Not invited to the special tailor-made dinner with which the horticultural initiative vers+ (fresh+) was started? Not to worry, because if it is up to the initiators, this is the future. A future in which everyone in time will receive tailor-made nutrition based on personal dietary needs. The Dutch (greenhouse) horticultural sector has an important role here as producer of healthy vegetables. But in the communication about these healthy properties there is still a lot of room for improvement, as was evident during the official presentation on Tuesday evening 9 October.
In June 2014, under the leadership of Best Fresh Group and Koppert Cress, together with the municipality of Westland and InnovationQuarter, a start was made with a program to make the Netherlands the healthiest delta in the world. Fruit and vegetables play a crucial role here, whereby the initiators think that personalized nutrition is closer than everyone thinks. Vers+ wants to provide a reliable insight into the nutrients of fruit and vegetables and then share that knowledge with the entire chain from breeder to consumer.
Personal need instead of ‘one size fits all’
Because the need for innovation is something that is very necessary, according to Natasja van der Lely, Strategist Food & Health at Koppert Cress and the face of the horticulture initiative. “In the way we produce and consume food on earth at the moment, we will make ourselves and the world sick. The climate, the environment, but, not unimportantly, also we ourselves are suffering. Just think of high obesity rates or the increase in cardiovascular diseases.”
In the last few years, the innovation has already started and even gained momentum. In more and more sectors everything is tuned to the personal needs of the consumer. “Why is this not applicable to nutrition?”, Natasja asks out loud. “The monitoring possibilities already exist. Even the insertion of sensors into the human body is possible. Now in the field of nutrition it is still ‘one size fits all’, while there is enough knowledge that shows that each individual has different nutritional needs.”
Prior to the dinner, DNA research company Omnigen examined the nutritional needs of everyone, based on a selection of DNA markers. For the hundred participants, Hutten Catering prepared a total of one hundred different menus with different ingredients.
No bulk, but high-quality products and knowledge
In order to avoid discussing the sector rather than with the sector, vers+ was quick to respond to the trends. The sector faces the challenge to shift the focus from kilos to nutrients. “The Netherlands is an expensive country, so we have to cultivate expensive products here”, says Rob Baan of Koppert Cress. “No bulk products, as is often the case nowadays. The focus is still far too much on kilos. Eventually we will not be able to compete with countries where, for example, labor is much cheaper. It is precisely here in the Westland, in the Netherlands, that we can concentrate on taste, on the nutrients of our products. Cultivating with larger margins, with less acreage thanks to our progressive cultivation techniques and the knowledge we have.”
Knowledge that is an important export product, but that will become much more important, is the expectation. “The knowledge that we have and will be expanded further, has a much higher value than tomatoes. Incidentally, much of that knowledge, also about nutrients, is often already available. Only such knowledge is often tucked away in places that are only accessible to a few people”, Rob regrets.
Sharing knowledge and conveying the message
Not only the growers and breeders will have to adapt in time, but also the medical world. “It actually is strange that greenhouse horticulture had to come up with such an initiative,” says Rob. “Fortunately, in the meantime there are several parties involved in this cross-sectoral innovation program, including the medical world.” As an example, Rob Lans mentions Dutch tomato grower Lans Tomaten where special attention is paid to lycopene, a nutrient that may have a positive effect on the prevention of prostate cancer. This possible positive effect will be investigated in a pilot with prostate cancer patients.
Natasja van der Lely (Koppert Cress / vers+) and Marieke Kodde (InnovationQuarter) gave their vision on personal nutrition and health during dinner.
The slogan ‘peppers instead of pills’ is slowly becoming commonplace and a growing number of doctors now also recognizes the importance of healthy nutrition. “Doctors have an important role in bringing the message that personalized nutrition based on nutrients is important,” according to Rob. “Making scientific claims about this is difficult, but as vers+ we can convey the general message. And that is also by letting people experience that healthy food will make you feel better.”
The spreading of that message was officially started last night. Vers+ will also develop products and services to respond to the (personal) nutritional needs. In this way, the horticulture initiative wants to activate the different links in the value chain and bring them together to come to new earning and value models in the area of personal nutrition and health.
Photos: Daniel Verkijk
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Natasja van der Lely