Recently, the 15th Plant-Based Foods & Proteins Summit North America took place. A digital edition this time. The Northern Netherlands, under the name TopDutch HFA, was also emphatically present at the event. How did the virtual adventure turn out and what role can the region play in the protein transition? Joep de Vries (NOM) and Sven Stielstra (Campus Groningen) tell us.
Actually, Joep de Vries was planning to travel to Canada last June. There, across the big pond, NOM's business development manager was to participate in an international summit on plant-based foods and proteins. To the 15th Plant-Based Foods & Proteins Summit North America, to be exact. But alas, Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works. Organizer Bridge2Food proved creative, however, and decided to turn the event into a virtual version. But still with Canada as the host country.
'I was enormously pleased with that,' says Joep. 'The world of plant proteins, prompted by a growing demand for healthy food, has developed at lightning speed in recent years. Moreover, the production of plant proteins is of great importance to continue feeding the rapidly expanding world population. The Northern Netherlands can play a prominent role in that protein transition, as the transition from animal to vegetable proteins is called. In short: we simply could not be missing there.'
Clear story through years of experience
Besides gaining new knowledge and visiting virtual network meetings, the summit was an excellent opportunity to showcase the region to an international audience. To do that as convincingly as possible, Joep and Sven Stielstra, business developer of Campus Groningen, translated the strengths of the Northern Netherlands into a clear pitch, the proposition-to-be. NOM and Campus Groningen have been working together intensively in the field of plant proteins for some time, hence. 'It was clear beforehand that we wanted to present ourselves as TopDutch,' says Joep. 'We added Health, Food and Agribusiness, or HFA for short, as a subtitle. Three domains in which the Northern Netherlands has excelled for several years.'
Hotspot for innovations
Sven emphasizes that Campus Groningen and the region have developed into a hotspot for innovations that contribute to a healthier world. As an example, he mentions the UMCG, which, partly thanks to LifeLines data, has a great deal of knowledge about the relationship between intestinal flora and health. 'In this way, more insight is gained into, for example, which proteins and carbohydrates we need to become and remain healthy. When we know that, we can ask the agribusiness sector, with Avebe as an important showcase, whether it is possible to extract those specific proteins and carbohydrates from crops. The Carbohydrate Competence Center can provide support for that. And once we can develop the desired ingredients, we can turn them, together with partners from other regions as well, into healthy foods and then offer them to consumers. In short, we have extensive knowledge and expertise in the Northern Netherlands to accelerate the transition to sustainable and healthy food ingredients.'
So it's a story that you can show off. TopDutch HFA even had its own booth for that purpose. Indeed, a booth at a virtual conference. How should we imagine that? Yes, I asked myself that beforehand,' Joep smiles. 'But it was magnificent. The event consisted of a digital platform developed by EventInsight, a company from the city of Groningen and a participation of the NOM. It is a startup in the event industry that saw its sales almost completely wiped out by the corona crisis.
However, they managed to turn the crisis into an opportunity by developing, under the name Let's Get Digital, a digital alternative to allow large events to still take place. With success, it turned out at the Virtual Plant-Based Foods & Proteins Summit North America. You entered in the lobby. From there you could go to speakers or visit a booth, among other things. Just by pressing the logo of the chosen company, in our case the TopDutch logo. You then immediately saw who was at the booth, including relevant data such as name, phone number and email address. Interested parties could learn about our proposition through a short film and also download a pdf with information. At the same time, there were opportunities to chat, video call and invite people personally into a virtual room. At times it was like being at a physical trade fair.'
The summit became a success. Among other things, talks were held with the consulate and lines of communication and agreements were made with various universities. They were also introduced to a number of interesting companies that can be linked to companies and knowledge institutions in the Northern Netherlands. The digital nature suited Joep well, he says. 'It did cost quite a bit of energy, though. Not least because of the time difference between Canada and the Netherlands. It may sound crazy, but I really suffered from jet lag afterwards.'
Sven, too, looks back with a good feeling. 'Especially also because the North-Netherlands story appeared to catch on,' he says. 'The next step is to further sharpen the story into a fully-fledged proposition. I think it would be fantastic to take the first steps towards this at the next event and to be able to include success stories. And that not Joep and I will be on the stand, but, for example, a protein expert from Avebe, a gut expert from the UMCG and people from agrifood startups like EV Biotech or CarbExplore. So the star players who carry the knowledge. That would make the story of the Northern Netherlands even stronger.'