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Food Innovation Network Europe

Final Report Summary - FINE (Food Innovation Network Europe)

FINE started in 2005 as an emerging network of strong food regions with the ambition of increased RTD investments through activation of stakeholders and development of regional strategies and the development of strategic interregional collaborative projects. The network had considerable impact on regional policies for food RTDI. Furthermore, the network also led to a range of interregional research and innovation projects, with companies and research institutes, also in the field of infrastructure. Experiences on the cluster based approach have been disseminated. Furthermore, the food regions within FINE cooperate with six projects within the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) on food, research and infrastructure by dissemination and mentoring within the scope of the European Food Cluster Initiative, which extends the impact to more than 25 regions.

FINE has developed the basis for an excellent network and gained knowledge and experiences for a next step to a mature European regional network of strong food regions with a large impact on both policy, industry and research. FINE further developed and extended this network and make it sustainable by further development of regional research driven clusters by better access to, more coordinated investments in, and benefit from regional research infrastructures (better industry - science links), better tuning of regional research policies and optimal use and combination of different funding streams (regional, national and European).

The EU food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe employing 4.3 million people at 309 700 companies and with a turnover of EUR 870 billion. It is a sector which has impact on every European citizen: on their health, on the environment, on the economy as a major employer and also on the cultural diversity and national and regional identity. The European food and drink industry's competitiveness is at risk. New emerging economies as China, India and Brazil, are seeing export growth of value-added products. Furthermore investments in R&D (as a percentage of output) in other production regions like the USA are a multiple of the investments in Europe. Currently R&D investment as a percentage of output of the EU-15 is 0.24 % (2004), far away from the 3 % Lisbon objective. EU market share of global food export is shrinking from one fourth ten years ago to one fifth now. Since Europe is increasingly unable to compete on cost alone, effective and rapid innovation will be needed to reverse this decline. Innovation, leading to new products and production processes is an important determining factor for productivity improvements and economic growth. Europe's leading position will be threatened unless timely and effective measures are taken to increase R&D investments and improve the innovative power of companies.

The European Commission has consistently urged the food sector to become more competitive by increasing its' spending on R&D as a means of introducing new products and processing techniques to the market. The food and drink industry, traditionally a sector with investments in development (80 %) and less in research (20 %), must change its course after a long period of incremental innovation ('mixing and stirring'). Empirical results of several studies show that the growth of the food sector depends on its capacity innovation. The high fragmentation of its structure - the sector is made up of 99 %(!) SMEs producing about 50 % of total turnover - present a further constraint. Especially, these SMEs form a target group for innovative growth. In many cases small and medium sized food companies are regional players. In most of the regions, they are economically very important, but with very low innovation intensity. Only 0.9 % of industry are large companies, which produce 52.2 % of turnover, have their own R&D and have their own networks with research The FINE aims at the development of strategies, tools and policies to increase regional investments in RTD. The European food and drink industry represents one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Europe.

FINE connects important European food clusters which focus on strengthening their innovative capacity by stimulating RTD cooperation within the cluster. Regions are increasingly aware of the importance of research and innovation in economic development and the regional authorities are becoming more and more active actors in the field of research and innovation as well as in using structural funds and other financial instruments for investment in regional research and innovation. Currently, only a small number of regions have specific RTD policies. Further coordination on RTD policies strengthens the competitive advantage of the involved regions and of Europe as a whole.

Clusters and regional agglomerations are often at the core of innovative development. For companies, and especially SMEs, clusters are the natural habitat to find new innovation ideas and new technologies, to connect with research institutes and to build new regional and international consortia. FINE started with building Food RTD networks in each region containing policy makers, companies, research institutes, intermediate organisations.

In February 2007, FINE organised a workshop for regional policymakers, active on policy making in the field R&D, innovation and the regional food industry. In this workshop, the results of FINE where discussed (SWOT, SOR and comparison). The workshop resulted in overall policy recommendations to stimulate R&D investments and innovation in the food sector.

There are several important areas where regional, national and EU authorities can promote the development of strong food clusters. First, regional authorities can implement policies that can strengthen the cooperation between research institutes and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector. Better organisation and new strategies can increase RTD investment and innovation in both traditional and new marked niches. Second, national authorities can by supporting regional strategies promote the general competitiveness of the food sector, strengthen innovation and the development of SMEs. New food products can contribute to a better public health for the whole population. Third, support from the EU can promote the quality and strength of regional food clusters, and this can increase innovation and global competitiveness for this important European business sector.

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