Food for Health Ireland helping Irish firms develop market-leading products
Centre’s research shows eating cheese could be good for your cardio-vascular health
Eating cheese could be good for your cardio-vascular health, according to Food for Health Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images/EyeEm
Eating cheese could be good for your cardio-vascular health. That’s just one of the many interesting research findings produced over the past 11 years by Food for Health Ireland, the Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland-backed technology centre based in UCD.
The centre provides a gateway for industry partners – including Kerry, Glanbia, Carbery and Dairygold – to access world-class research that addresses global concerns about food, nutrition and wellbeing and health. The success of the model lies in Food for Health Ireland’s ability to understand industry needs and trends and match these with innovative research platforms to give partners the insights they need to develop market-leading products.
“It’s a unique partnership,” says Food for Health Ireland director Dr Nessa Noronha. “We have four companies on board who are all competitors in the market. They come to us in a pre-competitive space and work with scientists who are in the top 1 per cent in the world at what they do. They are the best of the best. We work with partners to co-create new products. We look at their existing product portfolios and help them innovate to stay ahead of the competition. We are combing market research and human insights with scientific expertise.”
The centre takes products from initial concept to human trials. These trials have already produced results that can be translated into innovations in food for use in tackling a range of health issues, including blood glucose control, muscle decline in older people and heart health in overweight adults.
“One area we look at is heart health,” says Noronha. “We look at dairy as a whole rather than individual ingredients and we ask if there is a dairy matrix effect. We asked subjects to consume cheese for six weeks. We looked at their blood profiles and measured their cholesterol and so on and we were delighted to find that you can improve your heart health while eating cheese.”
The centre has just secured investments totalling €21.6 million in its third round of funding since 2008. The funding comprises contributions of €7.2 million each from the Government, industry partners and competitive sources.
“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,” says Noronha.
“Dairygold is very pleased to be involved as a pillar industry partner in the relaunched Food for Health Ireland research centre,” says Conor Galvin, head of commercial and business development with the co-op. “The centre is 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. We will continue to support the Food for Health Ireland research centre to ensure that the initiative is successful and delivers sustainable value.
“Carbery has been a founding industry partner since the inception of Food for Health Ireland in 2008, and for over more than a decade we have had access to high-class research organisations and world-class scientists that are dedicated to advancing science and improving health and well-being through food,” says Carbery director of innovation, Aine Hallihan.
“We are excited about the launch of the third phase of Food for Health Ireland, which is focused on the development of innovative dairy ingredients and cheese with proven health benefits that are aligned to consumer needs such as digestive health, immunity, bone and muscle health.”
Functional foods will be a key area of focus for the centre in the coming years. These foods have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition, helping to promote optimal health and reducing the risk of disease.
“The global market for functional food is forecast to be worth more than €250 billion by 2023, with consumers looking for health-enhancing ingredients to come in food, not pills,” Noronha points out. “The move is on globally from reactive to preventative health, and towards holistic and natural health,” says 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.”
Other areas of focus for the centre are grass-fed Irish dairy and fermented ingredients. “Only 10 per cent of milk globally is grass fed. We want to try to understand if that makes a difference to the consumer. Are there differentiators in terms of health or sensory characteristics? We want to show scientifically that grass fed is best. In fermented products we are looking at the ones which can improve digestive health. The fermented foods market globally will be worth almost €700 billion globally by 2023 and Ireland can be a leader in that.”