Danish Food Cluster grows 'entrepreneurial ecosystem' to ferment food innovation

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

 'This is the framework for agriculture’s answer to Silicon Valley,' said GXN director Kasper Guldager Jensen. © iStock
'This is the framework for agriculture’s answer to Silicon Valley,' said GXN director Kasper Guldager Jensen. © iStock

Related tags Denmark

The CEO of the Danish Food Cluster - and two members - tell FoodNavigator of their mission to make the Danish food industry a by-word for entrepreneurial and tech innovation.

CEO Lone Ryg Olsen said the organisation has doubled membership in 3 years so today it helps 139 member companies and five universities connect and facilitate knowledge flow. That's 75% of the Danish food industry.

Since becoming a member Denmark’s fourth biggest company, dairy giant Arla, for instance has teamed up with  ISI, a small food protection and microbiology firm in the Cluster.

“[ISI]​ has specialised knowledge in lab services and do Arla’s lab work on things like dangerous bacteria Arla doesn’t want to have in its products. Ishows how a big company can gain value from small company and together they have developed new products with a better shelf life and taste profile.” 

Lone Ryg Olsen, CEO of the Danish Food Cluster

The Cluster is based at Agro Food Park, Denmark's "entrepreneurial ecosystem"​ near Aarhus. 

Three years ago FoodNavigator spoke to​ Søren Madsen, ‘inspiration manager’ at the Agro Food Park, who expressed frustration that the Danish industry was not at the forefront of people’s minds when they thought of European food innovation, still lagging behind the Dutch Food Valley and Wageningen University and others like Scandinavian hubs around Lund University in Sweden and Turku in Finland.

But Ryg Olsen sees things differently. “[The Dutch Food Valley] has had an organisation for 12 years so they are at a more mature point in their development. And I don’t see them as competition but as a partner because in many aspects northern European countries have lot in common and a shared mission to tell world about our food innovation.”

Attracting outside talent

The Cluster is not limited to Danish firms and it also works with the Foreign Ministry’s Invest in Denmark to attract outside talent to the country. In the past three years has seen Nestlé and DMK, Germany’s largest dairy, move to the AgroFoodPark.

This history of working together has also been an integral part of the Danish food sector’s success, and it is keen to continue this by attracting external talent.

“It’s very much a goal for us to have more international companies here. Actually my main concern is that people do not have any concept of Danish food cluster outside Europe. People aren’t aware of northern Europe being number one for food innovation. […] Overall knowledge outside Europe is too scattered.”

“Our main selling point in Europe is our history of cooperation and working together,” ​she added.

Agro Food Park: Food's Silicon Valley

'This will become an entrepreneurial ecosystem for addressing the future of food and plant resources,' said William McDonough. © AgroFoodPark

Danish architects GNX and William McDonough & Partners have recently teamed up to give the Agro Food Park an 'eco-effective' design revamp, focussing on healthy materials, clean energy, increased biodiversity and clean air and water.

"Innovation occurs best when knowledge is concentrated in clusters and cross-pollinated,” ​said GXN director Kasper Guldager Jensen. “By linking food production to urban life, we have tried to create an environment where people, knowledge and ideas meet. The dream is to create the framework for agriculture’s answer to Silicon Valley."

All shapes & sizes

Swiss flavour and fragrance and ingredients firm Firmenich uses the Agro Food Park as its hub for all activities centred around the Scandinavian and Baltic regions, and its state-of-the art flavourist and application labs are located there. 

General manager and sales director for Firmenich Jacob Ravn Nielsen told FoodNavigator the physical location goes a long way in contributing to the spirit of innovation.

“In Agro Food Park, we live right next door to current and potential business partners. The network in-house is strong and inspirational with companies of all ages, shapes and sizes exploring different corners of the food industry. The spirit of creativity and innovation here is very much in line with Firmenich’s fundamentals.”

“Agro Food Park wants to be a central player not only in the Danish food industry, but in the world. This is the vision behind day-to-day activities as well as long-term planning here.”

Political & practical

Foodture Lab, owned by the Danish Technological Institute, is another member. It specialises in new product development or product optimisation, ranging from consumer behaviour analysis and spray technology to food texture and fermentation.

It frequently calls on external specialists to help it in its work, and so the benefits of being located at the FoodAgroPark are clear, says food technology consultant Elena Sørensen Skytte.

“We play a part in projects with the other companies in the building. It is a both political and practical place to be. In a few years Aarhus University will move in and we can have a lot of cooperation. We also look forward to Arla’s Innovation Centre opening.”

When we have international partners visiting they are very amazed at how we work together side by side,”​ she added.

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