In Turku Market Hall, the purchasing of foods, such as lake fish, is part of the overall food experience. Forsman hopes that new products made from Finnish lake fish will in the future be sold in ordinary shops as well. Photo by Ilari Välimäki
In the Food Tech Platform Finland network, led by the University of Turku, researchers and professionals from the food and technology sectors are working together to create a new, sustainable food system.
Food Tech Platform Finland is funded by the European Union regional development fund and brings together leading food researchers with large and small operators in the food and technology sector.
The network, which was established in Turku in summer 2019, is led by Laura Forsman, who explains that the idea is to promote a new, sustainable food system.
“We want to facilitate creative interactions and create research and product development projects, startups and business operations”.
There is room for further innovations. Food should be increasingly produced at a global level–and should place a much lower burden on the environment than at present.
“By 2050, the global population will grow by more than 25 per cent, and urbanisation, which increases human food demands, will increase by almost 50 per cent. The United Nations has predicted that food production should increase from the current level by at least 70 per cent”.
We want to facilitate creative interactions and create research and product development projects, startups and business operations.
Plenty of industry skills in Turku
Forsman believes that Turku and its immediate surroundings are well suited to the multidisciplinary network.
“Southwest Finland provides grain for the whole of Finland. A lot of food-related research and product development work is also being carried out here”.
There has also been good experience of collaboration between academia and business in Turku.
“The concrete results of collaboration include two functional foodstuffs: full-xylitol chewing gum and Benecol margarine products. The European Food Safety Authority has approved the health claims of each of these foodstuffs”.
The driving forces behind Food Tech Platform Finland at the University of Turku are the Functional Foods Forum, the Bastu business development enabler, the Department of Future Technologies, the food chemistry and food development unit, and Raseko FoodLaboratory. There is close collaboration with operators such as Nordic FoodTech VDC, Allied ICT Finland, Photonics Finland, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and Yrityssalo.
The key role of cities
In practice, FoodTech Platform Finland is looking for and arranging innovation opportunities and bringing food and technology expertise together to develop new solutions in workshops.
According to Forsman, the key theme of the platform will be the role of towns and cities in new food production. She refers to the aforementioned UN forecast, according to which 80 per cent of the world’s food will be consumed in towns and cities by 2050.
“One factor that will play a key role is logistics: how food can be distributed as reasonably as possible, without wastage, and how it can be produced as locally as possible”.
One factor that will play a key role is logistics: how food can be distributed as reasonably as possible, without wastage, and how it can be produced as locally as possible.
People at the forefront
Food Tech Platform Finland network does not put technology before people. When developing food-related innovations, it is important to understand food-related thinking and behaviour.
“For example, the shared Flavoria research platform of the University of Turku explores the choices made by students in the canteens. Students use a phone app to receive information about the nutritional value of their food and the amount of biowaste generated. Personal information about lunches can help people make better nutritional choices and encourage them to reduce the amount of food waste”.
A key question is why we like some foods more than others.
“When we better understand the role of factors such as crispness, mouthfeel and water-solubility on our food preferences, that information can help in creating more attractive products from challenging ingredients. For example, there is a need is to produce products from Finnish lake fish that interest consumers”.
Forsman points out that even if our food and food systems are going to change radically in the future, one thing will remain unchanged.
“The food experience, enjoyment and communality will always be at the heart of eating”.
Text: Matti Välimäki
Photographs: Ilari Välimäki