Innovation in the food industry requires a strong understanding of food legislation: three tips for food innovators

The food industry faces big changes. Changing consumer trends, the need for sustainability and new business drive innovation. For innovators, food legislation, especially Novel Food regulation, can often seem like a nuisance. However, with the right information and a persistent mindset, you can tackle it with little stress.

Rapeseed has untapped potential as a food ingredient, but it has only really been consumed by us humans as rapeseed oil. At Avena Nordic Grain we have embarked on an inspiring and challenging mission to create a new, ground-breaking ingredient made from rapeseed.

The Novel Food regulation classifies these types of food ingredients as Novel Foods, which may not be implemented into the human diet without a profound evaluation of their safety by the expert panel of European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Thanks to my background, our BlackGrain team has been able to navigate through the evaluation and application process. In this blog, I want to share our experience and my tips to fellow food innovators.

 

Here are my three tips on how to make Novel Food regulations and other aspects of food legislation less daunting:

Tip 1: Make it a priority to educate yourself

First thing everyone working with food innovation and development of potential novel food should do is to read up on legislation, the requirements, and the process. This is a great way to start building your food legislation know-how, and it allows you to start building your knowledge around the specific product you are currently working on.

Follow authority news and take in all the information you can get; they are there to assist you and make your project run smoother. Many universities and food safety related organizations also provide courses and modules on food law and regulations. They are typically offered as a part of food industry studies.

Tip 2: Understand the regulations in your target market

Especially when you’re aiming for a fast go-to-market for specific target countries, it is essential to understand the specific regulations of each country or continent in order to comply to local rules. Some regulations, such as the Novel Food regulations, are applied in all EU countries, but there are some local differences in borderline cases.

If you don’t meet the requirements, your efforts poured into development, marketing and network-building could go to waste and even damage your brand image. Sadly, this is something we have witnessed happening in real-life with companies selling unauthorized products simply out of lack of knowledge on legislation and regulations.

Tip 3: Don’t try to do it all by yourself

When I first started working with food legislation, it was all new to me and I didn’t know where to start. Asking help from authority officials was a great way to start getting my head around all the different procedures and layers of the process.

Networking in research and development is the key to new types of innovations. You should use the services of experts who can help you move forward. For best results, you should set out to build an international network of regulatory experts and facilitate efficient collaboration.

With the help of our collaboration and subcontracting network we were able to reach important benchmarks quickly, and continue our journey smoothly. Without these experts with the right attitude and mindset, we would never have been able to reach our goals.

 

 

Two things every food startup should understand about novel foods

When our BlackGrain team began to work on its mission, rapeseed protein was already authorised as a Novel food. This meant there was existing knowledge on how it could and could not be used in food — in other words, which requirements we would need to meet with our innovative ingredient. I made sure to assure the team that even though fulfilling the requirements was going to be a long process which requires diligence, by no means is it impossible!

I believe many food startups face the same challenge: when a food ingredient is required to go through an application process in order to secure a permission, it may fill even the most skilled team of food industry experts with self-doubt: will we be able to pull this off, do we have enough knowledge on legislation, regulation and requirements?

There’s one thing I would like to stress to my fellow food innovators: You can do it! To succeed, you will need to understand:

  1. what food ingredients are classified as novel foods, and
  2. what type of process food legislation requires to gain the European Commission (of other local food authority) approval for your novel ingredient or product.

So, this is my message to all fellow food startups: don’t scrap a great idea just because you don’t know how to approach the legal side of the development work, and don’t try to do everything by yourself! However, it’s wise to do a reality-check: you should be aware of the workload and cost of confirmation safety of your product for the authorization process.

 

Kaisu Riihinen
Research and Development Manager
Avena Nordic Grain

Kaisu is an innovative food chemist experienced in food law, determined to succeed. Before taking on her dream role at Avena Nordic Grain, Kaisu spent many years as a consultant, and gained a practical and deep approach to the Novel Food regulation.