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€21.6m boost for ‘functional food’ Technology Centre

  • Food for Health Ireland secures €7.2m over five years from Enterprise Ireland
  • Funding will be matched by €7.2m from Irish industry partners and a further €7.2m from competitive sources
  • Centre’s expanded membership to establish Ireland as a global leader in the €250bn functional food market

Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation Heather Humphreys, today announced Enterprise Ireland funding of €7.2 million, over five years, for Food for Health Ireland, a Technology Centre based in University College Dublin (UCD) that aims to improve global health through innovation in functional food. 

Speaking at the launch, Minister Humphreys said; “Innovation 2020, the Government's strategy for research and development, science and technology, recognises the importance of innovation for the agri-food sector. Enterprise Ireland’s continued support of Food for Health Ireland, through investment in research and innovation capability, will help to build competitive advantage in the food sector and is well aligned with our Future Jobs Ireland framework.  Introducing companies to the expertise in Food for Health Ireland will lead to innovative technologies and job creation in the sector. The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry and plays a crucial role in Ireland’s economic performance, with a total turnover of over €26bn.  Irish food and drink is sold in 180 markets worldwide by a countrywide network of around 1,300 businesses. The agri-food sector accounts for 7.9% of total employment in the State.  Some 38%, or €5.2bn, of exports go to the UK while 48% of our beef exports go to the UK.  Market diversification, both within the EU and to international markets, is a key priority for the sector.  That is why the Government’s ongoing market diversification strategy is so vital as we deal with the challenges of Brexit.” 

“The great success of the Irish food sector in recent decades can be attributed to a number of factors, but chief among them is the ingenuity and innovative capacity of Irish food companies,” according to Alexa Toomey, Manager of Dairy, Beverages and FDI at Enterprise Ireland. 

“Our research shows that food and beverage companies that availed of collaborative innovation supports from Enterprise Ireland saw sales growth that was three times higher than those that did not participate,” she said. “We are delighted to support the continued work of Food for Health Ireland, with a renewed focus on expanding the network and commercialising its research outputs. Through programmes like this we can ensure that Ireland is recognised as a global leader in functional food innovation.” 

This latest round of funding comes on the back of the centre’s 10-year collaboration with research and industry partners to produce peer-reviewed market-led research that supports innovation in the functional food space. Food for Health Ireland’s human-intervention trials have already produced results that can be translated into innovations in food for use in tackling the key health issues that underpin diabetes, obesity and heart health, as well as supporting healthier ageing.

“Food for Health Ireland has spent over a decade building a unique innovation ecosystem that brings together leaders in food and health research, industry, policy, marketing and investment,” according to the centre’s new director, Dr Nessa Noronha. “Working with our industry partners – Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia Ireland and Kerry – we have developed a world-class model for collaboration and we are now ideally placed to expand our network to include start-ups, SMEs and other large and international players in the food and drink sector who need our support to innovate in the functional food space.” 

Functional foods have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition, helping to promote optimal health and reducing the risk of disease. “Food for Health Ireland’s research addresses global concerns about food, nutrition and wellbeing and health,” said the centre’s lead scientist, Prof Dolores O’Riordan, Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health. “Our focus is on providing safe, sustainable and scientifically-proven innovations in food. Our research addresses the growing desire globally for health-enhancing ingredients and functional food – from healthier cheeses to sustainable dairy practices to environmentally beneficial food innovations.”

The global market for functional food is forecast to be worth more than €250 billion by 2023. Consumers are looking for health-enhancing ingredients to come in food, not pills. “Preventative, holistic and natural health is replacing reactive treatment worldwide,” said Dr Noronha.

“The kind of research and insights we provide at Food for Health Ireland supports the food industry in maintaining a pipeline and a pathway for new functional foods to meet these mega-trends. World-class consumer-driven research is key to innovation in this space, and our vision is to make Ireland a world leader in improving global health through functional food.”

Food for Health Ireland offers a tiered membership structure, providing industry partners with a collaborative pre-competitive space in which they can access tailored research and insights. “Our industry partners have unanimously confirmed that the core research programme of Food for Health Ireland was a key market differentiator in dealing with their customers,” said Dr Noronha. “With this continued support from our partners and Enterprise Ireland, we are delighted to now be in a position to build on our decade of experience and open up this model to new partners.”

Food for Health Ireland’s core industry partners – Kerry, Glanbia Ireland, Carbery and Dairygold – were also in attendance at the launch. Maurice O'Sullivan, Kerry’s director of research and development for proteins, said: “As a global leader in taste and nutrition, Kerry values the relationship with Food for Health Ireland, as it provides an important platform to drive industry-relevant research. The centre links key academic research experts with food industry partners to facilitate collaboration on the development of innovative food products and ingredients, which offer our customers important health benefits, backed up by strong scientific data.”

Aoife Murphy, director of ingredients with Glanbia Ireland, said: “We recognise that markets are dynamic, consumer needs are evolving and the demand for knowledge is growing. We are delighted to be a part of and to support Food for Health Ireland as it is vital that the science that underpins our ingredients and products in the marketplace is reputable and well researched.”

Aine Hallihan, director of innovation at Carbery, said that for more than a decade Food for Health Ireland had provided Carbery with “access to high-class research organisations and world-class scientists that are dedicated to advancing science and improving health and well-being through food.” While Conor Galvin, head of commercial and business development for food ingredients at Dairygold, described Food for Health Ireland as “a key part of Dairygold’s development strategy to add value to milk by undertaking commercially relevant research that increases the potential of dairy ingredients to address nutritional needs” 

Note to editors

High-res images to follow from Fennell Photography on Wednesday 27 November – afternoon. Launch of fhi.ie website on Tuesday 26 November. To arrange interviews or for further comment please contact:

Emma Somers

Communications Manager

Food for Health Ireland

emma.somers@fhi.ie

086 3400884

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