Points of View:
The vital ingredient
A Netherlands-based programme promoting participation in food industry innovation research is helping to attract SMEs to the Food, Agriculture & Fisheries and Biotechnology theme of FP7’s Cooperation Programme.
The Dutch food industry is one of the most important economic sectors in the EU. The Netherlands is the largest exporter of food in Europe, with the food sector reaching a turnover of EUR 50 billion annually and employing 140 000 people. But increasing international competition is putting pressure on the industry, and innovation is essential if the sector is to stay ahead. The Food and Nutrition Innovation Programme is doing everything possible to stimulate the innovation capacity of the business communities of the Netherlands and the EU, especially among small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These efforts will go a long way to support the Food, Agriculture & Fisheries and Biotechnology theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) Cooperation sub-programme, which aims to build a strong Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) in Europe.
International push for food sector innovation
The Food and Nutrition Innovation Programme is a public-private partnership between the Dutch government and the food industry. The programme’s ambition is for the Netherlands to become the most innovative food and nutrition region in Europe. Its goal is to achieve an increase in the share of products with a high added value of 15% to 35% by 2015. The programme involves six innovation themes: food and health, sensory abilities and structure, bio-ingredients and functionality, safety and preservation, consumer behaviour and adjacent technology. It consists of two interconnected programme phases, as explained below.
- The Top Institute Food and Nutrition programme, which comprises a consortium of knowledge institutes plus a number of small and large players within the Dutch food industry (such as Unilever, for example) that work together to conduct strategic research.
- The Food Nutrition Delta (valorisation) programme, which is designed to transform knowledge into products, processes and services with a high degree of added value, and aims to boost the innovative strength of the SME sector. One research project being undertaken under this programme is investigating ways to decrease the amount of salt in bread without affecting the flavour. Another is developing a machine that can print patterns on food – a job that is currently done by hand. And another project linked to the programme is 'The Restaurant of the Future' – a place to experiment with new food products, preparation methods and self-service systems while allowing for close observation of consumer eating and drinking behaviour.
The Food and Nutrition Programme’s international policy advisor, Casper Zulim de Swarte, is responsible for encouraging international participation. He is also the leader of an ad hoc working group on SMEs set up under the Programme Committee of the Food, Agriculture & Fisheries and Biotechnology theme. The group’s aim was to formulate recommendations to encourage SME participation in the theme’s projects.
'We have a lot of expertise in food R&D, yet Europe’s food industry has an extremely low innovation capacity of just 0.23%,' says Mr Zulim de Swarte. 'This is a national programme, but it has an international strategy closely related to the European Technology Platform "Food for Life". The bulk of its projects are funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, but we have the ability to fund international projects.'
And, after three-and-a-half years, our national programme appears to be working. The total network of businesses participating in the programme grew by 36% last year, bringing the number of participants up to 718. 'In the food industry, it’s not so much the project that provides the value-adding aspect, but the networking,' says Mr Zulim de Swarte. 'You stand to gain as a company by participating in R&D projects, which is why FP7 is so pivotal and why we’re encouraging SMEs in the food industry to participate in the Food, Agriculture & Fisheries and Biotechnology theme.'
Casper Zulim de Swarte
Tel. +31 886025593