Spáð í framtíð matvælaiðnaðar á Norðurlöndum

1.3.2002

Fyrir nokkrum vikum var haldin ráðstefna í Svíþjóð á vegum Norræna iðnþróunarsjóðsins sem bar yfirskriftina "The future for Nordic food innovation." Þar spáðu m.a. vísindamenn, stjórnmálamenn, talsmenn neytenda og iðnaðar í framtíðina. Hér má lesa stutta samantekt af því sem þar kom fram.

"The future for Nordic food innovation",
Stockholm, 28-29 January 2002

How can we restore consumer confidence in food?
How can we best exploit the advantages of Nordic food?
What is the secret of a strong brand name?

These were just some of the important issues discussed recently at a two-day conference organized by the Nordic Industrial Fund in Stockholm, where consumers, scientists, politicians and businessmen assembled to discuss the future of the Nordic food industry. There are a great many issues associated with food. Most recently, debate in the industrialized world has tended to be dominated by problems of ethics, health and safety, price and quality. However, for a large part of the world's population, globalization, hunger and malnutrition are the important issues.

It is Norway's turn to lead the Nordic Council of Ministers this year. A priority for the Norwegians is food safety. In his introductory address to the conference, Minister of Agriculture Norway, Lars Sponheim, disclosed details of a food safety plan to be presented to a meeting of Nordic agriculture ministers in August this year.

"The aim is to create a joint Nordic platform for international contact", Mr Sponheim said. "Issues to be discussed include ethical aspects of transporting live animals, labelling by origin, gene technology and new foodstuffs. We also want to draw up a programme for consumers to exert more influence through the development of a 'food policy'."

An open relationship between consumers and government, and public access to the decision-making process, were paramount in this process, he added. At international level, there was a need for the Nordic countries to collaborate on ways of dealing with consumers' perceptions of risk as posed by certain types of food. Towards this end, the Nordic Council of Ministers would be drawing up an action plan for research and development in food safety.

Finnish MP Heidi Hautala looked at some sociological aspects of the food safety issue. "More and more people are eating better, and at the same time interest is growing in food and food preparation", she said. "What we eat is often a reflection of a sociological pattern. In certain groups, the poorest and least educated, there is little interest in food; so the aim must be to help all people to eat safely."

She added: "Nowadays, large quantities of food reach the Nordic countries from the continental EU countries. We are less than happy with some of these foodstuffs. Some EU countries use pesticides which are not permitted in Norden. Given this situation, common legislation must be established for the whole of the EU covering the use of pesticides. But it is not easy to take on the European 'food Mafia' over this issue!"

However, she was "proud of the EU's stance towards the USA on the issue of hormones", which she saw as "an attack on the global food trade".


Sarah Ward of Tesco, one of the largest retail chains in Britain and Ireland, cited the results of a survey commissioned by Tesco showing that issues of most concern to consumers were health, safety and animal welfare. A strong increase in the sale of organic foods during the past six months was reflected in the survey by expressions of interest from the consumers, especially women.

Mr. Gudmundur Stefansson is head of research and development at the SIF Group, an Icelandic enterprise that sells seafood in fifteen countries to a value of $700 million annually. SIF's biggest market is France, where its products are sold under the Delpierre brand.

Mr. Stefansson attributes SIF's success to its readiness to listen to the wishes and requirements of the consumers, its focus on quality, and the rising popularity of seafood. "At the same time, we stress the Nordic origins of our products."

Sue Davies of the U.K. Consumers Association wondered how consumer demand would affect future food production. Despite high levels of interest in food and cookery, she noted, expertise is often lacking, especially in schools, which no longer teach food preparation. And despite consumer concern with healthy food, many cannot afford it. "Our organization does not accept that consumers must pay more for healthy food", she said.

Gene-modified (GM) food, the subject of a survey last December, was an example of the consumer's desire to know more about what they eat and to make their own choices. Many
consumers told the survey that GM products should be sold only when proven safe, while almost as many said they wanted nothing to do with GM food. About half the sample thought GM technology was likely to have adverse environmental effects.

Liam Breslin, a head of research in the European Commission, called for intensified research into all aspects of the food industry, from farming to restaurants and retail sales. He said: "We study raw materials, packaging, distribution, nutritional content, health and lifestyle. We know a lot about this today; but the question is how to get young people to eat more fruit and vegetables while reducing their intake of snacks." The Nordic countries are clear leaders in food research, he added, especially concerning nutritional content.

A delegate asked how the EU system could help small businesses with food research. Mr Breslin replied that there was much EU research activity of interest to small businesses, e.g. in cheese and sausage manufacturing. However, small businesses could no longer approach the EU directly for help, but were to direct initial inquiries to their national branch organizations.

Jean-Noël Kapferer, Professor at the HEC Graduate School of Business, France, took up the issue of brand names. "Don't say to yourself, 'I am going to create a brand'", he advised. "Say instead, 'I am going to launch something new which will capture a defensible market share.'" The key to success in foreign markets, he added, was to secure the cooperation of a local distributor; without this, the product was unlikely to make much progress.

"If Nordic goods are to increase European market share, you have to know how the modern market functions", Professor Kapferer continued. "In this respect, mass distribution plays a key role."

Noting that Nordic food marketed in Europe comprises primarily meat, dairy products and seafood, he said: "Nordic food has a reputation for good quality, but we don't know why." Was there in fact any difference between Nordic and European food?

In any case, he concluded, perhaps the "Nordic" concept was not the right one for foreign markets: in the USA, for example, Canadian products were also described as Nordic. One solution might to use the word "Scandinavian" instead.

CHRISTER KÄLLSTRÖM (C.R. er sænskur blaðamaður sem fenginn var til að stjórna umræðum á ráðstefnunni).

THREE EXAMPLES OF RENEWAL IN THE NORDIC FOOD INDUSTRY PRESENTED AT THE CONFERENCE


NOTHING WASTED AT MARITEX

The business idea of the Norwegian firm Maritex is to increase the total value and utility of marine raw materials by exploiting the potential of by-products. Vigorous collaboration with suppliers and customers and a well-developed transport organization have helped make this idea a reality.

Bernhard Z. Bendiksen of Maritex reckons that cod filets, for example, account for only 35 per cent of the fish. The rest can be used in a variety of ways: the roe, liver, head and stomach (popular in Asia) are also edible; waste oils and proteins can be used in fish fodder; Omega-3, enzymes. DNA salts and the like are useful in the pharmaceutical as well as the food industry, while the bones contain valuable minerals and trace-elements such as calcium, magnesium, iodine and selenium. Even the skin has its uses in the textile industry.

Founded in 1994, Maritex is fast making a name for itself as a manufacturer of natural food supplements and additives. It is jointly owned by Aarhus Oliefabrik (Denmark), Tine
(Norway), United Plantations Berhard (Malaysia) and Norges Råfisklag (Norway).


CARDBOARD CANS

The Swedish firm TetraPak has developed a new packaging concept: Tetra Recart, a versatile and recyclable cardboard carton capable of preserving virtually any foodstuff currently sold in tins, cans or jars. Manufactured in a variety of sizes, Tetra Recart's light weight and rectangular shape offer clear advantages over its rivals in ease of transport, storage and display -- and it is much easier to open.

Erik Lindroth of TetraPak Sweden stresses the importance of collaboration with the producers of the cartons' contents. Some have even developed new products for Tetra Recart.

FIFTEEN YEARS OF YOGHURT RESEARCH

The Finns are voracious consumers of fermented milk products, averaging 40 litres per year. Valio, the leading Finnish dairy producer, was understandably optimistic when it started work with two American scientists on a new product incorporating the Lactobacillus GG bacterium (LGG).

That was in the early eighties; the first LGG products were on the market in 1990: a fermented milk, a drink based on flavoured whey, and a yoghurt-like product. The first two sold reasonably well while the yoghurt was a total flop. Not until 1995 did LGG products really take off: today they are sold in 29 countries.

"Research in this field has continued, in line with commercial progress", says head of research Kari Salminen. More than 150 scientific papers on LGG have been published, and the potential of LGG in the traditional food industry looks increasingly promising. But more research, including market research, is needed. To the victor will go the spoils!


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