“We are all responsible for, and connected to, the food that we eat so we all need to work together to improve it.” This is the message at the heart of EIT Food, with activities focusing on innovation, education, entrepreneurship and public engagement as a means to making the food system more sustainable, healthy and trusted. Through a wide range of EIT Food projects, new technologies, products and services are launched that embrace innovation to deliver healthier and more sustainable food; talents and leaders are developed to transform the food system; agri-food start-ups are created and scaled-up to deliver new food innovations and businesses and; the public are engaged to become the agents of change in the food system.
In a previous blog back in April, we outlined how the University, facilitated by the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), has had a long and productive relationship with EIT Food in terms of projects, funding and collaborative partnerships. EIT Food fosters an inclusive and innovative community of diverse food sector partners, and all projects are undertaken in conjunction with other partners. Here we outline the collaborative 2021 EIT Food projects our researchers are currently working on. The project leads or co-leads are mentioned in this article, but we acknowledge the strong teams of Reading colleagues that are driving these projects forward.
Innovation in technologies, products and services will drive the changes needed to transform the food system and the future of food.
Dr Lindsay Todman leads the LINKDAPA project, which uses multi-source “big” data to co-create crop management zones with farmers and their advisers for precision agriculture (PA) solutions as a means to ensure more sustainable farming. Algorithms developed in 2020 predict maps for the potential yield and grain quality (protein/seed moisture) of wheat variation in fields as well as probabilities that yield/quality will exceed farmer specified thresholds.
Pack4Sense is a new innovation project where Dr Stella Lignou is working with project lead Colruyt and other partners, to address the rapidly increasing demand from consumers, brand owners and regulators for more sustainable packaging solutions. This project aims to redesign paperboard packaging material, test different coatings and laminates while respecting the geometry of the current packaging format, develop technology that facilitates the recycling process and test user expectation and acceptance of those packaging solutions.
Towards net zero carbon livestock farming is another new project where Professor Chris Reynolds is working with project lead Queen’s University Belfast and other partners. The pathway to net zero emissions will require deep emission cuts across all sectors including agriculture, and consumer concerns surrounding cattle-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is starting to shape consumer habits particularly in western diets. This project will develop a transformational decision support tool to measure and help mitigate environmental footprint, which is cost effective, easily adopted at farm level and can materially reduce net GHG emissions from livestock.
A number of our 2021 projects are aimed at attracting, developing and empowering talent to lead the transformation of the food system into an innovative sector that produces healthy and sustainable food, and is trusted by society.
EFSET (European Food Systems Education and Training), led by Dr Alex Arnall and Dr Harley Pope, is a multidisciplinary and collaborative postgraduate training programme that provides students with the skills and confidence necessary to address complex sustainability problems in the food sector. It provides students with opportunities to apply system thinking approaches and techniques to real world food system challenges co-created with industry partners.
Professor Richard Frazier leads Reading’s involvement in EIT Food’s unique, flagship Masters in Food Systems 2-year programme, designed to develop top talent for the food sector. Distinct from what any of the KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) Universities are currently offering, and unique for the sector and beyond, the programme is based on a T-model approach where broad competences regarding food systems knowledge and innovation and entrepreneurship are combined with in-depth technical skills as specified by industry.
In a new project, Dr Matthieu Arnault and Dr Simona Grasso are working with the University of Cambridge and other partners on Food Solutions, a challenge-based learning programme and student competition. Multidisciplinary consortia will create innovative, more sustainable and feasible solutions to real-life challenges related to the valorisation of side streams, special dietary needs, health, the digitalisation of food value chains and packaging. The students will also have the opportunity to engage in an Innovation and Entrepreneurship training module.
Dr Miriam Clegg is working with EIT Food partners on another new initiative, Inspire. This Summer School programme aims to nurture new venture creation and the entrepreneurial capacity of highly-motivated students or professionals, through seminars and workshops, professional guidance and mentoring, networking events, pitch competitions and immersion into key innovation ecosystems in Europe. Miriam is also working with EIT Food on a Nutrition MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for medical students.
Barbara Mason continues to work with EIT Food on the Professional Development Framework, to ensure courses and programmes for professional study will meet a genuine, industry evidenced need, and identify opportunities for pilot projects to address enhanced capabilities in food system specific competencies, leadership, communication and entrepreneurship at senior, executive level. The Professional Development Framework will enable EIT Food accreditation of courses providing them with a quality mark of excellence in teaching and learning and offers learners certification opportunities against quality management systems in line with ISO 17024 guidelines.
Start-ups play a fundamental role in transforming the food system. The EIT FAN (Food Accelerator Network) programme supports innovative and impactful agri-food entrepreneurs and start-ups to deliver new food innovations and businesses across Europe. Dr Yiorgos Gadanakis works with EIT Food and the UK Hub team led by the University of Cambridge on the structured 4-month programme for selected start-ups, which includes expert coaching from EIT Food partner companies, investors, and experienced entrepreneurs and runs in parallel with the five other FAN Hubs.
EIT Food public engagement projects are designed to engage with people so that they can become agents of change in the food system. Dr Anna Macready continues to lead the Trust Tracker® project, a major EIT Food initiative. This scientifically-grounded large-scale tool, first launched in 2018, seeks to measure consumer trust in our food and marks an important first step in building consumer trust in the food sector. The ongoing analysis of consumer trust perceptions will inform challenges and opportunities for transformational innovations and technologies designed to promote public health and sustainability.
Building on considerable research that has shown that consumer confusion and mistrust of health claims persist (including the first two years of the project), Professor Rodney Jones continues to work with EIT Food partners on developing a digital toolkit to communicate health claims. In 2021, the database of consumers’ preferences for different ways of wording health claims, collected using a Digital Toolkit that engages consumers in gamified activities, will be expanded. The functionality of a module developed for manufacturers to interface with consumers’ views and preferences, in order to increase their understanding of and trust in health claims, will also be scaled up.
Precision agriculture has a high potential to improve farming practices leading to increased technical efficiency, better use of inputs, and therefore diminished environmental footprint, but adoption by farmers remains low. Dr Yiorgos Gadanakis is working with project leader John Deere and other partners on the co-creation of a new precision farming module for a farming simulator game as a novel and innovative way to communicate on the multiple benefits of precision farming. The aim is to reach a wider audience of potentially interested farmers, agricultural students and other interested stakeholders, and to encourage adoption of selected precision farming techniques.
Professor Richard Bennett continues to work with a wide consortia of partners on the consumer-centred project aimed at increasing consumer trust and support for the food supply chain and for food companies. This provides a platform for discussion and exchange of views and ideas between consumers and food industry representatives to directly debate important issues related to trust in food and to explore co-design of a series of initiatives for food companies and others to implement, which will both increase consumers’ trust in food and their support for the companies and organisations involved.
Dr Stella Lignou is working on InFormPack, a Public Engagement Proof of Concept initiative led by Aarhus University. This public engagement activity aims to actively promote and support a shift in engagement from consumers as passive recipients to citizens as change agents.
EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.