French focus on taste, diet and health

The exchange of expertise and network building are at the heart of things when representatives of the Norwegian food industry and food research gather at congresses abroad.

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Portrettbilde av Ida Synnøve Bårvåg Grini

The week before Easter, an enthusiastic and committed gang travelled from Norway to Dijon to take part in the Taste-Nutrition-Health research congress and to visit the French food industry.

“We need political decisions on diet”
The congress was organised by the French food industry cluster Vitagora in partnership with the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). Norwegian participation was organised by Nofima, NCE Culinology and Innovation Norway, with commercial participation from Berggren, Fjordkjøkken, Fjordland, Nortura, Sintef MRB, Tine and Toro.

Just like their Norwegian counterparts, researchers in France are concerned about obesity and diet. Sophie Laye, director of the PsyNuGen research laboratory at Université Bordeaux, opened the congress by directing a request to the politicians that what we need now are political decisions relating to diet, lifestyle illnesses and obesity trends.

In France, just as in Norway, a considerable amount of the innovation in the food industry is directed at developing healthier products, with a basis in tradition and good flavour. Many researchers are working on investigating and confirming how certain components of food affect our physical and mental health. This is research that Norwegian organisations can benefit from through constructive collaboration.

“Norwegian and French research into food and health has much in common and I believe we can be of great use to each other, for example in the work of developing healthy and tasty ready meals,” says Ida Synnøve Grini, adviser on food and health at Nofima Mat.

Omega 3 for depression, barley fibre for high cholesterol
The agenda of presentations included biological studies of food components, how diet affects wellbeing and research into how the brain is affected by diet, that is to say the link between nutrition and neuropsychology. New components that could help to create healthier foods were also presented, including a new barley fibre product, under the brand name Barliv, that can be added to both food and drink.

Through studies on mice, rats, rabbits and humans, French researchers have identified which components in the long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids can help to prevent depression and memory loss in the elderly, that Omega 3 EPA has a positive effect on inhibiting inflammation, that prebiotics increase glucose tolerance, that beta glucans from barley grains reduce blood cholesterol levels and that consumption of milk proteins in combination with regular exercise increases muscular ability in the middle aged.

“Many interesting results are being presented here, although there is still a good way to go before we can document these health claims in our products,” says product development manager Knud Einar Søyland of Fjordland.

Laying the basis for fruitful collaboration
As well as the presentations, the one-on-one company meetings organised by Enterprise Europe Network were an important part of the congress.

Berggren was among the Norwegian companies that had one-on-one meetings with international companies and research institutions. Quality manager Jeanette Møller went through the meeting catalogue to identify, in consultation with Fridrik Sigurdsson, senior consultant at Sintef MRB, which companies were most interesting for Berggren.

Among those she tied up with was Emilie Dore of Critt Agro-Alimentaire, a French food technology centre that is seeking partners for diet and health collaboration projects.

Bjørn Morten Myrtvedt, product development manager at Rieber & Søn, Toro met Nizo Food Research of the Netherlands. “I am particularly interested in hearing more about what they know about reducing sugar and salt in food products, without affecting the flavour,” explains Myrtvedt.

Close collaboration between research centres and industry
Before the visit, Fredrik Vestli, market consultant at Innovation Norway in France, had been identifying which companies in the Dijon area would be interesting for the Norwegian delegates to visit. The day after the congress was set aside for visits and lunch with invited guests at one of the district’s best restaurants.

It is interesting to see how the Burgundy region, which is one of the biggest food producing regions of France with 330 companies and 11,300 employees, facilitates collaboration and the exchange of expertise between companies. Small innovative companies are encouraged to establish themselves near large research centres, and the research centres focus on research that can benefit the industry.

They have come a long way, especially, in comprehensive biological studies, how food affects both physical and mental factors and in sensory perception. Among the organisations that aroused the most interest were the flavour and nutrition research institute Centre Européen des Sciences du Goût and cuisineinnovation, a company with only four employees that operates research and development, consultancy and training in molecular gastronomy and culinary technology.

Visits abroad with representatives of the food industry also include study visits to shops to see what products are on offer and what they cost. For Jeanette Møller of fish product producer Berggren, it was naturally enough the fish products that were of most interest. With some guidance from Fridrik Sigurdsson, she discovered several new varieties, including a fish “ham” made of Alaska cod.

Summing up the experiences
The Norwegian organisers Arvid Landaas of Nofima and EEN, Fredrik Vestli of Innovation Norway and Anne Siri Høiland, general manager of NCE Culinology are very happy, both with the event itself and also with the response from the other participants.

“It is inspiring to contribute to the exchange of expertise and to the Norwegian participants establishing useful new contacts. This was also a well put together and very fine group that created a very good atmosphere,” says senior counsellor Landaas.

He has the full support of both Høiland and Vestli. “When I think about the really great benefits – both professional and social – I hope we can make this a regular annual event, and there are clearly many other Norwegian companies that would benefit greatly from being here,” concludes Høiland.

Facts about Vitagora and the Vitagora collaboration

Vitagora is a business cluster for innovation in foot and health science. The cluster has around a hundred members, which include multinationals, small and medium sized companies and research and educational institutions.

Vitagora is one of Nofima’s collaboration partners. The aim is to work together in areas like food, nutrition, health, sensory perception and knowledge about consumers. The collaboration can cover joint research projects, network building between relevant companies in Norway and France and strengthening the transfer of expertise.

Fact about Enterprise Europe Network

With 4,000 counsellors in 40 European countries, EEN works to help companies with the transfer of knowledge and information. 25 of these counsellors are spread all over Norway and work to connect professional and technical circles across national boundaries, either company-to-company or company-to-R&D centre.

It is becoming steadily clearer to more and more companies that you can’t just sit and gaze at your own navel, you must raise your eyes and take in the expertise and business models that others have developed. You can either sell expertise you have developed yourself, but don’t need (inside-out) or buy in expertise from others (outside-in). That is the ideology behind the concept of open integration that is developing rapidly the world over. The problem is often to find the meeting places and the brokers of this expertise. That is where Enterprise Europe Network comes in.

The network has consultants with specific expertise in the EU, technology and business. Its activities are financed by the Norwegian authorities in partnership with the EU, which means that Norwegian companies can receive advice and guidance free of charge.

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