The Spanish cluster FOOD+I has become a partner in the largest food innovation network in Europe, EIT Food. We interview Juan Viejo Blanjard, its Managing Director, to find out the secrets to its success.
Cluster FOOD+i is a non-profit association founded in 2009. It currently has more than 100 partners, the majority of which are leading food companies in the Ebro Valley region (Basque Country, Navarre, La Rioja, Aragon and Catalonia). Together, their annual sales amount to 4.315 billion euros.
The clear commitment by all of the companies in FOOD+i to innovation, and their mission to increase the sustained and sustainable competitiveness of food companies in the Ebro Valley is why they're the only Spanish cluster in EIT Food as a network partner. It's currently the strongest food innovation network in all of Europe and it comprises more than 60 high-level entities in the agri-food sector. In this interview with Juan Viejo Blanjard, Managing Director of FOOD+i, we discuss some of the secrets behind this Spanish group's success.
Why has innovation become one of the primary focuses of the agri-food sector's strategy in Europe?
The agri-food industry is one of the most important in Spain as it employs more than half a million workers at over 30,000 companies. Their ongoing innovation is key for sector growth and, therefore, for the country's economy; that's how the companies see it. The agri-food industry works to identify and meet the needs of its consumers, who are increasingly demanding. These demands are related not only to a product's quality and contribution to health, but also to its respect for the environment. That's what the companies in FOOD+i are fully focused on: RDI.
Is innovation considered a crucial factor in Spanish companies' internationalization strategy?
Innovation, together with factors such as funding and market reorientation, is crucial for a company to grow, especially in terms of internationalization. We're in a very competitive market, where companies are constantly entering the playing field and you have to find that distinguishing feature that makes you stand out from your rivals. Innovation need not refer just to the development and launch of a new product. It can also be related to manufacturing processes, sustainability, and implementing new ways of working efficiently.
What research is FOOD+i going to undertake within the EIT Food framework?
EIT Food is working on initiatives for the general public, among others, focused on educating people about healthy eating, as well as programs which address concepts such as zero waste and smart shopping lists. It's also undertaking initiatives to make delivery services more sustainable and adapted to the public's needs. Within this initiative, FOOD+i, has focused on three pillars defined as strategic by their partners: new sources of protein, personalized nutrition and circular economy.
What are some of the most recent international projects undertaken by FOOD+i?
The participation of Cluster FOOD+i in EIT Food is one of the most important international products that we're working on, but it's not the only one. We're active in Europe, participating in various European business platforms such as the Bio-Based Industries Consortium (BIC). Currently, Cluster FOOD+i is a partner in three European projects: Mandala, focused on the sustainability of plastic packaging; Shealthy, which addresses the development of healthier products through non-thermal technologies; and Model2Bio, which aims to develop a predictive tool to manage food industry waste.
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández