Our Innovation Programme Manager, Lorena Savani, explains her innovation focus on Health & Nutrition and how her project portfolio is helping deliver healthier and more sustainable products and ingredients to consumers.
Hi Lorena! So what’s been your career journey to working for EIT Food?
I’m a Food Engineer by trade and have spent 15 years in the food industry, mainly in Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). I’ve worked in both Germany & the US and whilst the roles have varied, I have always been focused on food and health innovation. I am passionate about the food & health tech of the future and this has led me to EIT Food. As I always say: “When you love something, you have to follow it”!
Sounds like you could have secured a job almost anywhere! Why EIT Food then?
I saw EIT Food as an opportunity for me to contribute to a much-needed global transformation of the food system. I am very concerned by the huge problems we face from the obesity epidemic and the continued rise of people with non-communicable diseases like diabetes; all of which is led by lifestyle. I think that everyone should have access to healthy and sustainable food at the right price, and I think that EIT Food is the right organisation to deliver this vision.
And who do you think is responsible for these food and health challenges we’re facing?
Responsibility has to be shared by the consumer, industry and government. This isn’t about blame, of course, but consumers need to be more aware of how to go about living healthier lifestyles, whilst better legislation would mean that industry are driven to create more accessible and healthier foods. It’s also not just about health, as we all need to do better to produce food more sustainably.
We talk a lot about ‘food innovation’ – can you tell us what that means to you?
For me this is about introducing originality and novelty into the way we do things in the food sector, so that we can adapt to changing consumer behaviour.
Impressively concise! So what is your role now concerning food innovation?
50% of my role is as a programme manager for our South Innovation Hub, where in our region I support our partners to create strong regional networks. For the other half I work on pan-European projects for our Innovation team that are focused on delivering consumer healthy nutrition. On the latter half, my focus is on supporting partners in delivering high-impact innovation projects, such as by giving them advice on writing project proposals or helping them bring new products to market.
So let’s talk about these projects then – can you give a flavour of the types of innovation projects you are working on?
Of course! So we have a current project called ‘Under Pressure’ that is creating high-viscosity products with around 30% less fat, no additives and yet with still the same sensory properties. Another project is using the under-utilised Fava bean as a sustainable, high quality alternative protein source. I’m also working on a project that is aiming to reduce the saturated fat content in dairy products by changing the diet of cows. The added benefit of this project is that it also reduces the amounts of methane produced by the cow, meaning there are environmental benefits too!
From your perspective, what health and nutrition challenges do you see facing the food industry?
One of the big challenges at the moment is to reduce ‘negative ingredients’ like fat and sugar, whilst maintaining tastes that consumers expect. The other major challenge is around personalised nutrition: if two people eat the same food every day, it doesn’t mean that that these foods will affect them in the same way. We all have a different genetic make-up and gut microbiome, so this makes personalised diets the most challenging thing to achieve. For me, microbiome and genetics-targeted foods are the future.
Fascinating. And talking of the future, what trends are you seeing that are helping to transform food and health?
Healthy ageing, where we are paying a lot more attention to what we eat as we grow older, is certainly a big trend that is only going to accelerate. Sustainability is another trend that the whole sector is looking at, particularly with the Millennial generation increasingly wanting to have more information about food production, transparency and animal welfare. We are also seeing a rise in healthy convenience foods, where consumers are demanding more convenient ‘grab-and-go’ foods that are also good for them. And I’ll highlight again the importance of food and health personalisation, as more and more consumers expect foods ‘their way’ that are tailored to their needs.
Great insight. And how do you think that we could further our impact at EIT Food?
I think there is a big opportunity for us to join forces with other organisations and networks with similar goals and vision to us. This way we can combine our efforts, learn from each other and ensure that we’re not investing funding into innovation solutions in isolation. I’m already working on a cross-EIT community project with our colleagues in EIT Health, and I’m looking forward to working with EIT Climate next and then other like-minded organisations currently outside of our great community.
Finally, would you like to nominate another employee to be interviewed to learn more about their role and the difference they are making?
I would like to nominate Cornelia Schwenk, our Programme Manager for Education – thank you!
“If two people eat the same food every day, it doesn’t mean that that these foods will affect them in the same way. We all have a different genetic make-up and gut microbiome, so this makes personalised diets the most challenging thing to achieve.”
(Lorena Savani, Innovation Programme Manager (Health & Nutrition)