The European Commission has awarded at the CeBIT 2017 tech conference a €1,000,000 to three innovative companies who cracked the challenge of developing a food scanner solution: an affordable and non-invasive mobile solution that enables users to measure and analyse their food intake.

logo of the Horizon Prize with text

The Finnish start-up Spectral Engines received € 800,000 and the runners-up, SCiOscan and Tellspec,were both awarded € 100,000. The approaches that were taken by the three winners include novel sensing and data processing technologies.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President in charge of the Digital Single Market, said: "We want to improve the quality of citizens' health and well-being by helping them to better monitor their food intake with the use of digital solutions. By providing meaningful information regarding their food consumption, these break-through solutions could benefit many people in the EU, from healthy citizens to people suffering from food intolerance, obesity or allergies."

Given the increase in food-related health problems such as obesity, allergies or food intolerance, the Commission launched the Horizon Prize to help overcome the limitations of current food intake solutions and find radical breakthrough solutions in food scanning at a low price point. The three innovators delivered breakthrough food scanning solutions in the context of the EU's Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. A Horizon Prize rewards innovators who deliver breakthrough solutions in a contest through the EU's Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

The winner, Spectral Engines, was able to develop in a very short time-frame a food scanner prototype based on Near Infrared Spectroscopy, along with a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device and data connection to a Cloud server. The food scanner prototype is compact and provides real-time results at a low price. The Finnish start-up has developed both food scanning hardware and software.

The two runners-up are SCiOscan from Israel, which is one of the countries associated to Horizon 2020, and Tellspec, a London-based branch of a Canadian company. Their solutions also represent a good step forward towards non-invasive food scanning.

Today's Horizon 2020 Prize is the fourth to be awarded. The winning companies can now use the prize money to further develop their products so that they reach the market.

The winner

Spectral Engines is a Finnish start-up founded in 2014. It has a core competence in miniaturized spectrometers, turning them into plug-and-play industrial grade smart sensors. The company has already demonstrated European industrial excellence in the field of photonics by winning the Photonics West 2016 Prism Award in the 'Detectors and Sensors' category.


The number of people with food-related health problems such as food allergies, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases has grown to epidemic levels and is taking a heavy toll on the society and health systems.

Some figures:

  • According to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology about 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million of them under 25 years of age.
  • Globally, about 35 % of adults are overweight, with half a billion of them obese. Obesity is affecting people at ever younger ages: today 43 million preschool children or nearly 7 % of all under-fives are overweight.
  • The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that in Europe 35 million adults had diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) in 2011. This is projected to increase by 23%, to 43 million in 2030.
  • According to the WHO, cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than half of all deaths across the European Region; CVD causes 46 times the number of deaths and 11 times the disease burden caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined in Europe; 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable and diabetes is a major risk factor and trigger for cardiovascular disease. Healthier food intake could reduce these numbers.

This is why the European Commission launched a total prize of €1,000,000 for a food scanner. The winning solution had to be portable and mobile and had to analyse precisely, quickly and efficiently food composition, nutrition facts and potentially harmful ingredients such as allergens. It also had to be able to provide feedback to users regarding their health and lifestyle.

The call deadline for the Food Scanner competition was 9 March 2016 and 15 entries were submitted by that date, 12 of them were eligible. The evaluation meeting took place in autumn of 2016. The independent expert panel comprised of 12 top-class experts in the area of innovation, food technologies and business development selected the three winners.

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