Swiss set sights on becoming hub for food and nutrition innovation

Nestlé, the biggest food and nutrition company in the world, has opened a new packaging research centre in Lausanne. The company is a key actor in the Swiss Food and Nutrition Valley. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

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 big 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.

 

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.”

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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Swiss Food Campaign in China

Le projet «Swiss Food Campaign en Chine » vise à assurer un marketing de base constant pour les denrées alimentaires suisses en Chine, sur la base duquel les entreprises exportatrices pourront développer leurs propres activités de marketing. Ce projet est réalisé en collaboration avec Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE).
Vu la grande importance des réseaux sociaux en Chine, le projet prévoit la création d’une présence commune « Swiss Food » au moyen d’une stratégie utilisant différents canaux pour présenter la valeur ajoutée et les caractéristiques de différenciation des denrées alimentaires suisses.
Outre la transmission des valeurs de base générales des denrées alimentaires suisses, les firmes participant au projet pourront publier des articles spécifiques à l’entreprise et aux produits (¼ de tous les articles). Le projet est financé pour 50% par la Confédération et pour 50% par les firmes. La contribution de chaque entreprise dépend donc du nombre de firmes qui participeront.
Plus d’informations: 

Mme Claudia Probst (clapro@bluewin.ch)

Gerne senden wir Ihnen Informationen zu, die für Sie von Interesse sein könnten: das Projekt «Swiss Food Campaign in China», das eine konsistente Grundvermarktung von Schweizer Lebensmitteln in China sicherstellen soll, auf deren Basis exportierende Unternehmen ihre eigenen Marketingaktivitäten entwickeln können. Dieses Projekt wird in Zusammenarbeit mit Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) durchgeführt.
Angesichts der grossen Bedeutung von sozialen Netzwerken in China sieht das Projekt die Schaffung einer gemeinsamen «Swiss Food»-Präsenz durch eine Strategie vor, die über verschiedene Kanäle den Mehrwert und die Differenzierungsmerkmale der Schweizer Lebensmittel präsentiert. Neben der Vermittlung der allgemeinen Grundwerte der Schweizer Lebensmittel können die teilnehmenden Unternehmen firmen- und produktspezifische Artikel veröffentlichen (¼.) Das Projekt wird zu 50% von der Bundesregierung und zu 50% von den Unternehmen finanziert. Der Beitrag jedes Unternehmens hängt daher von der Anzahl der teilnehmenden Firmen ab. 
Detaillierte Informationen
Mme Claudia Probst (clapro@bluewin.ch)

Sustainable Food Systems Forum and Challenge

22/23/24 September. This event focuses on leveraging sustainability in food systems, and advancing the businesses and innovations that will help reduce CO2 emissions and sustainably feed the forecasted 10 billion population by 2050. On the September 22nd and 23rd we have 5 modules that make up our Sustainable Food Systems Forum. The aim is to dig deeper into how startups can leverage sustainability in food systems and advance their business. We have talks from the founders of Climeworks and LiveKindly; Panel discussion between GEA, Bühler, Nestlé; The Founder of sustainable change focused VC Blue Horizons & some live pitching. On September 24th we have the Sustainable Food Systems Challenge. Here 6 top startups, selected from over 470 applications by our partners, will pitch their idea, which when scaled by one of our partners could reduce emissions and help feed the planet. You get to vote and decide which is best.

Schedule & registration here

Open Innovation Symposium

15/16 September. This event is designed for MassChallenge partners. It will bring “startup – corporation” collaboration to life in 5 workshops/lectures and we have chosen some interesting subjects and compelling speakers that will help C-1, Middle and Junior managers get into the topic. In the last module we aim to leverage the knowledge of all of us to create some best practice that partners can take home with them.
Schedule & registration here

The Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley is pleased to invite you to a joint virtual event on the Future of Food Technology and Innovation co-organised by the Embassy of Switzerland in Singapore together with SGInnovate

The Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley is pleased to invite you to a joint virtual event on the Future of Food Technology and Innovation co-organised by the Embassy of Switzerland in Singapore together with SGInnovate (a major platform based in Singapore, connecting Deep Tech startups with top talents across the ecosystem to share ideas of innovation).
 

The event will take place on Wednesday the 2nd of September at 10am-11am (Swiss Time) / 4pm – 5pm (UTC+8), for one hour of presentations, panel discussion and Q&A, with our distinguished speakers:

Roberto Reniero, Managing Director, Nestlé R&D Centre in Singapore 
Alex Ward, Head of Innovation APAC, Givaudan
Seck Yee Kwang, Director of Food and Consumer Cluster, A*STAR, Singapore

The event details are published here and is open for registration. Please feel free to forward this message to your network.

 

ScanTrust and SAP to enhance food traceability

ScanTrust, a connected goods platform for companies that depend on selling physical products in a connected world, has developed an integration to the material traceability option for SAP Logistics Business Network. The solution gives food and beverage brand consumers the ability to track the end-to-end provenance of their food.

 

 

Over the last ten years, large, global food producers have been steadily losing market share to smaller, local brands mainly due to the loss of trust in the food industry. Addressing these challenges, ScanTrust, the developer of patented QR-codes and the global software solutions provider SAP have partnered to develop end-to-end, farm-to-consumer material traceability solutions for the SAP Logistics Business Network.

The solution enables brands to collect and trace batch-level information on raw materials, ingredients and finished products. Among other benefits, brands can use this to identify which products are affected by product recalls instantly. 

Thanks to the integration with the Scantrust connected goods platform, this data can now also be linked to a unique ScanTrust QR code, which is printed on product packaging and made available directly to end consumers. Scanning codes with a smartphone enables brands to deliver compelling stories around the provenance of their products, gain valuable data and insights on consumer behaviour based on QR codes and create a direct communication channel with consumers.
With the integration and the combined solution offering, ScanTrust and SAP together accelerate digitization in the food chain. It is expected that as more projects come online, the benefit of being able to connect directly to consumers will pay for itself, both as a win for brands and for consumers.

“Right from the start, we saw a great fit and complementarity between the material traceability option for SAP Logistics Business Network and the ScanTrust connected goods platform”, says Nathan Anderson, CEO of ScanTrust. “This integration is a great milestone that will unlock significant value for both, SAP’s and ScanTrust’s customer base and enable us to deliver real value to the food industry and empower consumers.”

(Press release)