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Europe is renowned for its rich culinary traditions, but tempting food shops and fancy restaurants are only part of the picture. Overall, the European agro-food sector is facing a huge challenge. Global competitiveness is at stake, but is also achievable through innovation.

The EU food industry is becoming more competitive worldwide. It is strengthening its investment in research and development and innovation in products and processes. In order to capture new opportunities for food and drink innovation, especially in the area of high added-value health foods and services, investments and technologies are required that may, in many cases, surpass the capabilities and capacities of most businesses. Efficient publicprivate partnerships are imperative if research needs are to be prioritised and resources are to be effectively pooled. Individual food companies, including SMEs, cannot take on the innovation challenge alone: a joint initiative is necessary.


The agro-food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe. The industry is a global exporter, providing opportunities for growth within the new EU Member States, and within associated and candidate countries. It also encourages the development of regional economies and exploitation of cultural diversity and tradition. Still, overall growth was limited to 1.9% in 2003, and for it to remain competitive globally the sector is constantly innovating its processes and products.

The food industry is improving its innovation performance in order to keep up with its global competitors. The USA, Japan but also China and India are currently investing in science and technology at a faster pace than Europe is. To address this situation, the European Commission recently published a 19-point Action Plan to promote innovation. European Technology Platforms (ETPs) represent one of these mechanisms.


The FOOD4LIFE Platform was created under the auspices of the Confederation of the Food & Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA). It is strengthening the European-wide innovation process, improving knowledge transfer and stimulating European competitiveness across the food chain. The major objective of this ETP is to deliver innovative, improved food products for regional, national and global markets in line with consumer needs and expectations.

The project promotes the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) and associated stakeholder-targeted 'layman SRAs'. It also contributes to the application of the ETP implementation plan, and to the investigation of possibilities for structuring innovation across the food chain. Links are being established with regional and national bodies that have information relevant to the ETP FOOD4LIFE operation. An open and accessible database for these data is available. A Mirror Group will be set up in 2007 and will ensure expert input from regional and national bodies (via ERA-NETs), funding agencies and private capital.

The challenge of stimulating innovation in the food chain requires a combination of a formal research-led approach and a structured, infrastructure-led approach. It is developed and tailored to the needs of larger food companies and high-tech SMEs on the one hand, and medium- and low-tech SMEs on the other hand. The interests of all stakeholder sectors are addressed through national consultations, the drafting of the SRA and the project implementation plan.

FOOD4LIFE will identify and prioritise key issues for studies against which to plan for the future and play an important role in planning of research and innovation in this field. By encouraging the consolidation of the sector, the ETP FOOD4LIFE significantly contributes to its increased global competitiveness.

List of Partners

  • Confederation of Food and Drink Industries (Belgium)
  • Unilever Nederland Holdings (The Netherlands)
  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences (The Netherlands)
Full title:
European technology platform for the agro-food sector: food for life
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Daniela Israelachwili,
Confédération des Industries Agro- Alimentaires de l'UE
EC Scientific Officer:
Jürgen Lucas,
EU contribution:
€ 533,450
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top