German Institute for Food Technology: “More and More Startups are Courageous and Dare to Enter the Market – the Whole Industry Profits From That”

Dr. Nino Terjung heads the department of product innovation at the DIL Deutsches Institut für Lebensmitteltechnik e. V. (German Institute of Food Technologies). After his apprenticeship as a butcher and a short time as a journeyman, he passed the examination for the master craftsman’s diploma with distinction at the age of 18. 

We spoke with Dr. Terjung about the work done at the institute, the involvement of technology in food, and meat-free product innovation.

How do technologies change the food industry and which product innovations and developments may be the outcome? 
Technologies are important but the right timing is everything. A good example is the extrusion of plant proteins into wet textures – currently in high demand. We at the DIL have had the possibility to produce these wet texturates for 20 years, but a strong demand has only really arisen in recent years. So in this case, the technology was available but there was no demand for the products. Now that there is a market demand for these products, the technology is being further developed in the sense that, for example, production methods become more efficient or alternative techniques and processes are designed. Of course, this then results in a larger number of possible new products. 

Another interesting example is the Pulsed Electric Fields (PEF) technology. This technology and the associated equipment were developed to market maturity at the DIL. The PEF technology is used to open cell walls, which allows the properties of products to be specifically modified. Potatoes become more flexible by treatment with PEF before their further processing into chips or French fries and are much easier to handle. Here, the technology was available and was brought to market with the right functionality but without the market having asked for it – in contrast to wet texturates. In both examples, new products then become possible due to developed technologies. 

In retrospect, no huge technological changes can be observed in recent years but rather continuous developments and improvements of existing technologies. Here, existing technologies are used to make new products. This is particularly noticeable in the fact that the most different devices available at the DIL are used again and again, no matter how old they are and even if they were actually designed for a completely different use. 

What support does the German Institute of Food Technologies offer in the field of product innovation? 
We can implement almost any product idea: the customer comes, presents the problem or development idea and then we work out a solution plan with the customer – which can then almost always be implemented. Within the scope of tests or developments Within the scope of tests or developments, we then make use of the know-how and technologies available at the DIL. What has become more and more important in the last years is the search for funding opportunities, which then partly cover the costs of the realization of the product idea or the solution of the problem. The size of the company or the complexity of the problem are decisive, and depending on these factors, the project can become a ZIM project, an innovation funding project with the N-Bank or a joint research project. 

Are you observing any particular trends? 
Vegan and vegetarian products, no matter what, are always being developed. There are more and more start-ups that are courageous and that dare to enter the market. The whole industry profits from that, and the state has positioned itself suitably by means of promotion programs. The retail trade has also become much more flexible towards new product developments and is constantly on the lookout for new trends for its food shelves. 

Which research projects are you currently working on in the area of product innovation?
In recent years, we have dealt a lot with plant proteins. How can they be processed and handled? What is the ecological added value? What is the physiological added value? What structures can be created using them? And which interactions with animal proteins or polysaccharides do exist? We are also looking into alternative vegetable or new protein sources, from rapeseed to algae. At the DIL, we are currently supervising a large number of research projects in the field of product innovation and development. 

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