The Food4Health approach leads to richer knowledge

Interview with Veerle Poppe, Colruyt

Colruyt Group believes that retailers can also play an important role in helping consumers make healthy choices. As the instigator of the EIT Food4Health project STOP MetSyn, we spoke with Veerle Poppe, Sustainability Strategist and EIT Lead at Colruyt, to hear why they decided to join the Food4Health programme.

“The notion of big opportunities on the borders between EIT Food and EIT Health immediately resonated within Colruyt. This goes especially for prevention. Food4Health breaks through the traditional lines to enable revolutionary products”, Sustainability Strategist and EIT Lead Colruyt Veerle Poppe comments. At the beginning of 2021, the company will launch a solution that helps to prevent and reverse the pre-metabolic syndrome in the high-risk target group.

Colruyt is the market-leading food retailer in Belgium, with a long track record on healthy choices. Poppe: “We don’t shy away from leading our customers towards healthier choices. Using AI and big data on products and customer preferences, we initiated the SmartWithFood app. It helps customers to transfer a recipe into a fitting shopping list. This means, that when we know a customer doesn’t like garlic, has a gluten allergy and a low sugar preference, recipes will be automatically translated to the right product choices for him or her, such as gluten-free flour and sugar alternatives.”

Disease prevention

The SmartWithFood app enables customers who are already aware of the health consequences of food choices to easily shop wisely. The Food4Health project STOP MetSyn takes prevention a major step further. STOP MetSyn is short for Sustainable Tackling Of Pre-METabolic SYNdrome. Poppe elaborates: “Twenty percent of people in the twenty to sixty age category runs a high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise lead to high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar, excessive waist fat, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol. We try to seduce this target group into a healthier lifestyle to prevent disease.”

This is far from easy. It not only relates to the realm of retail through shopping choices. It also involves life beyond the supermarket, as it considers exercise and general behavioural changes. “We need corporate and knowledge partners to address all relevant aspects in a holistic approach: marketeers, medical specialists and behavioural scientists”, says Poppe. As a long time EIT Food member and Food4Health core team member, Colruyt decided to also join EIT Health eighteen months ago to extend its network. That was around the time STOP MetSyn started in 2019 with a literature review. The programme will result in a solution that can be tested on the market in 2021.

Speed of progress

The specific Food4Health set-up, that started with ten partners, brought Colruyt into contact with several surprise partners. Poppe: “Potential partners are picked from a pool of two hundred high-quality parties, pre-selected by independent reviewers. This ensures that the ten selected partners are the best professional fit for the programme.”

Working with ten partners also proves to be a lot of handling, Poppe learned. “A programme adjustment suggestion would be, to bring this number slightly down and to enlarge the work packages. It helped though, to be open about expected deliverables from the outset. One must take into account that companies and universities aim for different deliverables. For us it is the product, for academia, it is PhD-studies and papers. Once that is clear to all, parties can find a modus operandi that takes all interests into account.”

An aspect beyond the reach of Food4Health itself is budget (in)security. “The budget for the programme should at least be secured for 2 or 3 years, preferably longer”, Poppe finds.

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EIT Food is a network of industry, academic and research partners, set up to transfer our food system. By connecting consumers with businesses, start-ups researchers and students from around Europe, EIT Food supports innovative initiatives that improve our health, our access to quality food and our environment.

EIT Health is a network of best-in-class health innovators backed by the EU. We deliver solutions to enable European citizens to live longer, healthier lives by promoting innovation. We connect the right people to work on societal challenges across European borders so that innovation can happen at the intersection of research, education and business.