Life next to IE: transforming the food system with Gros
It’s big, edible and omnipresent; the food industry is everywhere. And so are its problems. The food system is notorious for its major issues such as resource over-extraction, eutrophication, underpayment and power abuse. With his recently founded organization Gros, Industrial Ecology student Simon Schilt seeks to find an answer to these worrisome developments. Lowik Pieters
Simon answers his phone from his office at an industrial site next to a few wholesale supermarkets. Close to his target group. He dives right into the conversation and speaks passionately about his food consultancy plans. In January 2020 he started Gros with his sister Hester and good friend Minne. Their plan? Speeding up a transition towards sustainable food.
Gros aims to accelerate the sustainable food transition. How do you want to achieve that?
[laughs] “It’s quite a broad objective. Everyone in our team has a relationship with food, but we all have a different approach. My sister is a food designer, Minne’s focus is on organization and behavioral theories, and I focus with my Industrial Ecology background at our food as a system, because I see that a lot of organizations and consumers are struggling with food related issues. We want to support them to include sustainability into the core of their behavior by splitting up the goals in three sub domains:
1) limit food waste
2) transparency in the food chain
3) sustainable food production
At the moment we focus on food waste projects, because they have a lot of attention in the public debate. Many people are interested to consume more responsibly, and we exactly want to reach those people.”
The sky’s the limit!
“We once had the idea of setting up a new zero-waste supermarket without plastics. Then, we broadened our scope for the following reasons: firstly, because the operational costs for a supermarket are very high and it requires full-time dedication. But most importantly, after conversations with several people we saw that there are so many more problems than just reducing our plastic footprint. So, we decided that we want to use our expertise to support the entire industry.”
Could you tell us a bit more about your projects?
“Via the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality we developed a tool for consumers to help waste less food, specifically on dairy. When focusing on the target group of young families, the biggest dairy wasters, we designed a fridge magnet. The cow on the magnet, Bertha, connects to a low-key challenge to learn how to check if the shelf life of the dairy isn’t expired.”
“Furthermore, we are setting up a new food brand (‘Onze Markt’) that launches products from the needs of the consumer. In practice, most decisions are made for you as a consumer by the producers. The concept can be translated as ‘our market’, which gives consumers the tool to realize their own products by using their inputs.” The French equivalent, ‘c’est qui le patron’ is already the 2nd biggest dairy brand in France and now expanding to the UK.
What knowledge as a to-be Industrial Ecologist do you bring with you into the business world?
“System thinking from the IE program helps us a lot as a company. I noticed that I look at problems in certain ways, that others have not done yet.”
Any tips for other Industrial Ecology students looking to start a business?
“Just do it. Start researching your idea, start talking about it with as many people as possible. Your mom can also provide you a lot of interesting insights. Do not be afraid that your idea will be stolen, because that will not happen that quickly.”
If you have feedback or want to talk to Simon about Gros related topics, you can reach out to him via firstname.lastname@example.org