Tech & innovation: EIT Food winners driving change across protein diversification and agriculture
23 Mar 2023 --- Fermented food, plant-based alternatives and insect proteins feature among the innovations hailed as the brightest food tech by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with a range of CEOs and founders of some of the key winners; the food start-ups that have successfully brought products or services to market.
One of the top innovation prize winners is Austrian alternative protein start-up Revo Foods, which has developed a plant-based alternative to seafood using pea proteins, algae extracts and plant oils. Products include fish-free alternatives to smoked salmon and tuna spread as part of the company’s strategy to eliminate overfishing.
“This year, we finally want to launch our salmon filet, produced with 3D food printing. Soon, consumers can try the great taste of fish filets for the first time,” explains Robin Simsa, CEO of Revo Foods.
Meanwhile, Luca Fichtinger, founder of Austria-based novel fruit seeds ingredients manufacturer Kern Tec, tells us about the company’s main factor behind its innovations – upcycling. His company leverages unused fruit pits to develop sustainable ingredients and ready-to-use solutions for the food industry, including milk alternatives to nut spreads.
“The key driver for us is upcycling and waste reduction in the food and beverage industry while offering more sustainable food ingredients to food producing companies. As the food industry is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, companies and consumers are shifting toward more sustainable products,” he says.
“This is where our innovation comes into play. While reducing food waste, we can offer ingredients with up to 50% less CO2 footprint and up to 95% less water use. Moreover, with products like dairy alternatives in our portfolio, we can see fast market growth and many market opportunities over the next generation of food.”
Another food innovator crowned for its success is Fermentful, a Latvia-based fermented dairy alternatives company creating fermented dairy-free drinks that benefit mental and physical health and are good for the planet. The company uses green buckwheat, a unique grain-like seed which is a Baltic region superfood.
Anda Penka, CEO and co-founder, says that Fermentful is a part of a fermentation renaissance, which is gathering pace within F&B.
She details that increasing awareness about the impact of food on health and prevention has led to a growing demand for healthier food options, and therefore the development of plant-based functional foods.
“Recent studies show that fermentation can increase the bioavailability of nutrients, and the beneficial microorganisms in fermented foods can support gut health, improve digestion, and boost immunity,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Fermentful is unlocking the superpower of green buckwheat through fermentation and creating a new fermented plant-based drink category. We use only carefully selected organically certified ingredients and scientifically validated strains to achieve nutritious, 100% clean-label products free from gluten, dairy and soy,” continues Penka.
Consumers are increasingly looking for convenient and easy-to-consume foods that fit their busy lifestyles while also seeking products with sustainability and ethical credentials, including a low environmental impact and a positive effect on people.
The company’s also has a sharp focus on sustainability and social and ethical concerns.
“We just entered the biggest retail chain in the Baltics, Rimi. We have also started exporting to Finland,” she says. The markets targeted are Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Czech Republic and Switzerland.
“Our customers appreciate green buckwheat as a key ingredient of Fermentful products. It is new and not widely used in the plant-based dairy product category. Consumers admit that oats have become boring lately because of the huge variety of applications in plant-based dairy products,” she adds.
Moreover, “clean” products without additives such as gums and stabilizers are also gaining traction.
The company is now designing new probiotic-rich plant-based products with unique flavor profiles and strengthening its R&D capabilities.
Christian Bärtsch, CEO of Essento, a Switzerland-based insect-protein manufacturer, says that edible insects are a sustainable source of protein that can be locally produced and are suitable for human health, thanks to amino acids and unsaturated fatty acids.
“Sustainability and upcycling of food are key – while not neglecting taste and texture of the product. We sell our product in mainstream supermarkets such as Coop in Switzerland. We are happy with the feedback we are getting. People like the taste and the sustainability concept behind the product,” he explains.
“We are moving into more functional areas with new products while continuing to improve the existing products,” adds Bärtsch.
FoodIngredientsFirst recently explored how the burgeoning insect protein industry is combating climate change and malnutrition despite dietary and religious limitations.
Michel Daniel Wettstein, co-founder and CEO of Got Foods, a Latvia-based yellow-split peas producer, explains how the company combines the latest dietary health trends and superfoods..
“Furthermore, we focus on an allergen-free and functional innovation. Due to the rise in dairy alternatives, it was crucial that our innovation is 100% dairy-free but is also able to compete with traditional and cultured dairy products,” he says.
Wettstein adds that his company keeps revolutionizing with additional innovations across dairy alternative categories.
“Especially when we discover sweet spots in which consumers’ needs are not being met, and innovations are required that are meeting their needs and that are competitive to traditional dairy in sensory, nutritional and functional aspects,” he notes.
Further on innovation, Simsa at Revo Foods adds that the biggest innovation drivers are changing consumer behaviors. “People want to enjoy the great taste of animal products without the negative consequences. Thanks to the technological advancements of Revo Foods, we can give consumers a great alternative in the seafood sector,” he details.
“While plant-based meat alternatives have existed in the market for a long time, there are limited options for plant-based seafood.”
Revo Foods products are available at over 2,000 locations across Europe, including REWE supermarkets.
“Many consumers tell us that they miss the taste of seafood and our products can finally give them back this joy,” says Simsa.
Meanwhile, Kern Tec is set to expand its applications into dairy alternatives, such as cheese and ice cream, for a B2B market, details Fichtinger.
“We stand out in the market as we’re offering a real nutritional profile alternative to the consumer,” Wettstein adds.
Furthermore, it offers a solution covering essential topics of digestibility, functionality and stability, enabling consumers to consume dairy alternatives, he concludes.
Aside from the start-ups we have spoken with, a total of 20 start-ups have developed a product or service that has reached the market, following their involvement with EIT Food.
Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, says it's rewarding to see start-ups that have participated in EIT Food programs and are now creating real impact by bringing their products and services to market.
“From protein diversification to sustainable agriculture, the winners of the Marketed Innovation Prize are driving transformation across every part of our food system, whether by giving consumers exciting new options on supermarket shelves or offering food producers new techniques to maximize their efficiency,” he says.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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