Future food challenges: Swiss food giants pump €3.5m into homegrown research

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/XtockImages)
(Image: Getty/XtockImages)

Related tags: Nestlé, Givaudan, Buhler

Nestlé, Givaudan and Bühler have teamed with Swiss research institutions to address hunger, affordable nutrition and sustainable packaging across the food chain.

‘Future Food – A Swiss Research Initiative’ (Future Food Initiative) is the result of a public-private partnership between the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and industry players.

Co-funded by donations totalling 4.1m Swiss Francs (€3.5m) from Nestlé, Givaudan and Bühler, the initiative will provide financial backing for ten postdoctorate fellowship programmes - in the firms’ native Switzerland – per year.

Successful fellows will work alongside a professor at either ETH Zürich or EPFL, or in certain circumstances within industry, to address future food issues in areas that cover nutrition, production, packaging and digital health.  

“We have launched this initiative to pool our expertise in research and innovation to find innovative approaches for healthy foods and a sustainable supply chain,” ​said Detlef Günther, VP for research and corporate relations at ETH Zürich in a statement.

The Future Food Initiative aims to:

  • Provide affordable nutrition, thereby reducing starvation and nutrient deficiencies around the globe.
  • Accelerate the development of healthy food products, while taking into consideration the demand for organic, vegetarian, ‘free from’ and sustainable food, or food promoting a healthy microbiome.
  • Intensify the search for sustainable packaging solutions, in order to eliminate plastic.
  • Increase the competitiveness of the Swiss food industry and academic community.
  • Breed the next generation of top researchers in food and nutrition.

In addition to financing the fellows’ salary for a three-year period, each research project will receive a yearly contribution of 20,000 Swiss Francs.

Calls are open to all proposals aimed at advancing the development of healthy food products and more sustainable packaging. In the immediate future, projects covering protein alternatives – with a particular focus on dairy alternatives – and that investigate leveraging ancient plant varieties as a sustainable food source, are of interest.

In addition, projects with potential for societal or industrial impact – designed to impact the consumer market, lead to new industrial processes, or solve ecological issues – will also be considered.

Industry input

According to Bühler, industry is “stepping up” ​to address challenges in the food value chain. Ian Roberts, CTO of the food manufacturer and technology vendor, said he is looking forward to welcoming additional partners to the initiative in the coming years.

Switzerland as a whole will benefit from these developments, Roberts continued: “The initiative will help make Switzerland a global lighthouse for innovation across the food value chain.”

Food giant Nestlé similarly highlighted the importance of the Switzerland-based project: “As one of the initiators of this important Swiss research initiative, we reaffirm our commitment to further strengthen the unique Swiss research ecosystem for food and nutrition research,” ​said Nestlé’s CTO Stefan Palzer.

According to flavour and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan, the Future Food Initiative is closely aligned to its sustainability, health and wellbeing strategy. “It is only through collaborations such as this, bringing together industry, academia and the brightest and best young scientists, that we will be able to meet the challenges of the future,” ​said head of Givaudan’s flavour, science and technology division Fabio Campanile. 

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