Nofima works towards the formation of a European food innovation alliance
Nofima is part of the consortium "FoodNexus" (formerly Foodbest), which is currently developing an application for the status of a European innovation alliance – a so-called "food-KIC” (Knowledge and Information Community). The alliance will connect the private and public sectors within the food industry in Europe, creating more innovation, more jobs and better education. The goal is to ensure that the competitiveness of the food sector increases over the coming years – both economically and in terms of sustainability.
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Nofima is part of FoodNexus’ Nordic branch, which is one of five European centres in the consortium that will be applying for more than €100 million – as the future innovation alliance – from the EU organization EIT (see box) over seven years. The funds will be allocated to the pan-European FoodNexus consortium if it wins the funding for the food-KIC, and the work will be carried out locally in the five co-location centres, which will comprise the engine of the innovation alliance.
“To be part of this innovation alliance between Nordic companies and educational institutions means working to become part of a greater European cooperation to develop innovation, entrepreneurship and education. We need more enterprising people in the food system,” says Head of Secretariat for FoodNexus’ Nordic branch,” Jenny Bergsten.
The overall agenda for the innovation alliance is to develop the food industry in Europe into a globally leading force in terms of innovation and adaptability for future markets.
“We want to ensure availability of food to be produced and delivered in a responsible and resource-efficient way. At the same time we will focus on food as a part of the solution for a healthy life,” says Associate Dean at Copenhagen University’s SCIENCE Faculty, Erik Bisgaard Madsen, who is a board member of the Nordic branch of FoodNexus and also a member of the European Executive Board, which has overall responsibility for the food-KIC application.
Head of Divison at the Division of Food Technology, Engineering and Nutrition Lund University, Yvonne Granfeldt, who is a member of FoodNexus’ Nordic board, agrees.
“Denmark and Sweden are some of Europe’s leading nations in food and related industries such as packaging. Both industries and educational institutions are strong in these areas. Therefore, we need to be part of it when the EU presents an opportunity like this,” she says.
Strong focus on food innovation and talent
FoodNexus includes a number of prominent institutions and companies in Europe, the Danish ingredients company Chr. Hansen A/S being among them. Vice President for Chr. Hansen Innovation, Esben Laulund, sees a number of advantages in the FoodNexus consortium:
“This is an opportunity to be part of an innovation alliance with various partners, who play an important role in Europe within our field. At the same time it is an opportunity to get funding for specific projects about some challenges that Chr. Hansen would like to help to solve.”
In addition to this, Chr. Hansen expects the companies in the food industry to face harsh competition for talents in the future.
“We need the talents to look upon the food industry – and for our part, especially the ingredients industry – as an exciting and good place to work and develop. We hope that the consortium can help to attract more talent to the food industry,” says Esben Laulund.
New paths to be trodden
The Food-KIC includes the classic food areas, but must also aim to be a pioneer.
“We must become adept at thinking about food in other contexts than we have done over the past 100 years. We need to look at the world we have, with consumers who are making new demands, and technologies that offer new opportunities. We must create a greatly increased power of innovation,” says Erik Bisgaard Madsen, who also believes that the innovation alliance must build bridges to other KICs, for example climate, health and digitization, in the efforts to become a game changer in Europe.
The application must be submitted to the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) on 14 July, 2016. The FoodNexus secretariat and partners are therefore fully engaged in providing answers on how the KIC is to be formally designed and how it will meet the EIT’s delivery requirements.
“At the moment we are studying existing projects that support the focus of FoodNexus. For example, InnoBooster – a Danish instrument for the promotion of innovative ideas – as well as the Swedish concept Meny, which works with companies to define a problem, and forms a study group with the participation of a researcher to find solutions. We look at what works well and where entrepreneurial ideas are falling through,” says Jenny Bergsten.
There is at least one rival consortium in Europe that also seeks to achieve KIC status within the context of the EIT. This includes Nestlé, which has teamed up with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and a number of partners.
“I believe we have a good chance of winning the food KIC. We are represented with some prominent companies that are well prepared for future cooperation. But of course we can’t take anything for granted,” says Esben Laulund from Chr. Hansen.
FoodNexus is a consortium of companies and educational & research institutions in Europe, which together are applying for EU funds to create a pan-European innovation alliance (a food-KIC) with partners from excellent public and private players in the European food system. This will ensure that the players are strongly connected and can lift the European food industry and education system in order to boost the competitiveness of Europe.
Background of FoodNexus
The European Commission established the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) to increase entrepreneurship and innovation in Europe. EIT operates through “Knowledge and Innovation Communities” (KICs) which operate in various areas, and there are already more active KICs, including one related to climate (climate-KIC) and one in the digital area (EIT Digital). A KIC creates business, innovation and education based on research by involving excellent partners who set up a common business plan. The success of the KICs is measured by specific factors such as the number of new businesses and new business areas, the number of EIT students, patents, etc. The FoodNexus consortium is applying for the European food-KIC, with its deadline in July 2016. The consortium is competing with at least one other consortium.
Partners in FoodNexus
Companies and educational organizations can take part in a KIC as a partner at different levels. Core partners are signatories to the application for the food-KIC. They are also the driving forces and responsible for the work of the KIC. Unilever and Danone are, for example, among the candidates for core partner membership. The Nordic aspirants on the business side are Chr. Hansen, Novozymes, Arla, Danish Crown, Lantmännen, Orkla, Tetra Pak and BillerudKorsnäs. The educational institutions include Lund University, University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, Technical University of Denmark, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology, and RISE Research Institute of Sweden. It is possible to be part of the food-KIC on several levels other than as a core partner, with varying degrees of involvement and funding.
FoodNexus is divided into five co-location centres in Europe as well as a head office. The decision on where to locate the head office has yet to be finalized.
The Nordic branch of FoodNexus is currently building a co-location centre, which includes a number of partners in Denmark and Sweden, including the (name of your organization). The Nordic branch’s secretariat is currently anchored at the Copenhagen and Lund universities, and is also serving as the main secretariat for preparing the application. The other branches are located in France, Spain, Italy and the Benelux countries.
Rob Hamer is the president of the entire FoodNexus organization and was appointed by the core partner aspirants. He is director of Unilever R&D and is also associated with Wageningen University in the Netherlands.