Supporting food businesses at EIT Food North-West event
In the relatively niche agrifood sector, it can be difficult to understand what agrifood challenges exist and who is helping to solve them. Agrifood startups and small businesses are developing innovations for our food system, yet these businesses require support to bring their solutions to market. To overcome this, EIT Food’s North-West Europe region is supporting businesses in the UK, Ireland and Iceland by connecting these businesses to experts who can solve their bespoke needs.
In October 2022, EIT Food North-West hosted an in-person event in Iceland, to help companies connect with experts who can help to solve a particular challenge. These challenges included access to technical and scale-up facilities and how to export innovative products to UK supermarkets. The event was hosted in collaboration with Matís, Rannis, the Enterprise Europe Network, Orkidea and Iceland Ocean Cluster.
Helping businesses to navigate UK retailers
As Icelandic food businesses look to export to UK retailers, it can be difficult for these businesses to navigate the competitive food retail market. To help businesses understand how to successfully access UK supermarkets, during our event, SAC consulting offered insights into:
- Understanding the needs of UK supermarkets
- How to identify UK supermarkets as individual customers
- Key market trends such as plant-based products and functional wellness
- Understanding consumer needs from food products
Case study: Mara Seaweed
A company that has navigated entry in UK supermarkets is Mara Seaweed, which is the UK’s most innovative seaweed brand. Along a stretch of Scotland’s coastline, Mara Seaweed is harvesting, sourcing and processing seaweed, from sea-to-shelf in 48 hours. Their ‘Mara’s flakes’ product has been designed to become as familiar as herbs and spices, to encourage consumers to include seaweed in their diets.
During our event in Iceland, CEO of Mara Seaweed, Fiona Houston, shared her journey of creating a business with co-founder Xa Milne. After foraging Scotland’s coastline with their children, Fiona and Xa wondered why so many of us do not eat seaweed, as it is a staple ingredient in many Asian cultures. Yet, seaweed is very nutritious, as it is high in micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium and iron.
Fiona explained how Mara Seaweed has established the UK’s first sea-to-shelf production facility in Edinburgh, Scotland, enabling distribution to supermarkets nationwide and export to the US and beyond.
Part of Mara Seaweed’s success is attributed to understanding the needs of retailers and consumers. For retailers, they want an innovative product that is unlike anything on the market, which delivers on taste and can be produced at scale. For consumers, many are demanding healthier and more sustainable foods that are good for our bodies and the planet. Consumers are increasingly attuned to the health benefits of different foods. According to Fiona, “when you have a truly innovative product, you need to educate the consumer about its benefits”.
Exploring agritech innovation in Iceland
Iceland has a lot to offer when it comes to agritech innovation. Our event encouraged companies to explore the types of businesses in Iceland that are creating food and feed products using sustainable production methods. By visiting different facilities, attendees could see first-hand how businesses in Iceland were using the natural resources on offer to create truly innovative products.
Explore some of these businesses below.
Fridheimar – growing tomatoes using climate-control greenhouses
In Friðheim, tomatoes are grown all year round in electrically lit greenhouses by Fridheimar. Each greenhouse is equipped with a climate-control computer system for temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and lighting. The facility has abundant supplies of geothermal water, which provides heat to the greenhouses.
The company grows tasty tomatoes , which are sold to retailers or used in-house in Fridheimar’s on-site restaurant, where customers can enjoy tomato-based food and drink while seated among the tomato plants themselves.
Flúðasveppir – cultivating organic mushrooms at-scale
Flúðasveppir is a mushroom cultivation farm which uses Iceland’s raw materials to grow mushrooms in abundance. The company produces its own organic substrate, the soil in which the mushrooms are grown in and then blended and left to compost. When the substrate is ready, mushroom spores are added and growing begins.
Once grown, the mushrooms are hand-picked, sorted and packed and either sold to retailers or used in the farm’s on-site bistro, which is open to the public.
Vaxa – producing microalgae rich in Omega-3 and protein
Vaxa, an EIT Food supported startup, is producing high-quality microalgae to be used in aquaculture feed and as an ingredient in food. Their technology platform is designed to leverage the clean, natural outputs of a geothermal plant in Iceland, to grow microalgae indoors.
The facility uses 100% green energy, cold and hot non-marine water, and carbon to power the production process, providing the light, water, and carbon dioxide needed for algae to grow.
“It is incredible to see tomato, algae and mushroom production in areas where at a glance, one would think the cold environment would make profitable production impossible”.
- Sean Peters, CEO of DryGro
Knowledge-sharing and collaboration helps drive innovation
With our event in Iceland, we wanted to bring people and companies together to share their stories of setting-up a food-related business. This was important to enable people to learn from other’s experiences. By doing so, we helped small business owners to connect with experts, funders and new collaborators.
“I’ve made new business connections, been inspired and seen that ideas can come to fruition through determination, collaboration and innovation”.
- Ceri Ritchie, Head of Food & Enterprise at SAC Consulting
“I wanted to say you had a very well planned out agenda with great energy management through moving between presentations, coffee/chat breaks and having everything more interactive than a normal event would be. I was pleased to be around so many individuals and professionals who love what they do!”
- Valentina Klaas, Founder and Business Development Director at Surova
We need organisations that can help to bring food innovation companies together to encourage knowledge-sharing and collaboration. Examples include:
- Orkídea: a collaborative project on energy-related innovation in the South of Iceland. They create opportunities for companies that are creating solution in high-tech food production and biotechnology
- Iceland Ocean Cluster: a company that supports small technology driven firms, which have their own blue economy tech brands. They have created an open-plan shared office space for ocean related businesses to connect with one another.
“It was very rewarding for Orkidea to be able to give Icelandic entrepreneurs and SMEs an opportunity to share their business ideas and connect with other industry experts with experience of controlled environment agriculture and the UK food market”
- Helga Gunnlaugsdóttir, Research and Development Manager at Orkidea
“The visit of EIT Food and the discussion we had was very fruitful. The way in which EIT Food works to get people to collaborate from different angles of the food value chain has been an inspiration to me”
- Thor Sigfusson, Founder of Iceland Ocean Cluster