Interview with Corina Akner, Founder of VÄRT Sustainable Food Lab

“Our job is maybe to question everything” 

In 2015, when the UN said that 1/3 of all food is never eaten, Corina Akner knew that she wanted to work with food waste. At first, she focused on dealing with waste itself, but she has raised her sights today: “I never want to bake banana bread ever again. What we need to do is to change our behaviour when it comes to bananas”. She now hopes to build a partnership between her company and Lantmännen. 

Industrial designer Akner feels that we will not solve the problem of waste by coming up with ways to eat food that has become waste. She argues that waste is about system errors at all levels and that consumers must be given help by big companies.   

“It cannot be left to private individuals to solve the challenge of waste; life is full of other decisions that must be made and we would be overwhelmed. Change must happen at other levels.”  

After graduating, Akner assisted the Swedish Culinary World Cup team. She watched them share knowledge in very practical ways and physically by using their hands, and she felt that that was the way you should learn everything. Could you also learn about sustainability in a physical way? That question became her focus and the result was VÄRT, a sustainable food lab based in Gothenburg.

The company runs workshops on waste but this does not mean the participants learn to prepare food. By learning how to use food as a tool instead, they gain insights into processes that don’t really work and then draw parallels with the challenges in their own respective workplaces.

“Working with waste is about changing norms. You must nudge people in a new direction, something that is pretty difficult. They namely do not always want to do this. People sometimes quite simply do not want to leave their comfort zone. So changing can be both challenging and fun, as it is a bit of a tug of war.” 


VÄRT’s most successful format is working with teambuilding at companies.
What is your biggest challenge? 

“To get companies to tackle the issue of waste even if this does not deliver immediate results. In ten years’ time, there will probably not be a single company that does not work with waste, but it is about getting courageous change makers and leaders onboard already today.” 


What insights have you gained so far in the Lantmännen Greenhouse accelerator? 

“I now understand what Lantmännen is, what knowledge they possess and what a great resource they are for society and farmers. Lantmännen is far more exciting that I imagined! I want to work arm in arm with them rather than in parallel. I want us to come up with a business model together, where Lantmännen is genuinely involved and contributes to sustainable processes in systems that are bigger than they are.” 


How have these insights influenced VÄRT’s journey? 

“In the Greenhouse, we have understood that what we are doing is not some minor thing. Our job may simply be to question everything. But it is hard to challenge our entire economic system as how it works today is profitable for many people. Saying banana bread is not the solution is a great way to take the first step at least.” 


What appeals to you as an entrepreneur within the food industry in particular? 

“Food is political, the countryside, integration, nutrition, culture, history and also an important key to our sustainable future. You can talk about pretty much everything via food. Food is also a wonderful way to connect with each other. By gathering round a food experience, participants can connect new knowledge to previous experiences, and this connection can help them open up much more deeply in the company of others and on the issue of a sustainable transition. Food makes the difficult more relatable.”