Food Valley: European innovation hub

Published: 12-11-2015

“One of the most inspiring areas in the world” is how Synthite’s Vishal Menon and Sriram Karuturi describe Food Valley, the center of Dutch food technology. The Indian ingredient-solutions provider became a member of the Food Valley NL Society about a year ago. “We wanted to be part of an innovation hub close to our European customers.” 

Synthite, headquartered in the South-Indian city of Kochi, Kerala and a leader in its field, specializes in spice oleoresins, natural flavors, colorings, antioxidants and texture-improving agents for the global food industry. The company has been exporting products to customers in Europe for the past four decades and intends to increase its presence during 2015 and beyond.

‘Joining Food Valley NL seemed a perfect way to strengthen existing contacts in Europe and to generate new business’

Innovation hub
It was Food Valley Ambassador Sriram Karuturi, one of Synthite’s food scientists, who brought the company in contact with Food Valley NL. “Joining Food Valley NL seemed a perfect way to strengthen existing contacts in Europe and to generate new business”, says Vishal Menon, Chief Development Officer at Synthite. “The Netherlands, and especially the Food Valley area, is an innovation hub sharing many characteristics with Silicon Valley; we aim to be a part of it.”

“Being affiliated with the Dutch agrifood sector will support our goal of establishing a strong R&D network in Europe”, continues Karuturi. “It could, for example, enable us to participate in larger, government-supported research programs and consortia projects that could be of value to the entire industry.”

Applied research
Synthite’s involvement in the Netherlands has already resulted in a range of applied-research projects commissioned by food manufacturers across the country. “Current projects include improving vanilla flavor in dairy goods and giving better stability and shelf-life to the (archetypal) Dutch drink advocaat”, illustrates Menon. “We are also advising a Dutch client in how to use plant-derived essential oils to prevent diseases in animals.”

The two ingredient experts have experienced just a few obstacles in collaborating with companies from what seemed, initially, to be such a different country. “Communication with our customers has gone very well, although, of course, we needed time to get to know each other”, says Karuturi. However, the major challenge is the physical distance. “It is difficult to really grasp the nuances of product organoleptics when you are 7,000 kilometers away on another continent”, explains Menon.

Food Valley Ambassador - Abhishek Gupta - India

Abhishek Gupta, Food Valley Ambassador: “Indians love the personal touch”

“The growing middleclass in India are increasingly demanding a greater variety of healthy and high-quality convenience foods. This offers major opportunities for manufacturers of processed foods – which currently make up only 2% of the products on offer in a typical Indian supermarket – and organizations specializing in supply-chain management, cold storage and quality control. Almost one third of the population is 14 years old or younger, so the youth and children’s markets offer major opportunities too.

Brand success in other countries or continents is not that easy to replicate in India. The fact that food products need to be customized to suit the Indian palate is further complicated because consumer preferences vary between geographical/political regions. Indians love to do their own mix-and-match; perhaps a ready-to-eat meal from the supermarket beside some of India’s ubiquitous street food: simple and delicious.”

Abhishek Gupta, MSc, came to the Netherlands in 2005, having achieved a Bachelor in Dairy Technology from Anand Agricultural University. In Wageningen he graduated as a Master in Food Technology, after which he became a Food Valley Ambassador. Following a one-year internship at DMV International and seven years as a product developer for FrieslandCampina Domo, he is now finalizing his PhD at Wageningen University.

New office
To overcome this hurdle, Synthite is planning to establish a local office in the Wageningen area, in 2015. “It will be the coordinating center for all our R&D activities in Europe“, says Menon. “This will bring us closer to our clients. Not only our Dutch partners, but also companies in neighboring regions like the United Kingdom, Western countries and Scandinavia.”

Both Menon and Karuturi hope for further collaboration between agrifood companies in India and the Netherlands. “The Dutch are world-renowned for their agrifood knowledge and expertise and we believe India is an ideal technology partner for them”, says Menon. “Dutch companies could, for example, outsource non-core research projects to India, freeing up resources to focus on challenging and more-critical issues.”

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