SFI represents a high commitment of the food industry to accelerate the innovation needed to come to a new generation of food products where crops and resources will be used to their full potential and the emission footprint is brought back to zero in 2050.
Who is Ronald Visschers?
By origin I am a biologist, I got my degree in Amsterdam, the city that I grew up in. From biology I moved to the field of biophysics and after my PhD in Amsterdam I went to Philadelphia to work as an EMBO fellow on protein design. I moved back to Amsterdam and joined the NIZO food research Institute. For NIZO, I became a project manager in the Wageningen Centre for Food Science, which is the precursor of TiFN. In 2007 I moved to TNO as program manager for food quality and food production. Last year, I completed the circle and moved back to TiFN, this time in the position of Managing Director. In this capacity I was invited to also lead the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) by our partner ISPT and the stakeholders. In this position I will benefit, among other things, from my experience in setting up public-private partnerhips with the industry as well as my talent to always positively drive towards results.
What does the Sustainable Food Initiative mean to you?
To me the Sustainable Food Initiative, SFI, represents a high level of commitment by the food industry to accelerate the innovation that is needed to achieve a new generation of food products. Where crops and resources will be used to their full potential and the emission footprint is brought back to zero by the year 2050. Because the initiative is industry-led, we can turn around the classic manner of innovation. Often research projects are ‘technology-pushed’ and the link with the real world is missing. Our projects however will be shaped to to find the best solution for specific problems much quicker. Within SFI the industrial partners are invited to participate and make the problems they have to deal with known. The next step is to identify the parties who can help with this specific research and implementation to find the solution rapidly. This way of working enables a connection throughout the entire chain of industry, knowledge institutes and consumers.
Why is the SFI as a platform needed?
The SFI is needed because there is a vast sense of urgency to deal with the challenges that we are now confronted with. Especially where our food is concerned: how will we produce healthy food for a growing global population, how can we restore consumer trust in a world where food bloggers are believed to be more credible than the food industry and, most of all,
how can we do this in in a short time? Companies are now realizing that change is needed and that it is not just going to come about by itself.
How is the SFI going to achieve this change?
The role of the SFI is to accelerate the innovation. From the industrial input we derive challenges for the SFI innovation hub to find solutions. You need to realize that the SFI is a community based on trust and transparency: the innovations that are being developed are shared among all partners. We will also ensure that society profits from the knowledge we generate.
The challenges that we are looking into are for example the production of natural foods on an industrial scale, circular food packaging, the protein transition, and so on. By bringing together Research and Development departments from the industry, Field Labs initiated by knowledge institutes for valorisation and Living Labs to involve consumers, we can realize breakthrough innovations that are ready to be introduced in the market.
How important is it to involve the consumers?
Talking about and experiencing food is completely different for consumers than it is for the industry. If we, for example, believe that algae can be an important factor in making the transition towards plant-based proteins, the question remains whether the consumer will, well… actually want to consume products loaded with algae? Because social acceptance is so important to the mission of the SFI, we made the Living Labs an integral part of our innovation process. In these Living Labs, like the Living Food Lab at the World Food Centre in Ede, we join consumer science with the visitors, the consumers.
What's your ambition for the SFI in 5 years?
The SFI will need to first of all grow its project portfolio and divide it over multiple TRL (Technical Readiness Levels), and it will ensure the connection to the Field and Living Labs. To realize our ambitions, partners of SFI, the Institute of Sustainable Process Technology and the Top Institute for Food and Nutrition are combining forces in bringing industry, knowledge institutes and governments together. We strive to gain international allure, because we will not achieve our goals if we keep it regional.