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FoodDrinkEurope: Focus on innovation needed to ‘feed the recovery’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 18-Oct-2012

The European food industry needs to renew its focus on innovation if it is to help fuel economic recovery in the region, according to industry experts at trade association FoodDrinkEurope’s Congress in Brussels this week.

The food industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Europe, with turnover approaching €1trn, and it has continued to achieve growth despite the challenging economic environment. The food and drink sector recorded overall profits of €13bn in 2011, up more than a third on the previous year, according to FoodDrinkEurope figures.

However, ‘feeding the recovery’ – which has been designated the conference theme – requires increased innovation, a bigger focus on competitiveness and improved communication with consumers, according to several conference speakers.

Adaptation and better communication

Martin Seychell, DDG, DG Health and Consumers, European Commission, said: “We need clear roles for all stakeholders – regulators and industry. Regulators provide a framework for the solutions that industry develops through innovation. We need it [innovation] to be targeted and accept that there is no such thing as the ‘anonymous consumer’. We need to understand and adapt to individual consumers’ needs and harness innovation to make healthy choices easier.”

Hubert Deluyker, director of science strategy and coordination at EFSA said: “Better communication around innovation is essential to strengthening consumer trust at a time when new issues arise and existing ones evolve. This can be an opportunity to create better cooperation between regulators and industry.”

Global megatrends

One session at the conference focused on the global megatrends affecting the industry, beyond those in Europe. These included a call from WTO deputy director general Rufus Yerxa to improve trade relations and find more areas of consensus with industry partners; an accusation from head of the OECD’s Agro-Food Trade and Market Division Wayne Jones that Europe lacks optimism, despite a huge comparative and competitive advantage in the mid- to long-term; and a call for industry to base its standards clearly on science rather than culture alone, from minister counsellor on food and agriculture for the US Mission to the EU, Maurice House.

Introducing the 2012 Congress, FoodDrinkEurope president Jesús Serafín Pérez said: “Europe is renowned globally for its food and drink products. But in order to remain competitive we must make the right choices, invest in the right areas and understand consumer trends. Industry, regulators and civil society must work together to create the right conditions for our sector to flourish.”