To enter resolutely into modernity without denying its roots: the Alsatian food-processing industry is setting this course until 2017. Its FoodLab will be the guiding thread: it combines the evolution of consumer trends leading to the emergence of new products and the adaptation of industrial tools...
The term will no doubt sound suspicious to the guards of the temple of French cuisine. But it is precisely with the aim of combining modernity and respect for quality that the Regional Association of Food Industries of Alsace (Aria) is launching this innovation, which hardly seems to find an equivalent in Europe. Experimented by a few companies in 2015 and 2016 with the aim of becoming fully operational in 2017, the FoodLab will be a product development and packaging laboratory for developing new foods and adhering to new consumer trends. "As it links companies with universities, R&D centres, technology transfer organisations such as the Critt agro-industrial Aerial and chefs and pastry chefs, it will not identify itself in a single physical location, where everything will be done. A place will be created for what does not exist. But the existing will continue to develop where it is today. We are in a network logic", describes Sylvie Schott, the director of the Aria.
Dialogue with equipment manufacturers
In this network, the "trend laboratory" will play a key role. It will apply to Alsatian food products the principles of testing novelties by a consumer panel. In this case, the new recipes that emerge from the joint reflection of companies, nutritionists, chefs, etc. will be tested by a panel of consumers.
"Consumption patterns are changing fast. For example, we have to respond to the ageing of the population. Or, in baby food, to find a place for regional companies between home-made and highly industrial products".says Sylvie Schott.
"From there, companies will be able to determine whether their production facilities need to evolve accordingly, continues the Executive Director. On this point, they will be able to dialogue with equipment manufacturers, to whom Aria membership was opened in 2013.
Another dimension of this vast project concerns the industrial equipment itself: is it adapted to the challenges ahead? What are precisely these challenges? Aria proposes to answer these questions by launching a programme "Tomorrow's Food Factory" or SMA (Advanced Manufacturing Systems) for process innovation and optimization. A diagnosis is currently being carried out among 30 volunteer companies and should lead to a collective programme by the end of 2015.
These projects form the backbone of the 2015-17 strategic plan of the regional association, a cluster bringing together 140 companies, i.e. the bulk of the sector, which has a turnover of €5.6 billion.
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The commercial aspect has not been forgotten. Aria is continuing its export support actions, a strong point for the region since the Alsatian sector accounts for 11 % of the foreign sales of the French agri-food industry, compared to its weight of 4 % in the total turnover. It also proposes to its members to invest a little more in the digital field.
While online sales are the initiative of each of them, the association has been adding a collective dimension since last December in the form of a common digital platform for promotional offers.
The tool is a kind of dematerialized and mutualized loyalty card. This is a first for regional brands, whereas large companies are accustomed to it. To take up the meaning of the formula of its promoters, this Savour Alsace platform must be "the right app".
On this path full of unknowns, Alsatian food does not leave the bag empty. Innovation and monitoring of new consumer trends have been in the genes of their regional association since its creation twenty years ago.
The work of the last few years has provided the sector with a wealth of data, which is currently being brought together in an Observatory of Food Industries of the CCI Alsace. Around twenty pioneering companies have followed the Noviaa innovation programme.
"It provides support from design to market launch."recalls Sylvie Schott. From this, we can learn valuable lessons for the benefit of the greatest number of people. (Source: ©Trace Ecrites News - Christian Robischon January 13, 2015)
Photo: Manufacturer of traditional Alsatian biscuits, first and foremost the Bredele, the Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie de Colmar has done three years of research on leavened dough. ©MAB.