The healthy foods sector has the greatest market growth potential but requires coordinated investment and research, said the European Technology Platform (ETP) Food for Life committee.
More than 140 opinion leaders, academics, public authority representatives and industry representatives met in Brussels last week to revise the implementation plan for the European strategy.
With more than 99 per cent of food companies being small and medium sized, the committee said the majority are unable to undertake more than quality control and assurance work. Moreover, few have sufficient resources for extensive research.
Cooperation within the industry is thus essential to allow the majority of European food companies to carry out research and develop innovative products.
The implementation plan states: "Their needs must be met through larger conglomerations of research-based and industry-wide associations working closely with them."
However, the sector includes some very large, research-minded companies that can support joint public-private research projects or programmes in specific areas, concluded the committee.
Additionally, the industry's infrastructure and regulatory processes need improving to support the research collaborations, said the committee.
Food for Life
The "Food for Life Vision for 2020 and beyond" was set up by the European Commission in July 2005. It aims to strengthen innovation processes, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across the European food chain.
To these means, it focuses on facilitating research that leads to the development of products that improve health, build consumer trust in the food chain, and step up sustainable production.
Jan Maat from Unilever, and chairman of the ETP Operational Committee said: "I am convinced that the ETP Food for Life represents a unique opportunity for the stakeholders in the European food chain to increase their competitive strength and ensure the continuing well-being and welfare of consumers across Europe."
Maximising healthy food developments
The healthy foods sector has been increasingly pinpointed by food manufacturers as providing opportunities for development, as they respond to growing demands from consumers and authorities to provide healthy yet indulgent food.
Three areas were prioritised by the committee under the demand for developing innovative healthy products. These were aimed at achieving: optimal development, wellness and ageing; intestinal health and immune functions; and weight management and obesity.
An effective infrastructure is necessary for achieving effective innovation, added the Food for Life committee.
The next step
The ETP will now investigate the possibilities for developing closer public-private partnerships such as a Joint Technology Initiative.
It is expected that the group will be the focal point for all activities that promote innovation in the European food and drink sector, because of its commitment to trans-national cooperation.