The Swiss Food Research joins the SFNV.

The Swiss Food Research joins the SFNV.

As a key innovation promotion platform across the agro-food value chain, the Swiss Food Research network joins the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley.

The Swiss Food Research is an active competence network for the promotion of knowledge and technology transfer for continuous value & market development of the Swiss agro-food value chain in national and international competition.

As a bridge between research institutes and Swiss companies, the network cultivates the ecosystem for innovation in the sense of a dynamic economic and scientific community of participants from several sectors (all areas of the value chain) and their environment.

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The Agroscope joins the SFNV.

The Agroscope joins the SFNV.

The Swiss research center into agriculture, nutrition and the environment joins the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley.

Agroscope is the Swiss Confederation’s centre of excellence for agricultural research, and is affiliated with the Federal Office for Agriculture, which in turn is subordinate to the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research

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Swiss set sights on becoming hub for food and nutrition innovation

Swiss set sights on becoming hub for food and nutrition innovation

Big players across industry and academia have come together to boost Switzerland’s reputation as a powerhouse for food and nutrition innovation.

Feeding 9 billion people with healthy and sustainable food: that’s the colossal challenge for humanity in the next few decades. With its 8 million inhabitants and an agriculture sector that occupies less than 1% of Gross Domestic Product, Switzerland looks like a dwarf in the face of big agriculture players like the United States, China, Brazil and Germany.

However, it has considerable assets on its side in the field of agri-food technologies. “Switzerland is home to a unique innovation ecosystem in food and nutrition,” argues Fathi Derder, the coordinator of the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley, a project launched on the occasion of the most recent World Economic Forum. The project is backed by Nestlé, canton Vaud in western Switzerland, the School of Hospitality and the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). 

Attracting the best talent

In addition to big well-known agribusiness multinationals (Nestlé, Syngenta, Firmenich, Givaudan, etc.), Switzerland has also seen the emergence of dozens of start-ups in fields like precision agriculture (drones, robots, etc), new packaging techniques and vegetable protein development.

This flourishing private sector has the advantage of drawing on a wide-range of expertise from the federal institutes of technology but also other universities and government-supported agronomy research centres.

These different groups have been collaborating for many years. “But in the face of international competition, especially from North America and Asia, Switzerland must reinforce its leadership position particularly so it can attract the best talent,” underlines Derder.

Some of the main players in the food and nutrition ecosystem in Switzerland:

Common interests

While big heavyweights like Nestlé and EPFL are the driving forces, the initiative is also being embraced by smaller players in the “Swiss Made” industry. “The creation of the Swiss Food and Nutrition Valley will help reinforce the entire agri-food business in Switzerland,” says Olga Dubey, founder of the start-up AgroSustain, specialised in the natural treatment of gray mould present in numerous fruit and vegetables.

Today, food production is responsible for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Bringing effective and sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact requires “collaboration between well-established companies in the agri-business field with highly innovative, young companies,” argues Dubey.

Despite sometimes diverging interests, all the actors in the field are interested in advancing the sector, says Derder. Cantons, start-ups, universities and organisations are invited to join the association that will be set up in the coming weeks.

In partnership with the Swiss government and Presence Switzerland, which is responsible for promoting Switzerland’s image abroad, the project will be holding a series of events this year. “This international presence is essential. The advantage is we don’t need to toot our own horn as no other region in the world has such a density of excellence in the field,” explains Derder.

In the face of international competition, especially from North America and Asia, Switzerland must reinforce its leadership position to attract the best talent.

Fathi Derder

Managing Director, Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley

Not inclusive enough?

An attractive concept, largely inspired by the model of “Silicon Valley” which has a good chance of being a success, according to Hugues Jeannerat, a professor specializing in innovation at the University of Neuchâtel. “It’s a relevant and fashionable idea but it is not particularly revolutionary. It is a well-known recipe, which has also been applied, for example, in the medical sector with the promotion of a Swiss “Health Valley”.   

While Jeannerat welcomes the project, he regrets that it is largely centered around technological solutions. “The real food and nutrition challenges go far beyond the development of new products and production processes. Supply chains, consumption practices and lifestyles must also be reinvented,” he argues.

The sociologist and innovation expert hopes that the project will also create a dedicated space for consumers, farmers and civil society to be a part of the innovation ecosystem. “It would help address the challenges more fully by thinking about change in concert with the economy and society.”

The real food and nutrition challenges go far beyond the development of new products and production processes. Supply chains, consumption practices and lifestyles must also be reinvented.

Hugues Jeannerat

Professor, University of Neuchâtel

Making the most of smart farming

Clare O’Dea, Skizzomat (Illustration)

The challenges faced by agriculture today are immense. The sector is at the frontline of the climate emergency while under pressure to produce more to meet rising global demand. Used equitably, technological innovation offers a way forward.

Integrating information and communication technologies into farm management – smart farming – is already helping farmers to optimise returns while reducing environmental impact. With early and more sophisticated information, they know exactly which patch in a field needs spraying or which cow needs attention.

But data harvesting is only part of a broad wave of innovation that covers the whole agri-food system, from enhanced seed breeding to the development of new foods to market access.

Switzerland is a nation of some 50,000 small farmers, whose production meets just over half of the national demand for food, when imported animal feed is taken into account.

Though Switzerland is a minnow in comparison to agricultural giants like the United States, Brazil, China and Germany, family farmers produce over 80% of the world’s food. Agri-food technologies have to work for them too.

 

Building a hub

Swiss farming can draw on a wide-range of expertise from the federal institutes of technology, other universities and the agronomy research centres run by the federal body Agroscope.

The beginning of this year saw the launch of a new initiative to bring these players, along with the flourishing private sector, together to boost the country’s role as a research hub. The Swiss Food and Nutrition Valley was launched at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos.

The aim of the project is to “attract talent, start-ups and investors, while connecting the existing ecosystem, contributing to their visibility, and to develop sustainable solutions for quality food and nutrition”.

 

Planting the seeds

As mentioned, plant breeding, using both long-standing and cutting-edge technology, is one area of innovation where a significant contribution can be made towards more sustainable agriculture.

With the global population predicted to reach or exceed 10 billion by 2050, and a third of agricultural land classified as degraded, the stakes are high.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that innovation in general and particularly in agriculture “is the central driving force for achieving a world without hunger or malnutrition”.

Switzerland has a good track record in breeding for disease resistance in the lab and on the ground. Recently, Agroscope and the federal technology institute ETH Zurich have been concentrating on genomic selection, which counts as a conventional breeding technique.

The fruit of all these efforts is that farmers in Switzerland and around the world have access to good-quality seeds which are as resistant as possible to disease, pests and adverse weather conditions.

 

Organic calculations

And where does organic farming – 15% of Swiss farms – fit in with all this talk of innovation? Certainly, some of the new technologies will help with early intervention against pests and disease for farmers avoiding pesticides and fungicides. But organic farming methods still produce lower yields.

A food waste study carried out by ETH Zurich recorded 2.8 million tonnes of food waste in the Swiss food chain in 2017. That amounts to a shocking 37% of all agricultural production at home and abroad.  

Reimagining food

Apart from optimising yields and quality in the field, Swiss researchers are also in the vanguard of developing new foods and production methods in indoor settings. 

The need couldn’t be more pressing. While livestock products are responsible for 14.5% of global manmade greenhouse gas emissions, they are a cornerstone of our diet. Meat, milk and eggs provide a third of the protein consumed globally.

There is a growing appetite for guilt-free substitute meats, which are set to capture 10% of the global meat market by the end of this decade. Some products will be lab-grown while others are based on plant proteins.

In a context where consumers are taking great care in deciding what to eat, foods that tick the right health, ethical and environmental boxes have great appeal. One Swiss start-up, Planted AG, has developed a chicken substitute based on pea protein.

In this report on alternative foods and growing methods, we visit Planted and another Zurich start-up which is developing the commercial potential of duckweed protein.

 

 

Swiss niches

When it comes to smart farming, integrating advanced technologies such as remote sensing, big data, artificial intelligence and robotics into everyday farm management, Swiss companies are finding niches.

Drones have become a popular tool for farmers to survey their lands and generate crop data with the help of agritech companies, especially in large-scale farming countries like Brazil and the United States.

Based in Morges on Lake Geneva, the EPFL spin-off Gamaya specialises in hyperspectral imaging, using special sensors and a camera which has been specifically designed for use in agriculture.

In this final story, we speak to Gamaya about their activities in India and Brazil and profile another Swiss start-up, Vivent in canton Vaud, which produces a sensor which can monitor and interpret plant biosignals.

 

The digital transformation taking place in agriculture is here to stay, and the benefits are already visible. However, the FAO warns that there are potential drawbacks, including “cybersecurity and data protection, labour replacement and re-education, digital divide and the risk of increasing the concentration in the private sector”.

As long as food security for all is the goal, a global effort will be required to overcome these cross-border problems.

Nestlé’s plant-based ‘bacon cheeseburger’ debuts in US

Nestlé today launches its Plant-based (PB) Triple Play – a plant-based version of a bacon cheeseburger – at the University of Massachusetts, to mark National Cheeseburger Day in the US.

“What better way to celebrate National Cheeseburger Day than with a new take on this iconic dish that is good for people and the planet?” said Mark Schneider, Nestlé CEO. “Nestlé is excited to partner with UMass to bring our PB Triple Play to students looking for a delicious plant-based option.”

This is the first time the PB Triple Play – and any kind of plant-based alternative to a bacon cheeseburger – will be available for foodservice customers in the United States. It will be available under the Sweet Earth brand at the University of Massachusetts in their dining halls, food truck, take-away, and for online delivery, and will become a permanent menu item this fall. In the months to come, additional US university operators, restaurants and foodservice channels will be added.

The plant-based burger patties, bacon and cheese use a combination of natural kitchen-cupboard ingredients. Nestlé food scientists, product developers and culinary chefs worked together to get the right taste, texture and appearance, as well as a good nutritional profile. They also worked alongside foodservice experts to tailor the products for use in professional kitchens, taking into account their specific cooking and serving requirements.

The PB Triple Play was developed by Nestlé in only 10 months, reflecting the company’s ability to further accelerate project timelines despite the current challenging environment. It is the result of Nestlé’s deep expertise in protein science as well as its global research, prototyping and accelerator facilities, allowing the company to rapidly expand its portfolio of plant-based alternatives to beef, pork, chicken, seafood and dairy products.

For more information, read the press release from Nestlé Professional.

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