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Denmark, Germany and Netherlands Lead EU Food Sector Innovation

29 December 2013

The Danish food industry is the most innovative in Europe.

A study of eight countries by the University of Wageningen looking at how the Netherlands compares to the rest of Europe in innovation in food production, shows that Denmark and Germany score higher than the Netherlands.

The UK and Spain come next followed by France, Italy and then Poland.

Denmark scores highly for research and development within companies including collaboration and the business environment, while Germany scores highly for government R&D, technological achievements and organisational and marketing prowess.

Germany is the only European country that has seen a growth in its innovation from the start of this century.

However, the Netherlands scores highly on the indicators that describe the input side of the innovation system, but the companies generate less revenue from new products and are less focused on marketing and organisational innovations than most other countries.

Production process efficiency and cost reduction are often the main focus areas of Dutch companies according to the study by Michiel van Galen, Katja Logatcheva, Tom Bakker, Elsje Oosterkamp and Gerben Jukema.

In the longer term, this could cause the competitiveness of and jobs in the Dutch food industry to come under pressure, the research team concludes.

“Compared with the other countries studied, the Dutch food industry has a relatively strong position in terms of R&D intensity and a strong position in cooperation in innovation,” the report says.

“The only country with a greater number of patent applications to European
Patent Organisation EPO per million inhabitants than the Netherlands is

“This indicates the relatively high importance of the food companies in the Netherlands. However, the majority of patent applications come from a small number of large high-tech food companies.

“This large number of patents does not lead to a proportionately large number of new products. Far from all innovations in the food industry are based on patents and thus lack the protection of patents.

“In the Netherlands, most innovations come from a relatively small group of companies. Many innovations come from start-ups on the one hand and large companies and multinationals on the other. Most of the implemented innovations are product and process innovations; organisational and marketing innovations are seen to a lesser extent.”

The data about innovation by companies in the food and beverages industry did not allow for a comparison of different branches of the industry, but the revenue from new products in the Netherlands lags behind that in the other countries surveyed.

The revenue is mainly generated by existing or slightly modified products

“To remain competitive, food companies focus primarily on efficiency of production processes and distribution,” the report says.

The number of small and medium sized enterprises in the food industry in the Netherlands is relatively large and these companies are less likely to have formal research and development and innovation, but are more often involved in other forms of innovation, such as in niche markets.

Both the market concentration in the food industry itself (in some sectors a limited number of companies control a large share of Dutch production) and the changes in the sales structure (concentration at customers) and competition with private labels vary by country and sub-sector.

The relatively high public investments in innovation and knowledge in the Netherlands are reflected in the quality of the knowledge institutions.

“However, it is impossible to determine what proportion of public spending on knowledge and innovation specifically reaches the food industry,” the research team concludes.

“In terms of scientific quality in the food domain, the Netherlands does relatively well.”

 December 2013

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