The StartLife agri-food technology accelerator was created 10 years ago. Located in the Netherlands, the accelerator integrates 20 start-ups into its classic accelerator program per year and works with more than 400 worldwide.

A twenty-minute drive from StartLife’s Wageningen facility is The Kraft Heinz Company’s Nijmegen Innovation Center – its largest outside the United States. This facility is credited with developing Kraft Heinz Reformulated No Sugar Added Heinz Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup with 50% less sugar and salt.

The neighboring organizations have announced their intention to join forces in a partnership that will provide Kraft Heinz with access to new technologies as well as new talent in the areas of food production, processing and packaging.

What innovations is Kraft Heinz looking for?

Kraft Heinz hopes this partnership will help it drive innovation to meet consumer expectations for taste, nutrition and the planet.

Specifically, the company is researching new technologies in areas such as clean labeling ingredients, sugar and salt reduction, waste reduction, sustainable packaging, as well as new distribution channels and business opportunities. acquisition.

“We’re looking to transform our portfolio to be future-ready based on consumer expectations – although they may not be able to define it very well yet – but more than ever keeping in mind sustainability and cost understanding in mind”, ​explained Miriam Ueberall, Vice President Global R&D, Kraft Heinz.

The technology “unlocks” on Kraft Heinz’s radar includes ways to remove unrecognizable ingredients from the back of the package, but will go “broader” than just ingredient innovation, the chief technology officer pointed out. R&D.

“Start-ups could also work in the transformation environment, and I think this is an area that will become increasingly important. Processing is quite critical when you look at the carbon footprint discussion, and I think we have a lot to learn in this space.

Packaging is also a “super important area,” Ueberall told FoodNavigator at Future Food-Tech in London last week. “We have very forward-looking projects [discussions] and are experimenting a lot with sustainable packaging. We want to do more in this space, as we work towards our goal of making 100% of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable globally by 2025.”

Another area of ​​focus is sales channels. Startups often have a better understanding of how to leverage consumer data to deliver targeted offers, as well as how new sales channels can be optimized, we were told.

Kraft Heinz seeks new technologies in areas such as own-brand ingredients, salt and sugar reduction, waste reduction, sustainable packaging, as well as new distribution channels and acquisition opportunities. GettyImages/ra2studio

On the agricultural side, Kraft Heinz is also focused on its sustainability program. The company aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“We try to really understand our entire value chain, especially when you look at our key cultures that are relevant across the portfolio,” she told this publication, citing tomatoes, beans, oils and fats.

“That’s probably the area where the greatest potential lies. So let’s take inspiration from StartLife and explore a bit more.

As to whether Kraft Heinz is considering acquiring potential start-ups that help advance its taste, nutrition and planet agenda, the R&D manager said “win-wins” would be sought.

KraftHeinz has recently made targeted acquisitions, and mergers and acquisitions can create a “greater scale effect” across the portfolio. “Once we have identified potential partners and start-ups, we will explore how we can create win-wins – there are different routes to achieve this.”

“We have a lot of challenges ahead”

Although the multinational already works with start-ups through various platforms and runs a number of pilot projects in this area, the partnership marks the first time that Kraft Heinz – the result of a merger between Kraft Food Group and HJ Heinz Holding Corporation in 2015 – a collaborated with an accelerator program.

Why are partnerships like StartLife an integral part of Kraft Heinz’s innovation strategy?

“We have a very broad portfolio and we need to consolidate the expertise we have in what matters most to us. This is where we make sure we have the strongest internal knowledge possible,” explained Ueberall.

At the same time, the world is moving “faster than ever”. In order to “stay agile” – and indeed, the company seeks to increase its agility as an organization – Kraft Heinz needs to “accelerate” the way it “draws on external knowledge and technology”.

“It is in this context that our StartLife partnership has come at the right time, while we have many challenges around us.”

HulioPics beans
StartLife is down the road from The Kraft Heinz Company’s Nijmegen Innovation Center – the facility credited with developing the Heinz No Added Sugar Beans. GettyImages/HulioPics

Kraft Heinz is not new to the world of start-ups. The company has “explored” and “partnered” with young innovators in the field, the R&D manager explained. “We conduct trials and experiments within our organization.”

Additionally, Kraft House created its own venture capital fund in 2018, Evolv Venture, to invest in emerging technology companies.

The company recognizes that ‘external knowledge’ will always be ‘broader’ and ‘richer’ for any organization, and it is with this in mind that kraft Heinz views R&D towards ‘co-creation’.

“This is where start-ups and the StartLife partnership will play a big role for us.”

Opening up the “business world” to start-ups

For StartLife start-ups, the merger puts global markets and R&D facilities “within reach”.

Startups have a lot to gain from collaborating with Kraft Heinz, accelerator chief executive Jan Meiling suggested, including access to its network, market intelligence and facilities to test concepts. at pilot scale.

“StartLife’s partnership with Kraft Heinz will give start-ups the tools they need to scale their business, which can be a knowledge and capital intensive process.

“Many food tech start-ups are rookie entrepreneurs trying to navigate a complicated value chain. At a certain stage of their development, they need an existing player, either for access to raw materials, to the market and to their brands, or to certain facilities.

The Kraft Heinz partnership, Meiling continued, brings the “start-up world” to the “corporate world.”