Ending food waste is a key concern across the Western world, with new initiatives such as WWF and Sodexo’s sustainable meals program and Sainsbury’s Waste Less, Save More campaign seeming to crop up almost daily. Now, a group of British companies and universities have won access to a £340 million EU innovation program aimed at changing the way we eat, grow and distribute food.
The new project, called EIT Food, has ambitious aims to halve food waste in Europe within a decade and reduce diet-related illness diet by 2030. It has received €400 million (£340m) of EU research funding, matched by €1.2 billion (£1 billion) of funding from industry and other sources over seven years.
The project, funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), hopes to put Europe at the center of the global revolution in food innovation and production. EIT Food comprises six strategic objectives:
- Overcome low consumer trust: support Europeans in the transition towards a smart food system that is inclusive and trusted.
- Create consumer valued food for healthier nutrition: enable individuals to make informed and affordable personal nutrition choices.
- Build a consumer-centric connected food system: develop a digital food supply network with consumers and industry as equal partners.
- Enhance sustainability: develop solutions to transform the traditional ‘produce-use-dispose’ model into a circular bio-economy.
- Educate to engage, innovate and advance: provide ‘food system’ skills for more than 10,000 students, entrepreneurs and professionals through advanced training programs.
- Catalyze food entrepreneurship and innovation: foster innovation at all stages of business creation.
The Europe-wide scheme was put together by a partnership of 50 business and research organizations from within Europe’s food sector, which currently provides jobs for 44 million people. It will have a regional headquarters at the University of Reading to coordinate innovation, cutting-edge education programs and support start-ups in the ‘north west’ sector of Europe, which includes the UK, Ireland and Iceland. Already confirmed as core partners in the UK-based ‘Co-Location Centre’ (CLC) alongside Cambridge and Reading are academic centers Matís and Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Cambridge, as well as businesses ABP Food Group, PepsiCo and The Nielsen Company. Further partners are expected to be announced in the next year.
Other European EIT Food Innovation Hubs will be located in Leuven (CLC West covering Belgium, France and Switzerland), Madrid (CLC South covering Spain, Italy and Israel), Munich (CLC Central covering Germany and The Netherlands) and Warsaw (CLC North-East covering Poland and Finland).
Christine Williams, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Reading, who was part of the lead team for the successful submission to the EIT, said: “This Co-Location Center will be the leading voice for a more integrated food system, with the consumer as both the driver and solution for more healthy sustainable food consumption.”
“Involvement in innovation and education programs in the areas of consumer behavior, nutrition and health will be a key focus for this CLC, drawing on Reading’s expertise in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development and the newly formed Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health.”
EIT Food will set up four programs to target broad societal challenges, including:
- personalized healthy food
- the digitalization of the food system
- consumer-driven supply chain development, customized products and new technology in farming, processing and retail
- resource-efficient processes, making food more sustainable by eliminating waste and recycling by-products throughout the food chain.
EIT Food will also organize international entrepreneurship programs for students, and develop a unique interdisciplinary EIT labelled Food System MSc for graduates. Thousands of students and food professionals will be trained via workshops, summer schools and online educational programs like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and SPOCs (Specialized Private Online Courses).
"Sustainability is a top-level agenda which is engaging both global multinational food producers and academics. Our joint goal is in making the entire food system more resilient in the context of a changing climate, and improving health and nutrition for people across the world,” said Professor Howard Griffiths, co-chair of the Global Food Security Strategic Research Initiative at the University of Cambridge, who will lead Cambridge’s involvement in the EIT.
Peter van Bladeren, VP at Nestec, Global Head of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for Nestlé, and Chair of the Interim Supervisory Board of EIT Food, said: “EIT Food is committed to create the future curriculum for students and food professionals as a driving force for innovation and business creation; it will give the food manufacturing sector, which accounts for 44 million jobs in Europe, a unique competitive edge.”
EIT – Europe’s Largest Innovation Community
The EIT is an independent EU body set up to power innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe to overcome some of its greatest challenges in the areas of climate (EIT Climate-KIC), digitization (EIT Digital), energy (EIT InnoEnergy), health (EIT Health) and raw materials (EIT Raw Materials). As an integral part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework program for research and innovation, the EIT brings together leading companies, universities and research labs to form dynamic cross-border partnerships – innovation communities – that develop innovative products and services, start new companies, and train a new generation of entrepreneurs.
EIT Food joins Europe’s largest innovation community, which currently brings together more than 800 excellent partners from business, higher education and research, working in 30 innovation hubs across Europe. The EIT Community helps entrepreneurs across Europe to turn their best ideas into products, services and jobs. To date, it has supported the creation of more than 200 startups and entrepreneurship training for 2,000 students and graduates.