Cross-sectoral Collaboration works well in the Danish Food Sector: Insights from Lars Visbech Sørensen, CEO of Food & Bio Cluster Denmark

There is no doubt that bioeconomy holds a great potential to help solve societal challenges such as climate change, dependence on fossil fuels and can contribute to a better utilisation of our raw materials. A crucial element of its success is cross-sectoral collaboration, where different industries work together to unlock the full potential of bio-based solutions. In this article, we take a closer look at how this collaboration works within the food sector in Denmark.

To shed light on the topic, we had a talk with Lars Visbech Sørensen, CEO of Food & Bio Cluster Denmark, which is the national cluster organisation for the food and bioresource industry in Denmark. The organisation serves as a platform for connecting companies and knowledge institutions, facilitating collaboration and innovation, and promoting the development of new sustainable business ideas. Further, Lars is also a member of the National Bioeconomy Panel in Denmark, which develops recommendations to the government on the development of bioeconomy in Denmark.

Cross-sectoral collaboration is often seen where the biomass quantities are

According to Lars, the Danish food sector already works cross-sectoral, where the actors in the value chain try to use bioresources optimally via cascade exploitation. This refers to maximising the biological resources across different stages, where each stage's by-products or residues are further utilised to minimise waste and maximise the overall value extracted from the resources.

Cross-sectoral collaboration is often seen where the biomass quantities are. Examples of this are:

  • Biomass from agriculture and food used as raw material for renewable energy e.g. biogas and biodiesel
  • Biomass from wood chips used for heating
  • Incineration of waste for energy
  • Biomass as raw material for the ingredient industry e.g. fermentation and enzymes
  • Sugar from sugar beet, used as an ingredient for fermenting proteins for enzyme production

In connection with this Lars adds: “The main customers are still food within the food industry, but we see an increasing focus on other industries and areas of application”.

In relation to which technology readiness level (TRL) the collaboration takes place, Lars explains:

“Although, there is much cross-collaboration in the food sector, the collaboration takes place at quite different technology readiness levels. Take for instance biogas, which is a market-ready technology, where development projects today typically focus on efficiency and process optimisation. When it comes to the development and use of grass protein for animal feed and human nutrition, the focus is on scaling up and we still need to see the product enter the growth phase. For biochar, which is an emergent technology, scaling has not yet taken place. And as for biopolymer, where plant sugars are used to make plastic-like products, the technology is not yet fully developed”.

The approval procedure for novel food is a challenge

When asking about what the main obstacles are in relation to setting up collaborations, Lars highlights the approval procedure for novel food as a challenge, as it takes a long time and is quite costly.

“The lengthy approval procedure limits some new technologies and products from entering the market. This also applies to products that may have new properties such as being more climate-friendly and nutritious, the procedure time therefore has negative consequences for both the consumer and the ecosystem”, Lars states and adds:

“This is also negative from an investor's point of view. When investing in new disruptive technology, it is important that it doesn’t take one or two additional years before the product hits the market.”

As additional challenges, Lars mentions the fact that the food sector is working with biological materials where the content varies and consequently it can be difficult to document a fixed CO2 reduction.

Further, Danish consumers show a low willingness to pay for greener and more circular products, suggesting the need for more attractive pricing and persuasive marketing strategies.

Transforming side-streams from the agricultural and food sector into alternative building materials

The green transition calls for new forms of collaboration and new ways of utilizing each other's competencies. In Denmark this transition is often supported by the authorities via grant schemes that set a framework for the cross-sectoral collaboration with the goal of creating completely new value chain collaborations.

As an example, Lars mentions that Food & Bio Cluster Denmark has entered a collaboration with three other Danish cluster organisations in a new project called Closing Loops, which among others examines how side-streams from the agricultural and food sector can be used as alternative building materials and products.

“With this approach, the vision is that a company cannot adapt alone because value chains go across industries and is therefore a prerequisite for converting to a circular economy. By being several partners who are together for change, we can promote concrete circular implementation. And at the same time, the companies' competitive advantage increases,” Lars concludes.

Cross-sectoral Collaboration works well in the Danish Food Sector: Insights from Lars Visbech Sørensen, CEO of Food & Bio Cluster Denmark