From algae ice cream to veggie sandwich slices: Ecotrophelia gives industry NPD inspiration

Food science students could win part of the €15,000 prize by taking part. © iStock/Afonkin_Yuriy

Lacking inspiration for new product development (NPD)? Look no further than Ecotrophelia, where Europe’s brightest young minds pitch ideas for innovative and sustainable foods, and have commercialised over 40 products in Europe so far.

Established in 2000, Ecotrophelia is a food innovation competition where students in food science come together to develop products that are sustainable, responsible and of high nutritional quality.

The competition acquaints students with the NPD process from the brainstorming stage to designing a finished product, said Izabela Nair, communications coordinator at partner organisation the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST).

Up for grabs is a share of the €15,000 prize pot. For some students, however, winning could be a springboard to a successful business.

After netting first prize for their range of frozen vegetarian ready meals in 2013, Emmanuel Bréhier and Benoît Plisson from ISARA agro-engineering

school in Lyon, France went on to found Ici & Là. Through this start-up, later renamed Le Boucher Vert, they developed steaks, nuggets and croquettes with a pulse base of chickpeas, beans and lentils which are now sold across France.

Inspiration for industry

The competition also gives industry a chance to seek some invaluable inspiration for its own portfolios.

“France has been participating in the competition for 15 years and it has such kudos that many French manufacturers look to the competition for potential new product ideas," Nair told FoodNavigator. "Over 30 products from the Ecotrophelia competition have been developed and taken to market in France. Across Europe over 40 products have been commercialised.”

Students at SupAgro in Montpellier, for instance, developed Croc'it in 2013: bite-sized vegetable snacks with a creamy sauce centre as a healthy alternative to classic appetisers, such as crisps. These were marketed and sold by prepared salad supplier Les Crudettes.

In 2015, first prize was awarded to a group of students at Szent István University in Hungary for VeSage, a vegetable-based, cold-cut used to replace or complement meat and cheese slices in sandwiches. The gluten-, lactose- and soy-free adds nutrients and flavour to sandwiches without leaving the bread soggy, and are now sold in Hungary.

Sustainable dimension

As the name suggests, Ecotrophelia is on the lookout for food products that have a sustainable dimension, which could relate to any part of the supply or production chain.

Ingredients that are organic or have a low carbon footprint; foods packaged in recycled materials or manufactured in an eco-friendly way through water recycling or

energy saving measures; or even a greener way of distributing products through direct consumer sales are all welcome – “making it easier for all businesses in the food production chain to integrate the environmental dimension”, said Nair.

The British branch of Ecotrophelia is currently looking for candidates to pitch their ideas before 29 March 2017.

Last year the British team from Nottingham Trent University won bronze prize at the final, held at SIAL in Paris, for its sustainable and indulgent vegan alternative to traditional dairy ice cream that uses algal protein to replace diary protein.

Shortlisted students will be invited to their ideas to a panel of industry experts from companies such as British retailer Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Unilever and Warburtons, as well as FoodNavigator’s sister site Food Manufacture.

The winning idea will compete in the European final in November, held at Food Matters Live in London.

Ecotrophelia isn't the only way to give your innovative food project the recognition it deserves. Take part in Food Vision's Trailblazer competition, organised by FoodNavigator's publisher William Reed,  and put your start-up centre stage by pitching to the biggest names in the food industry at FoodVision in London 1 - 3 March 2017.

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