Researchers in the University of Granada evaluated the relationship between public sector research and industrial development in the functional foods sector in the region of Andalusia in Spain, and their findings were published in this month’s edition of the journal Food Policy.
The authors report that since 1997, there has been an increase of 58 per cent in the number of functional food firms established in Andalusia, with 2007 data showing the region as having a total of 29 firms producing functional foods.
Forty-nine per cent of these were located in Granada, a further 13.7 per cent based in Córdoba and 10.3 per cent of the companies were based in Seville, they said.
The researchers also noted that there were 21 Andalusian research centres and universities with research lines on functional foods.
They also said that they assessed reports produced by the regional government on regional research and development policies for 2007, and sector based studies for that year, which showed, according to the authors, that public investment in biotechnology R&D by the regional government in 2007 was €103.8m.
They note that this level of investment put Andalusia in third place in the national ranking after Madrid and Catalonia, with functional food research accounting for 37 per cent of this investment (€37.2m).
The researchers report that functional foods firms in Andalusia have also benefited from the services offered by the Andalusian Business Support Network (RAAE), which covers the region and provides resources for firm management training, consultancy and information about public subsidies and collaboration with other institutions and firms.
There are currently more than 200 functional food product types on sale in Spain, and the authors report that the increasing interest shown by the food industry in the production of food products with health promoting ingredients has led to the development of auxiliary services based on research into functional foods.
Indeed, Marisa Vidal-Guevara, a research scientist at the Spanish arm of Swiss food group, Hero, wrote that the Spanish functional foods market was worth €3.5bn in 2006 and growing at about 15 per cent annually.
Although definitions vary as to what is a functional food (depending on the overall health profile of the food and the manner in which it may or may not have been fortified), this figure is very high and may make Spain the highest uptakers of functional foods in Europe, possibly the world.
The authors of this review claim that the interaction between the number of researchers, patents and public investments is bearing positive fruit in the creation of a functional food cluster in Andalusia and they cite a project set up jointly by the University of Granada, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the regional government, which aims to bring business and academic research together and encourage the creation of spin-off companies.
The authors concluded that the combination of focused academic research and public funding have meant that the functional food industry in the region has made a qualitative and quantitative leap forward in the last decade.
However, in order to take advantage of the potential of the Andalusian region, they claim that the public authorities will have to focus their efforts and funds stimulating the creation of additional scientific and technological parks to encourage the development of functional food firms and boost wealth and employment in the region.
Source: Food Policy
Title: Innovation in the functional foods industry in a peripheral region of the European Union: Andalusia (Spain)
Authors: D.Arias-Aranda, M. Mercedes Romerosa-Martínez