Food For Thought, Thought For Meals | MIT Information

In 2020, roughly 3.1 billion folks worldwide couldn’t afford a nutritious diet, based on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Meanwhile, by 2021, practically 2.3 billion folks had been reasonably or severely meals insecure. Given the robust hyperlink between malnutrition and earnings inequality, the numbers paint a grim image that represents one of many biggest challenges of our time.

“I’m probably an idealist,” says MIT analysis scientist Christopher Mejía Argueta, “but I do believe that if we change our diets and think about ways to help others, we can make a difference — that’s my motivation.”

Mejía Argueta is the founder and director of the MIT Food and Retail Operations Lab (FaROL). He has over a decade of expertise in provide chain administration, optimization and efficient data-driven decision-making on urgent points akin to end-user evolution for retail and e-tail provide chains, meals waste and truthful entry to vitamin.

Supply chain community designs normally concentrate on minimizing prices with out contemplating the implications (e.g. prices) of modifications in shopper behaviour. However, Mejía Argueta and his colleagues on the FaROL are working to grasp and design optimum provide chains to create high-value operations based mostly on shopper selection. “Understanding the important drivers of consumer choice and analyzing their evolution over time becomes critical for designing forward-looking retail operations with data-driven and customer-centric supply chains, inventory management and distribution systems,” explains Mejía Argueta .

One of his latest tasks explored the challenges confronted by small retailers worldwide. These mom-and-pop shops, or nanostores, account for 50 % of the worldwide market share and are the first supply of shopper packaged items for folks in city areas. There are practically 50 million nanostores worldwide, every serving between 100 and 200 households in a neighborhood. In India alone, there are 14 million nanostores often called kiranas. And whereas these retailers are extra frequent in rising markets, they play an vital position in developed markets, notably in resource-poor communities, and are sometimes situated in “food deserts,” the place they’re the one supply of important items for the neighborhood.

These small retailers thrive partially because of their capacity to supply the best mixture of affordability and comfort whereas constructing the belief of native clients, who typically haven’t got entry to a grocery store or grocery retailer. They are sometimes situated in fragmented, densely populated areas the place infrastructure and public transport are poor and shoppers have restricted buying energy. But retailers and nanostore homeowners are effectively acquainted with their clients and their consumption patterns, which suggests they will hyperlink these consumption patterns or data to the bigger provide chain. According to Mejía Argueta, in the case of the way forward for retail, nanostores would be the cornerstones of progress in rising economies.

But it is a sophisticated situation. Mom-and-pop shops haven’t got the capability to supply all kinds of merchandise to their clients, and so they typically haven’t got entry to nutritious meals choices. They are logistically costly to ship, and the cost-to-serve (ie logistics prices) are between 10 and 30 % costlier than different retailers. According to Mejía Argueta, this has a major ripple impact, affecting schooling, productiveness and in the end the financial efficiency of a whole nation.

“The high fragmentation of nanostores causes significant distribution inefficiencies, especially in crowded megacities,” he says. “In my lab, we’re exploring methods to make nanostores extra environment friendly and efficient by contemplating completely different business and logistical methods whereas contemplating inherent technical challenges. We want to higher serve these small retailers to assist them survive and thrive, to have a better affect on underserved communities and your complete financial ecosystem.”

Mejía Argueta and his crew lately teamed up with Tufts University and town of Somerville, Massachusetts, to analysis fashions of entry to meals in underserved communities. The Somerville undertaking explored completely different interventions to supply contemporary produce in meals desert neighborhoods.

“A lack of nutrition does not simply mean a lack of food,” says Mejía Argueta. “It can be attributable to an overabundance of unhealthy meals in a given market, which is very troublesome for US cities the place folks in underserved communities haven’t got entry to wholesome meals choices. We imagine one approach to fight the issue of meals is deserts to supply these areas with reasonably priced wholesome meals and create consciousness packages.”

During the collaborative undertaking, Mejía Argueta and his colleagues assessed the affect of various intervention packages designed to empower finish shoppers. For instance, they carried out a low-cost grocery supply mannequin, just like Instacart, and a ride-sharing system to move folks from their houses to the grocery retailer and again. They additionally teamed up with a non-profit group, Partnership for a Healthier America, and commenced working with retailers to ship “vegetarian boxes” to underserved communities. Models like this give low-income folks entry to meals whereas providing freedom of selection, explains Mejía Argueta.

When it comes to provide chain administration analysis, sustainability and social affect typically fall by the wayside, however Mejía Argueta’s bottom-up method eschews custom. “We attempt to construct a neighborhood, from a socially pushed perspective, as a result of if you work with the neighborhood, you acquire their belief. If you wish to make one thing sustainable over the long run, folks need to think about these options and have interaction with the ecosystem as an entire.”

And to realize affect in the true world, collaboration is crucial. Mejía Argueta says authorities has an vital position to play in growing insurance policies to attach the fashions he and his colleagues develop in academia to societal challenges. Meanwhile, he believes startups and entrepreneurs can act as bridge builders to attach data flows, items and cash flows, and even information and safety in an ecosystem that suffers from fragmentation and compartmentalized pondering between stakeholders.

Finally, Mejía Argueta displays on the position of enterprise and his perception that the MIT Industrial Liaison Program is crucial to getting his analysis to the frontline of enterprise challenges. “The Industrial Liaison Program does a fantastic job of connecting our research to real-world scenarios,” he says. “It creates opportunities for us to have meaningful interactions with companies for real-world impact. I strongly believe in the MIT motto ‘mens et manus’, and ILP helps put our research into practice.”


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