Danish food giants and DTU researchers come together to solve the ‘ingredients paradox’

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'DTU has a long tradition for researching in the fields of biotechnology and process technology with an innovative slant. We are continuing to build on this tradition,' said hansen. © iStock/DigitalStorm
'DTU has a long tradition for researching in the fields of biotechnology and process technology with an innovative slant. We are continuing to build on this tradition,' said hansen. © iStock/DigitalStorm

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A centre for food ingredient research and innovation at Denmark's Technical University (DTU) set to open in September this year already counts Chr Hansen and Arla as partners, and will look to tackle the biggest issues industry faces.

DTU Ingredients will be a central unit bringing together resources from various other DTU departments. The aim is to ensure “higher quality, better recruitment, higher visibility and an international outlook— thereby laying the foundations for attracting the best researchers and students”,​ said Professor Egon Bech Hansen, part of the National Food Institute's Research Group for Gut Microbiology and Immunology.

Support and funding are already there, Hansen told us, with staff ready to recommend study plans for students starting in September 2017.

DTU is already an established player in food ingredient research and this new unit could be seen as a ‘makeover’, Hansen said. DTU was one of the first universities to establish a chair in technical biochemistry – today known as biotechnology – chaired by Sigurd Orla-Jensen, one of the pioneering thinkers of biotech, from 1908 until 1946.

For a country with a population of just 5.7 million, Denmark is also a major actor in the global food industry. Danish companies have roughly a 14% share of the global ingredients market, according to estimates by its national Food and Drink Federation (DI Fødevarer).

A number of these leading Danish companies – Chr Hansen, Arla, DuPont, Danish Crown and CP Kelco among others - have already signed up and will contribute to DTU Ingredients in various ways such as providing internships, serving on advisory boards, participating in R&D projects and funding.

The ingredient paradox

One of the issues DTU Ingredients will seek to address is the growing demand for convenient, processed food that looks unprocessed.

Rising rates of urbanisation means greater consumption of processed food as well as larger distances between where raw materials are produced or crops are grown, and where they are eaten.

Egon Bech Hansen © DTU

“This increases the need for ingredients that can improve product durability while providing acceptable taste, texture and other properties,” ​said a report accompanying the announcement of DTU Ingredient's creation. “[However] one of the clear global trends is that consumers want authentic food. This means that the food must appear as least processed as possible, with as little added as possible [and] with recognisable local ingredients in the product.”

According to Hansen, this is "the paradox of now and the near future​”.

“The food companies and food ingredient companies able to solve this riddle will be the successful winners of tomorrow," ​he said.

The report took the example of how Danish companies are leading the way in R&D developments in the area of infant formula. Biotech firm Glycom, a spin-off company from DTU, produces manufactures human oligosaccharides, the sugar compounds present in human breast milk while AAK supplies vegetable fats that are enzymatically processed to resemble lipids in breast milk and Chr. Hansen manufactures probiotics used in infant formula.

Fresh talent  

The food industry also currently suffers from somewhat of an image problem, write DTU researchers and report authors, which limits it from attracting the best talent and brightest minds.  

They cite one development director as saying: “Young people would prefer to find a cure for cancer than work with cornflour.​” By talking more openly about how food ingredients are an integral part of sustainability and global food security, industry could address this.

To request a copy of the full report (in Danish) click here​.

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