By Wendelyn Jones, PhD, IAFNS Executive Director
From field to fork, research advances promise new breakthroughs in producing nutritious, safe and affordable food. Alternative proteins and other innovations in food science benefit from convergences in biotechnology, sustainability, nutrition and big data. This convergence is paving new ways to sustainably produce and deliver diverse food products with smaller footprints.
The grand challenge of feeding an increasingly global and urbanized population with diminishing resources has been made more acute by climate change and the recent pandemic, necessitating bold action. Food and beverage manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, health professionals, policy makers, academicians, and consumers need to work together to collectively address food and nutrition security as core pillars of public health.
The food and beverage ecosystem is a natural setting for innovation to occur as stakeholders race to find cost-effective, sustainable, and practical consumer solutions. Nowhere is this more true than for alternative proteins, including plant-proteins, which have reached a tipping point in both supply and demand, often carving out dedicated sections to those products in grocery stores.
When one realizes the size of the protein market from all sources and the growing use of alternative proteins in the diet, a convergence of stakeholders is necessary to maximize the efforts of scientists from food, nutrition, and biomedical sciences. This type of collaboration is needed across sectors to bring forward positive change and guide innovation. And while new discoveries can become novel technologies scaled to marketable solutions, the path of innovation from conception to commercial success can be winding and unpredictable.
That sometimes-messy process of innovation — in particular when it relates to the areas of food, health or nutrition — benefits from connections across the value chain to overcome the “valley of death.” This captures the distance between developing an initial concept and achieving commercial success.
What’s clear is that input from university researchers, industry scientists, and government officials can be crucial to crossing that valley by providing keen input on market conditions, regulatory and government requirements, and new research and technologies. Seeking out key contacts spanning food safety regulators, academic researchers, venture capital, and industry scientists aligns decision makers around critical issues on the path to market — ultimately helping them tap needed resources and knowledge to build value and address safety.
The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS), a nonprofit research organization, partners with representatives from all three sectors of the ecosystem — academia, industry, and government — to drive, fund, and lead actionable food safety and nutrition science. Building on the body of research led by our member and partner networks, IAFNS is planning a new Science Innovation Showcase event December 13-15 to highlight science-based innovations that may lead to emerging food safety and nutrition solutions. “Next Generation” ideas and developments like alternative proteins will be the theme and it will have a special emphasis on graduate student presentations. This is an opportunity to “geek out” on the science of the “next generation”!
Bringing together different sectors helps us all to converge on health, nutrition, and sustainability ideas and solutions. By having the public sector engage with the private sector directly to address some of our more pressing research questions, society benefits. At IAFNS we do this through a variety of means – from research exploring higher protein intake during weight loss to new food packaging solutions that address plastic recycling. IAFNS sponsors events and webinars on diverse topics that are free and open to the public. By connecting and collaborating with thought leaders the creation of scientific knowledge can be catalyzed and information mobilized.
The pace of innovation warrants special attention and focus, and IAFNS Showcase brings together representatives from sectors that can substantially advance new findings and developments. To learn more about the IAFNS Science Innovation Showcase and to submit an abstract, click here.
Wendelyn Jones, Ph.D., is executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS). Dr. Jones has a strong background in the food, agriculture and chemical industries, with over 20 years of global experience in industry and government. She applies her PhD in life sciences to extend IAFNS’ contribution to, and impact within, diverse scientific and health communities.