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Wer etwas zur Ernährung der Zukunft beitragen möchte, der sollte in Wageningen sein. Der beschauliche Ort mit viel Grün liegt am Niederrhein in Holland und zählt rund 40.000 Einwohner. Wer den Bus zum Wageningen Campus nimmt, landet in einem hoch-modernen Zentrum, in dem sich alles um das Thema Ernährung, neue Food-Produkte und Forschung dreht. In Anlehnung an das Silicon Valley erhielt die Gegend daher den Spitznamen Food Valley.
Researchers, entrepreneurs, industries, research institutes, startups involved with food come here to develop ideas for new food products. Food Valley is also the home to one of the most renowned Universities specializing in food science, agri-food, sensory and consumer science – Wageningen University and Research (WUR). Over 15,000 professionals are currently working in the Food Valley in various fields of food science and food-related research and development.
The organizational arm of the Food Valley is the platform Foodvalley®. Founded in 2004, its goal is to shape the future of food and to support the development of tasty, affordable, healthy, and sustainable food, produced with respect for animals and the planet. The platform counts over 200 members. Among them are such well-known companies as Unilever, Kraft Heinz, FrieslandCampina, and Kikkoman, as well as such start-ups as Zyrcular Foods (alternative proteins), Vegger (indoor vertical gardening) and the Time-travelling Milkman (milk fat equivalents).
In 2021, isi became a member of Foodvalley®. To be closer to where the action is, isi also decided to have a permanent representative in Wageningen. Dr. Femke Brouwer, a Wageningen-based sensory and consumer scientist who has worked in both academia and industry, has taken that position.
As a partnership manager, she now represents isi at Wageningen and will help clients and food entrepreneurs to decide how sensory and consumer research and sensory marketing can benefit their products. isi Associate Director Manuel Rost, will be managing the collaboration between isi and the Foodvalley® from isi´s headquarter in Göttingen. Rost explains: “At isi, it is our ambition to reduce the food industry’s carbon footprint. This is not just verbiage to simply put on our website. It is something we want to integrate into our work. Since we are experts in ascertaining the consumer’s needs and desires when it comes to food, it is only logical that we should focus more on plant-based nutrition. We want to bring our consumer centricity and consumer understanding to our clients and to the section of the industry that produces plant-based foods. That is where Femke’s position comes into play.”
Wageningen Food Valley – a food hub in the middle of nature
Manuel, you and other isi employees have visited Wageningen regularly to talk to clients and to discuss research projects. Why did isi decide to have a permanent representative in Wageningen?
For companies who are involved with the future of food, Wageningen is the place to be. Also, some of our clients have their research and development department there. Just to visit off and on wasn´t enough for us anymore. We felt that we wanted to have somebody there who would be available to talk face to face with people interested in our services, and who could also report to us about the latest trends in food development and food research.
What exactly is Femke’s task?
Simply said, she is the independent link between the companies at the Food Valley and isi. We describe her position as a mission with a triple E: explore, elevate, and enable.
Femke, can you fill in the details for us?
Sure. I will explore what isi clients at Wageningen need and evaluate how we can assist them. This goes as well for other companies in the Food Valley who are not currently isi clients. I´m not there to persuade anybody to book services. I will act as a neutral advisor for people who are looking for solutions to their problems. Sometimes isi might not be the right fit for the needs of a company. Then it is better to acknowledge this early on in the process. If isi´s expertise is needed, I will take care that the collaboration is put on the right track.
Manuel, what is behind elevate and enable?
With Femke´s presence in Wageningen, we also want to elevate knowledge. We are already conducting basic research at isi. With Femke’s help, we want to intensify our research collaborations and especially address research questions around plant-based food. We hope to attract students who would be interested in conducting their thesis in collaboration with us. We are already collaborating with German universities and are eager to attract international students. We can also offer internship at isi, so that the students gain research and business experience.
The third E stands for enabling. We want to enable companies, especially startups, to make even better products. These young companies are often very product driven. But this mind-set loses sight of the fact that in the end, it is the consumer who decides if a product is successful or not. Our mind-set at isi is consumer driven. Our research elucidates how attractive the product is for the consumers, whether they would buy the product, and if not, what needs to be changed in order to turn the product into a success.
Femke, why are you the right person for the job?
Because of my background as a scientist, as well as an economist, and my dedication to a more sustainable food sector. I have two masters´ degrees, one in Food Quality Management and another in Management, Economics and Consumer Studies. I have worked at the Research and Development department of FrieslandCampina and at Wageningen University and Research. Thus, I have extensive knowledge in food development and sensory and consumer science. Also, I have been living in Wageningen for over 15 years and therefore have contacts with many professionals and companies in the food sector. isi and I immediately connected because of their consumer-centric approach and their interest in sustainable food.
Femke, you just have started the position. How have the first couple of weeks been?
Very full and very exciting. I learned about all of the isi clients – and there are quite a few –, and I got to know many of the isi employees. I already had first meetings with representatives of academia and business to facilitate co-operations with isi. What was especially nice was the warm welcome given to me by the isi team and their eagerness to answer all my questions. They make it easy for me to feelthat I am a part of isi 😊
On a more personal note: What do you like to do when you are not working?
As you can probably guess, I love to cook, especially with my two children. I also like to go horseback riding. Wageningen has a lot of green areas and is the perfect place to relax in nature.
Wageningen - Van Gooien (wiki commens)
Femke Brouwer / Manuel Rost: private
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Dr. Fabienne Hübener ist freie Wissenschaftsjournalistin und hat sich auf die Sinne und die sensorische Forschung spezialisiert. Sie schreibt seit 2017 für uns und begleitet unser Team auch gerne mit der Videokamera im Labor und auf Konferenzen.