks effectively, and to make broad investments in joint benefits.” 

With the vast amount of change that cities, and food systems, are undergoing now and in the future, Rotterdam is an exciting hub of activity that the world should be watching.

Sharon Janmaat-Bouw will be addressing the subject City of Rotterdam looks to collective innovation to spark food clusters at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference which takes place from November 2-4 at the Westergasfabriek. Don't miss out! Register online now. Or contact us here to book a booth.

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