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Hippocrates, the father of medicine once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” Nearly 2 500 years have passed since these words were immortalised, and their importance rediscovered. Today, food as medicine is beginning to mirror this concept in ways never before imagined. Functional foods are defined as having a role in disease prevention and health promotion, and are gaining increased interest by researchers and developers alike. Their contribution therefore to lightening the load on social healthcare systems, can be enormous. €53 billion a year is currently spent on functional food products, and establishing networks to intensify the development of new edible goods that enhance good health, is perhaps one of the better ways to ensure that the interest in functional food grows.

The dissemination and exploitation of new functional food science is the driving force behind the EU creating a functional food network. Not only does this new initiative prove advantageous for members of the EU, but people in the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan benefit as well. Helping to get this initiative off the ground are the food industries, and SMEs active in the market segment of the food industry. Each play a significant role in the creation of a Technology Transfer Network on Functional Foods (FuntionalFoodNet).

Essentially, there are a number of issues that will be resolved with this initiative. With around 140 active companies, the food industry network will boost the competitiveness of the European industry; foster healthier and scientifically documented food products, while bolstering the well-being of EU citizens. Domestic and foreign cooperation is stimulated and the participation and cooperation of SMEs facilitated.


FunctionalFoodNet is divided into 2 sub-networks: general network (GN) and product specific network (PSN). The GN’s objective is to disseminate the functional food science from the 5th and 6th Framework Programmes to the food industry. Project coordinators and experts in the field support this phase and discuss exploitation opportunities. The PSN is split into four different product areas (cereal products; dairy products; beverages; and oils/emulsions) and includes experts from various disciplines, like scientists, technology transfer and legal specialists whose aim is to attain a Proactive Technology Transfer. Whilst European companies want to develop and market new and improved health food products, failure of food/ingredient industries to forge strategic alliances with food scientists, specialists and other commercial partners hinder the exploitation of scientific results in many cases.

In order to boost the participation of SMEs on this front, a proactive network must be created between the SMEs and larger companies. This measure strengthens cooperation on a global front and forge strategic alliances. It also forges an effective technology transfer with participation from scientists, market specialists, SME consultants and innovation experts. From a commercial perspective, market development and the legal situation help fuel the development of functional foods and nutrition-enhanced foods.


Based on estimates published by Datamonitor, the development of the functional foods market, worth some €53 billion, is accelerating rapidly at a rate of 8-16% each year globally. A breakdown shows that the biggest product group in Europe is dairy-based functional foods, worth €3.9 billion, followed by cereal products at €2.5 billion. As for the functional foods market in the US, the figure reached €12.7 billion in 2000, against €8.2 billion in Japan.

The establishment of a functional foods network also relies on two aims. Firstly, to accept use of health claims on advertisements and food packs stating that the product may reduce chronic disease risk when scientifically documented and green-lighted by the European Scientific Committee, and secondly, to boost market introductions and annual rates of growth. The data show that of the 140 organisations already registered to participate in this new initiative, 54% are SMEs, 26% larger companies and 20% associations/organisations. Of these, 10% are from new EU members and 6% from the US, Canada and Australia.

List of Partners

  • FoodGroup Denmark (Denmark)
  • Teagasc (Ireland)
  • University of Turku (Finland)
  • Technical University Munich (Germany)
  • MÉTE (Hungary)
  • Inside Consult (UK)
Full title:
Exploitation of functional food science by creating a European network of food industries
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Finn Holm,
FoodGroup Denmark & Nordic NutriScience
EC Scientific Officer:
Alessio Vassarotti,
EU contribution:
€ 697,017
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top