Interview with Marco de la Feld, SHEALTHY Project Coordinator
The SHEALTHY Project it is a EU-funded project by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme that began last May, seven months ago. Marco de la Feld, the Project coordinator, talks about the past, present and future for SHEALTHY.
Where does the idea of SHEALTHY come from? What’s the reason behind this project?
Consumer preferences have changed substantially in recent years, and at this time, an increasing demand for healthy food has been detected. So, the main reason for the development of the SHEALTHY project is meeting these new consumer demands, once and for all, but from a sustainable perspective.
The processing methods used in the elaboration of certain food will strongly mark the final characteristics of the final product. In this way, the SHEALTHY project aims to assess and develop an optimal combination of non-thermal sanitization, preservation and stabilization methods to improve the safety, while preserving the nutritional quality and prolonging the shelf-life of minimally F&V products with the ultimate goal of putting healthier food at the disposal of consumers across Europe.
SHEALTHY has a total of 21 partners within its consortium. Which are the areas of expertise present in this project?
If I had to highlight a unique strength of the SHEALTHY project, I would undoubtedly highlight the partnership. The strong cooperation between referenced research centres and other remarkable institutions around Europe and their high commitment is what makes the difference and what makes the project a leading project within the Agri-food sector.
I would say, that basically, the main areas of expertise of the consortium are twofold: on one hand we have the technology specialists which are in charge of developing, assessing and optimizing available mild technologies and decide the best combination for each pilot case; on the other hand we have companies and organizations whose role is focused on the design and development of feasible business models that support traditional micro & SMEs to adopt and validate these novel technologies. It is important to make clear that both fields are absolutely essential for the success of the project.
What is the biggest challenge faced by the SHEALTHY during the project lifetime?
The idea behind SHEALTHY project is quite simple, the main aim is to develop the ideal combination of non-thermal technologies as an alternative to thermal processing. In this way, we will be able to produce healthier processed food by minimising the effects on its nutritional, organoleptic and quality attributes.
The real and more important challenges we are facing within the project are dealing with our SMEs’ challenges. For instance, one of our SMEs is an organic juice producer. Nowadays, they produce orange and apple juice though pasteurization gathering 3 months of shelf-life but with an important detriment of the nutritional compounds. The challenge, here, is helping them in giving a step forward on favour of the development of healthier processed juices using mild technologies. This will confer them an important change in their company value proposition, allowing them to differentiate on the market and increase their competitiveness.
Which are the main characteristics that consumers will be able to perceive in products developed by SHEALTHY technologies compared to products from the same category which are already in the market?
The main important thing is that the consumer will be able to appreciate a product completely adapted to their new needs. They will find a new generation of food product produced by SMEs. A much healthier minimally processed product, with better nutritional and organoleptic attributes. In short, we can affirm that they will find a completely trustworthy food product also thanks to the contribution of the project to the improvement of the traceability and logistics of the agri-food sector.
SHEALTHY is an initiative focused on the Agri-food SMEs. How can SMEs benefit from the SHEALTHY project?
The SHEALTHY project will lead the transformation of the agri-food sector by providing support to its main engine, the SMEs. It is important to note that the project, despite being a research and innovation action goes further than the acceptance and adoption of new technologies, we can say that it is a market and SMEs- driven project. SHEALTHY will improve the competitiveness of agri-food SMEs through the development of tailor-made collaborative business models. In such a way, SMEs will be able to implement technologies that individually would be completely unattainable, and thus be able to compete with large companies internationally.
SHEALTHY is an ambitious initiative that will transform the agri-food system at a whole into an innovative ecosystem based on collaboration.