Innovation Zurich Event2024: Focus on revolutionary foodtech solutions and sustainability ideas

Food and technology were the focus of the third edition of the Innovation Zurich event. Representatives from the fields of foodtech and materials science presented innovative solutions to make the food industry fit for the future.

Shoe soles made from banana skins and hamburger bread made from sourdough - the food industry is constantly evolving. At the Innovation Park in Dübendorf, around 100 visitors to the event were able to see the creativity of various start-ups from the foodtech sector for themselves.

The two-year-old company foodflows, for example, produces refreshing drinks from coffee cherries. These are harvested in Brazil; foodflows sources them directly from local farmers. The supply chain is therefore no longer a black box and network effects are utilized.

By contrast, sallea focuses on meat and fish: the start-up founded by three ETH graduates has developed a process for breeding meat and fish in the laboratory. In this way, they enable meat consumption that is animal and environmentally friendly.

Success stories for Zurich as a research location

Another showcase was that of the Zurich-based cleantech company Kuori. The start-up, led by material designer Sarah Harbarth, produces the aforementioned shoe soles from banana peels. Watch straps made from nutshells are also available. "We use food side streams and recycle them," explained founder Harbarth when presenting the Kuori success story.

"We have now designed over 50 recycling recipes," says Harbarth. "In this way, a wide variety of everyday objects can be produced from food waste." The new materials are five times more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics - and can of course be recycled themselves.

Kuori sells the recycled materials to various customers, with the company also targeting major brands such as Adidas and Ikea. This is because they want to make their production completely CO2-neutral over the next few years. Gaining such "big players" as partners is of course an ambitious goal - Harbarth is aware of this. Nevertheless: "There are more than enough side streams that can be recycled. We need to exploit this potential."

Reducing mistrust of the food industry

Michael Kleinert, Head of the Institute for Food and Beverage Innovation at the ZHAW in Wädenswil, is also working on exploiting the potential of food products. "Many people think of food production as something very simple," he explained. "But as soon as new technologies come into play, it usually gets complicated." He doesn't let this stop him, on the contrary: "Innovation is a process that never ends."

For Kleinert, innovation means finding answers to the following questions: Is it possible to produce packaging from potato peelings? Or: How can you bake hamburger bread with sourdough - without any additives? An important success factor for innovations is that consumers accept the new products. Kleinert knows: "Genetically modified food is frowned upon by many people." There is a mistrust among the population towards the food industry.

According to Kleinert, this makes it all the more important to promote start-ups and SMEs - unlike certain large corporations, they do not have a bad reputation to contend with. Kleinert also appeals to politicians to do this. It should regulate with restraint: "We mustn't be too German," the ZHAW professor joked at the expense of his native Germany. He believes that Switzerland is ideally positioned for the "food future", as he calls it: The latest technologies are used in both research and production.

Getting consumers excited about food topics

An important aim of the event is to promote interdisciplinary dialog. This took place at the panel discussion moderated by Kathrin Hönegger. A key topic: the potential of Zurich as a business location for the foodtech industry. Kuori CEO Sarah Harbarth said that there was still a lack of lighthouse projects that could open doors for her own start-up.

Erich Schmid, Chief Technology Officer of industrial component manufacturer Angst+Pfister, then offered his support for such projects: "We are generally open to collaborations with start-ups. If you have a good idea, we'll listen to it." However, Alban Muret, Managing Director of the foodward foundation, warned that an idea does not automatically succeed on the market just because it is good. At the same time, he said: "The foodtech industry is ready to take the next important step." This is important and unfortunately has often not been the case in the past. "We often lacked the courage to scale".

Meanwhile, Lars Sommerhäuser, who heads the Coating Competence Center at Empa, emphasized the importance of public relations work: "This can make a big difference on the consumer side. "Large corporations such as Nestlé should contribute more to the discourse on foodtech or food waste." Such topics need to be exemplified - so that other companies also engage with them more intensively.

From the podium to the bar tables: At the end, all attendees had the opportunity to get to know each other better at the networking aperitif. Councillor Carmen Walker Späh had already mentioned the importance of cooperation at the start of the event: "Research, business and politics must always work together. This is the only way innovation can happen."

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