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 | 18-05-2022


Participate in world events with knife and fork



For the 16th time, the FONA Forum took place in Berlin on May 10th, 2022. The digital event organised by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research brought together stakeholders from science, business, education and society to jointly promote and implement the "Research for Sustainability" strategy. The main goal of the event is the transfer into practice so that new knowledge and innovations can emerge from research and education.

The transfer session organized by NewFoodSystems coordination office (Prof. Sabine Kulling, Dr. Leonie Fink) at Max Rubner-Institut and moderated by our then Managing Director Dr. Alexis Katechakis, "Inclusion of market and consumers: Shaping tomorrow's nutrition together" (watch the video) explored the potential of new food technologies and sustainable production sites and asked about challenges and opportunities.

After a welcoming speech by parliamentary state secretary Dr. Thomas Sattelberger, who expressed his hope that many new ideas might "find their way onto the plate" and the presentation of the "Innovation Space NewFoodSystems" by Professor Sabine Kulling (Head of the Institute for Safety and Quality in Fruit and Vegetables, Max Rubner-Institut), a high-level panel came together to discuss problems and perspectives of cooperation between industry and research in shaping new foods.

We have summarised the most important statements and opinions here:

Confronted for years with romanticised images

Hannelore Daniel, emeritus professor of Biochemistry and Physiology at the Technical University of Munich and co-initiator and ambassador of NewFoodSystems was enthusiastic about the current democratisation process in the food sector. In contrast to the top-down approach of the past, there was now a bottom-up approach: many small companies, young people with big ideas who wanted to bring revolutionary things forward. Daniel was also pleased that for the first time people were generally aware "that they can participate in the big world events with knife and fork", be it in terms of climate change, social justice or animal welfare. She was very critical about the alienation from food production that has been practised in Germany for decades. She saw the trigger clearly in the fact that consumers were "confronted with romanticised images of food production" and that technologies were not sufficiently communicated to them. She also addressed the extreme price pressure in the German food sector: Daniel vehemently pleaded for internalising the external costs of food and hoped for support from food retailers: "It has to happen locally, where buying decisions are made."

Trust is not created at the flick of a switch

Professor Sabine Kulling, Director of the Max Rubner Institute, commented on the challenges of cooperation between research and business. While publications are the "currency" of research and science, the economy looks at business cases and business strategy. Kulling sees a fundamental basis of trust and the sharing of ideas as an important element for successful cooperation. Only long-term periods - such as the 6-year window for NewFoodSystems - allow such a genuine basis of trust to be built.

Competitors at the same table

Dr Jörg Kowalczyk, Senior Manager Central R&D at Südzucker, gave an insight into the company's role in the consortium and spoke about competitive situations. His company is like a connecting element between science and industry, as it supplies customers with ingredients, but also works together with universities to develop new concepts. In the run-up, they sometimes sit at the same

table with competitors, but as soon as it comes to implementation, they part ways. The portfolio of topics being worked on is large, from new varieties to less labour input and automation in the fields to new energy sources such as high-temperature heat pumps, which are already being used successfully in Austria. One of the most urgent issues to be addressed is packaging. Together with universities, ideas are being developed from plastic-free packaging to biodegradable and compostable alternatives, with the aim of implementing them industrially.

Freedom is an expensive affair

Professor Jürgen Hirschfelder, head of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Regensburg, commented on the question of how consumers can be taken along for the ride. In his opinion, research in the area of different consumer groups and consumer wishes must be intensified. Products must dock onto eating habits and be made "palatable" in the truest sense of the word. The search for new strategies - bottom up instead of top down - that are adapted to the information behaviour of these groups is also indispensable: "What are their information channels? Is it advertising, is it social media?" He took up the image of Sattelberger's "idea that ends up on the plate" and expanded it to "the idea that ends up in the shake, in the bowl, in the bar". Impressively, he warned that politics must additionally bring external costs to the plate and initiate a discussion about eating behaviour and the limits of freedom. "Barbecue as much as we want, eat food no matter where it comes from - we will only be able to afford this quite limitless freedom to a limited extent in the further 21st century." His conclusion: "Freedom is a great good, but an expensive affair."