Dutch pilot lab guides food start-ups through 'the valley of death'

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/JackF
© GettyImages/JackF

Related tags Startup company

Food development agency TOP has opened a food lab so start-up customers can test products without investing in expensive machinery, helping them overcome what is known as 'the valley of death'.

The laboratory contains the necessary machinery to conduct a small-scale trial production for a range of products, such as a filling line, packaging line and metal detector.

TOP Foodlab also has processing equipment that TOP developed itself, such as its inline cold pasteurization technology PurePulse PEF2.0, Coldpresses and Active Modified Atmosphere Packaging (AMAP) technology.

“Practically all pasteurization and sterilization processes can be simulated under various process conditions​,” it says.


Located in the Agro Business Park in Wageningen, The Netherlands, the pilot lab is available free of charge to TOP customers and third parties.

“The investment needed to open a new production line or to obtain a new process technique is often very high. This usually makes the risk insurmountable large. This phenomena – called “the valley of death” – is a negative factor which holds back innovation or even nips it in the bud.

“By making these facilities available in the FoodLab, TOP wants to build a bridge for innovative companies to overcome this valley of death.”

Writing in Forbes​, founder and CEO of consultancy Startup Professionals Martin Zwilling offers 10 pieces of advice​ for start-ups to avoid the valley of death. 

"The good news is that the cost for new startups is at an all-time low. In the early days (20 years ago), most new e-commerce sites cost a million dollars to set up. Now the price is closer to $100, if you are willing to do the work yourself,​" he says.

"The bad news is that the valley’s depth before real revenue, considering the high costs of marketing, manufacturing, and sales, can still add up to $500K, on up to $1 million or more, before you will be attractive to Angel investors or venture capital."

TOP describes itself as a service provider specialised in practical innovation for the food industry. Covering three main domains – food design, process development and ‘innovation management’ – it helps manufacturers develop new food concepts, recipes and factory equipment, reformulate products, extend shelf life and scale up to industrial production as well as investment and finance decisions.

In the past it has worked with big names such as Danone, Chiquita, Stork and Ahold, and last year it partnered with Dutch bread manufacturer Bakery Wiltink to develop a low-carbohydrate, gluten-free bread​, made with fibres, protein and gum Arabic.

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