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New research centre focuses on the foods of the future

While the demand for food products is increasing, consumer confidence in food is on the decline. The population of the world is increasing every year at a rate corresponding to the population of Germany. This places demands on the food production of the future if there will be enough food to go round. With its new strategic centre for food research, Aarhus University is now focusing on creating the sustainable foods of the future. The centre is called iFOOD and it opens on 25 September 2017.

2017.09.25 | Rasmus Rørbæk

Many people are under more pressure in their everyday lives, and this means that ready-prepared dishes end up in their shopping baskets when cooking becomes too much of a burden on a Wednesday night. But what are the nutritional values in such food? What strain do our altered eating habits put on the production chain – can agriculture keep up? What about the climate and nature? And our health? The new research centre now focuses sharply on the foods of the future. iFOOD opens on 25 September. (Photo: Colourbox)

All the way. By providing an interdisciplinary platform with research-based solutions, iFOOD will be able to collaborate with ingredients and food producers, the retail industry, consumers, and the health sector. iFOOD can be of significant importance for the entire production chain in modern food production. This graphic shows (in Danish) how interdisciplinary research covers the journey from field to table, and on to our perception of the nutritional importance. (Illustration: iFOOD)

The population of the world is increasing by 83 million each year – the equivalent of the total population of Germany. Within the foreseeable future, it is estimated that the world population will reach 10 billion people, all of whom require food and drink. There is therefore an increasing need to find sustainable solutions to ensure good food in the future. For everyone.

In brief, it is important for the future that we now start designing sustainable technology at the same time as ensuring nutritional security. In order to achieve this, innovative and technological solutions must be found to a number of challenges in the entire production chain, and all the way to the choices we make as consumers regarding consumption and nutritional composition – especially when we are on the move or have to prepare food in a hurry at home.

However, increased food production will require even larger areas for cultivation in a world affected by the impact of climate change on production opportunities. The challenge is therefore to develop highly effective solutions to more plant-based food products, and thereby easy food solutions that are convenient choices for consumers at the same time.

“The Centre for Innovative Food Research – iFOOD – is facing a major and important task. This strategic research initiative focuses on solving important societal challenges and becoming a catalyst for growth and development. iFOOD will contribute with strong and visionary food research that is a key factor in the food industry’s growth and export opportunities regarding innovative, sustainable, convenient and healthy food solutions.
Aarhus University has international positions of strength in this area, and has ambitions to further strengthen excellent research that can combine the development of technology and production methods. The university also has in-depth knowledge about food quality to encompass the entire production chain from field to table,” says Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology. He initiated the setting up of a number of interdisciplinary research centres at Aarhus University in socially important areas.

Research and innovation in food products are key areas here, where unique expertise, excellent facilities, and good collaboration relations form a strong basis for highlighting Denmark even more clearly on the world map in an area with enormous commercial potential.

Without food and drink, a hero isn’t worth a thing
Complex issues will be addressed, and iFOOD is therefore bringing together a number of skills and disciplines from several departments at Science and Technology (ST) and at the Faculty of Health (Health), as well as the MAPP Centre at the School of Business and Social Sciences (Aarhus BSS). This creates a holistic picture of a global food situation with diverse challenges.

“This area permeates the lives of everyone in ways we’re not always clear about ourselves. Many people are under more pressure in their everyday lives, and this means that ready-prepared dishes end up in their shopping baskets when cooking becomes too much of a burden on a Wednesday night. But what are the nutritional values in such food? What strain do our altered eating habits put on the production chain – can agriculture keep up? What about the climate and nature? And our health?
An intolerable relationship is growing between modern food consumption and lifestyle diseases and general public health – just as there is reason to focus on more sustainable production technologies so that we can minimise food waste by using more suitable packaging, for example. This is where we are now gathering focus and academic skills, so that we can reach new and valuable knowledge about the entire spectrum of food research,” explains Professor Lotte Bach Larsen, Department of Food Science, who is spearheading the newly established research centre.

To pinpoint the matter, the core of the challenge is that the world population is increasing every year, but there is no more land available for cultivation and food production. On the contrary. iFOOD will now work towards a paradigm shift in food production and consumption that not only meets customer expectations regarding healthy, nutritious, appetising and convenient food, but is also based on production machinery that can be maintained in the future. One of the ways to achieve this is to increase the amount of plant-based food in the modern market for food products.

“Another area involves confidence in the food we eat as regards which ingredients are included. We can see today that modern consumers are in doubt about what makes a healthy meal, and this has an influence on confidence in the food we buy. In this regard, research can show how to meet the need for both convenient ingredients and fully or partially pre-prepared foods that can accommodate consumer needs for transparency in the content and nutritional value of products,” says Professor Larsen.

‘The more the merrier’
Denmark is one of the countries in the world with a strong reputation as a food producer. On an international scale, demand for Danish products remains high, especially in the Far East, where sales of Danish food products to countries such as China and Hong Kong are growing steadily, with a turnover in 2016 of approximately DKK 13 billion.

In general, Denmark has a strong value chain in the development of food from field to table, and there is increasing focus in the home market on developing and implementing new paradigms for food production and the food industry. The Danish Food Cluster in Skejby is among the most prominent food centres in Europe. The Danish Food Cluster was established to ensure innovation, growth and employment in the food sector, including the global branding of Denmark as a food-producing country in the absolute world elite.

The approximately 145 members are a mixture of large and small companies, knowledge institutions, organisations and public institutions, and they work together to manage and combine the growing complexity in modern society’s food production and agriculture. CEO Lone Ryg Olsen welcomes the new research centre.

“In spite of Denmark’s modest size, we have one of the most well-known brands of butter in the world, we’re number one in natural colourants, we’re a leader in measuring tools for food production, and so on. There are few who know more about dairy products, ecology and traceability, and when the world seeks solutions to the major food challenges of the future as a result of a growing population and an exploding middle class, Denmark is well prepared to provide the answers. The strategic centre for innovative food research now opening at Aarhus University strengthens opportunities for collaboration between business and science. I look forward to a collaboration than can contribute to Denmark’s ability to continue to maintain its international leading position in terms of food innovation and effective production,” she says.

The Centre for Innovative Food Research – iFOOD – opens on 25 September. See more about the event here.

Click here to read more about iFOOD on the centre’s website.

For more information, please contact
Professor and Centre Director Lotte Bach Larsen
+45 2281 9282

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen
Science and Technology
Aarhus University

The Centre for Innovative Food Research – iFOOD – is led by Professor Lotte Bach Larsen, Department of Food Science. The multidisciplinary work at the centre involves the participation of the following departments and centres at Aarhus University:

Department of Engineering

Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics

Department of Chemistry

Department of Agroecology

Department of Animal Science

Department of Clinical Medicine

Department of Public Health

Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO)

MAPP Centre – Research on Value Creation in the Food Sector for Consumers, Industry and Society

Science and Technology, Public / media, Staff