Small innovations help shape the future of urban food and beverage systems
FUSILLI is an EU project involving 12 European cities with a focus on sustainable, inclusive, and healthy food systems. As a member of the project consortium, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum (SEZ) is ensuring that lessons learned from activities organized for the project, as well as scientific findings and recommendations regarding public policy, are shared and disseminated at an international level. SEZ is also responsible for innovation management within the project, and it is introducing measures to ensure that products, services, and resources spawned by the project make it onto markets in the medium term. Between 2021 and 2024, the EU is providing €12.8 million of FUSILLI project funding to over 30 partners in 13 European countries.
Let’s turn the clock back to June 27, 2023. It’s a busy day for Aldo. He’s a pizza chef at Locanda nel Parco, a cooperative community center in the south of Turin. This lunchtime he’s making around 30 pizzas. Uniquely, however, not one is a Pizza Margherita or Pizza Prosciutto e Funghi. You can only order Pizza Circolare – or Pizza Circular in English. Aldo’s new pizza only contains locally produced seasonal ingredients and is made with ingredients that are usually thrown in the garbage, such as peelings and seeds. Admittedly, this might seem a bit unconventional, and aficionados of traditional pizza might roll their eyes in disbelief when presented with a pizza decoratively adorned with broccoli, carrots, and mayonnaise made using aquafaba (the viscous liquid that comes with pulses such as beans and chickpeas). But Pizza Circular is not only tasty, it’s also very healthy and, above all, sustainable. It was developed as part of the EU FUSILLI project and celebrated its premiere in late 2022. Since then, the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo has conducted regular tests and monitoring on a number of novel seasonal recipes.
Pizza Circular is just one of many examples of innovations designed to make food systems in cities more sustainable. This all sounds like niche cuisine, but it has a much more important role to play than one might think, since 80% of global food is now consumed in cities. Every link in the food chain has a major impact on our climate and as a result, every part can be a starting point for innovative ways to minimize this impact. This applies to the production, processing, and packaging of foods and beverages, as well as logistics, market distribution, food consumption, and waste management. Cities and their inhabitants are influential stakeholders in this chain and have the potential to set many ideas in motion.
Living Labs: open innovation systems
For the FUSILLI project, 12 cities were chosen to work on the transformation of food systems with the aim of improving sustainability: Athens, Castelo Branco, Differdange, Kharkiv, Kolding, Nilufer, Oslo, Rijeka, Rome, San Sebastian, Tampere, and Turin. A Living Lab is being set up in each of these cities to act as a kind of open innovation ecosystem. Living Labs are based on the premise that the important social issues of our time can only be solved if different areas of modern life – science, politics, industry, and society in general – work together.
The labs are places of experimentation for testing hypotheses. As such, they are nothing like the sterile, isolated environments often encountered in laboratories, but more like the real world in which interactions take place with users. For example, in one FUSILLI project city – Oslo – the aim is to offer an environmentally friendly, attractive range of meals for the everyday users of canteens. Accordingly, the place to set up such a Living Lab is directly in a canteen. By focusing the approach on actual users, the experts are not treating the canteen visitors in this particular example like research objects. Instead, they are active partners in the innovation process and are being invited to help plan the menu. This ensures that the resulting dishes are a good match with users’ expectations.
Living Labs are suited to many steps of the innovation process: idea development, prototype testing, and evaluation. Also, because they are located in everyday environments, compared to other innovation techniques it is easier and quicker to scale ideas and transfer those ideas to other areas. As a result, solutions developed in one location for the FUSILLI project become a valuable resource for other cities to tap into. The innovative ideas being implemented for the EU project address different stages of the food chain, from production and processing to distribution, logistics, and end consumption. The project is also looking at food waste and the legal conditions affecting food and beverage systems. Examples of the ideas being looked at include the Pizza Circular in Turin, sustainable canteens in Oslo, urban gardens in Differdange, and local policy advisory food councils in Kolding.
The research partners participating in the FUSILLI project are evaluating the different initiatives that have undergone testing and sharing their findings in other countries with the aim of motivating other cities to adopt concepts that work particularly well – and avoid unsuccessful ones. At the same time, recommendations derived from the Living Labs regarding legal factors are being submitted to the EU in the form of policy proposals, thereby influencing draft legislation.
Innovations that support sustainability
Testing new approaches and sharing lessons learned is a classic approach adopted under EU-funded science and innovation projects, which the experts at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum have now been helping to shape for over 30 years. The Steinbeis experts participating in the FUSILLI project are responsible for disseminating lessons learned in other countries and helping with the process of translating innovations into new business models, such that concepts remain in place and continue to gain traction after the project has ended. “We’ve set ourselves the goal of strengthening European innovations for a sustainable society. Aside from numerous other topics, we’re focusing on the shift in cities and municipalities toward greater sustainability,” explains Regine Wehner, who is working on the project on behalf of Steinbeis Europa Zentrum. “You never know – maybe Pizza Circular will be followed by a sustainable reinvention of the traditional Swabian ravioli dish: Maultaschen.”
The Food 2030 strategy of the EU
The FUSILLI project is being supported as part of an overarching EU strategy that will remain effective for several years and lays down certain implementation guidelines. The Food 2030 strategy addresses four core areas:
- Nutrition: Access must be ensured to healthy food and water
- Climate: The negative climate impacts of food systems must be mitigated and options need to be identified to tackle climate change
- Circularity: Resources such as energy and water must be used efficiently and responsibly, and waste materials must be minimized or reintroduced to circular processes
- Communities: Empowerment must be offered to local communities. Conditions must be in place that make it possible to develop business models for solutions that meet the needs of society.