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Danish ingredients sector - delivering sustainable innovations [Interview]

Article-Danish ingredients sector - delivering sustainable innovations [Interview]

Katrine Dalsgaard Skovly.jpg
Invest in Denmark is organising a Round Table discussion during Fi Europe CONNECT on how Danish ingredients firms can meaningfully contribute to the green transition, working within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to deliver healthy food for the future. We spoke with Katrine Dalsgaard Skovly, Special Food and Agriculture Advisor to Invest In Denmark, to find out more.

When it comes to sustainably sourced and produced ingredients, Denmark is a country that punches well above its weight. Despite its relatively small size and highly urbanised population, the country has for a long time been recognised as world leader in several ingredients sectors. The reasons for this include an abiding respect for natural resources, a commitment to investing in innovation and a deeply engrained culture of collaboration in business.

“The Danish Food sector is a centuries-old success story about getting the best out of the resources provided by nature – and by science,” explains Dalsgaard Skovly. “It is a story of continuous development and innovation. The Danish ingredients sector has always had a strong focus on innovation, healthy and nutritious natural food and ingredients, sustainability and local sourcing.”

The results speak for themselves. Denmark supplies more food ingredients per citizen than any other country in the world, with 75 % of all yoghurts in the world made with cultures from Denmark. Furthermore, 50 % of all ice cream in the world is made with Danish ingredients, while 25 % of all bread baked globally is made with Danish ingredients. All this from a country with just 0.07 % of the world’s population.

Cooperation is key

Denmark is a country that prides itself on social cohesion. Cooperation, both within industry and between industry, academia and public authorities, has been a crucial factor in the country’s success. Collaboration between researchers, companies and public institutions has always been at the core of what the Danish food cluster stands for.

“The Danish tradition of trust, collaboration and mutually beneficial partnerships across the Danish food cluster has built new knowledge and innovation,” says Dalsgaard Skovly. “This has contributed to the international competitiveness of the industry.”

On the issue of trust, it is interesting to note that Danish regulations are fairly strict, even by EU standards. This gives consumers all over the world confidence that food and ingredients from Denmark are of the highest standard, quality and safety. This in turn makes it easier for Danish companies to brand their products globally.

Mogens Jensen, Denmark’s Minister for Food, recently noted that this collaborative strategy is part of Danish life.

“Ingredient companies rely on cross-sector collaboration with relevant industry partners, academia, public authorities and government to maintain their competitive edge,” he says. “Such mutual knowledge-sharing, research and development are all part of our cultural tradition in Denmark, rooted in our first farmer-owned cooperative more than 150 years ago.”

A sustainable future

The Danish ingredients sector is committed to the European objective of a circular economy, in part through cutting waste and valorising side streams. The Danish food industry and the Danish Agriculture and Food Council recently launched a vision to be climate neutral by 2050, and several food and food ingredients companies have issued similar pledges.

This is not just greenwashing - Danish firms are walking the walk. Chr Hansen was the world’s most sustainable company in 2019 according to Corporate Knights (and no. 2 in 2020), while Novozymes is number 6. Meanwhile, Palsgaard has already achieved its goal of carbon neutrality, two years ahead of schedule. At the company’s main site in Denmark, all electricity is now sourced from hydro power, and buildings are heated by burning straw from the firm’s own fields rather than oil.

“The commitment to continuous innovation has made Denmark a frontrunner for ingredient solutions that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says Jensen.

A good example of sustainable innovation is Arla’s investment in whey protein. Only a few years ago, whey protein from cheese making was still viewed as a by-product with little value. Now it is recognised as a high value ingredient with almost endless applications in multiple sectors, including infant nutrition, dairy, bakery and sports nutrition. Meanwhile at Aarhus University, a project examining how potato protein - a side stream of potato starch production – could be used as a clean label ingredient in drinks is nearing completion.

“I hope that participants to this roundtable will be inspired by Denmark as a food nation,” says Dalsgaard Skovly. “This is a country that produces three times as much food as it consumes. Denmark is also open and welcoming to companies from around the world, which wish to join us in working together for the future of ingredients and the future of food.”