Prof. Dr. Björn P. Jacobsen: foodRegio – Innovation in the food industry

Hardly anyone is able to resist them: export hits such as marzipan, jam, cereal and other food products from the North. These products promise strong ­customer loyalty, tradition and potential. The North is very well positioned when it comes to the food industry. As the second largest sector in the manufacturing industry, it is one of the most important business sectors in Schleswig-Holstein – and with a share in turnover of 15 per cent in this category,
it is also well above the national average.

The food industry is a key sector for the economic development of Northern Germany and of Schleswig-Holstein in particular. This is not only due to its size, but also its stable growth and potential for innovation. The North impressively demonstrates that tradition and the entrepreneurial spirit to constantly develop newer and better products are not mutually exclusive – on the contrary: For several decades now, a close-knit network of producers, finishers and suppliers has been growing between the North and Baltic Seas that has enabled strong growth in the past years. With large producers such as H. & J. Brüggen, Continental Foods, J.G. Niederegger, Schwar­­tauer Werke and other renowned companies, the food industry has become particularly strong in the larger Lübeck area. More than 50 companies and institutions in the foodRegio network of the North German food industry have committed to achieving an important goal: product and process innovation. “Every company in the food sector creates hundreds of innovations every year – otherwise, we would not be who we are today: the North’s industrial core and value driver,” says Jochen Brüggen, CEO of foodRegio and one of the partners of cereal producer Brüggen. This position is secured and extended in a sustainable manner through the foodRegio network established in 2005.

The Lübeck-based network of food businesses and organisations from Northern Germany is considered a positive example for an active German food cluster. Currently, inter-company cooperation and collaboration is pursued and actively shaped in nine working groups with about 150 employees of member companies, working on issues such as “Quality & Certification”, “Process & Innovation” or “Human Resources & Training”. In addition to professional development, foodRegio has also established other collaborative projects to pursue its goal of offering real added value to the food industry in Northern Germany – including in areas such as logistics, qualification, production or sales and product. With a practical orientation, foodRegio’s stakeholders focus on concrete realisable projects with immediately-visible results.

foodRegio_(C)_WiFoe_Antje_Rautenberg-(2)

Special attention is paid to the area of “Innovation” in this respect – a broad topic that affects all companies and organisations involved and guarantees the future sustainability of a company. Innovation has always played an extremely important role for companies in the food sector, as innovations pave the way for a successful future. Given the dynamics of the food market, innovation management – i.e. the process from brainstorming up to product/process launch – is becoming an increasingly important success factor for the food industry. Yet, there is no right or wrong when it comes to innovation management. However, the foodRegio stakeholders believe that cooperating and collaborating in a net­­work contribute to tapping the full potential of the individual companies’ innovative capabilities. And the sector boasts tremendous innovative capabilities: be it in trend markets such as convenience, enjoyment and health or in the area of new technologies for sustainable production. For this reason, foodRegio developed the “Innovation” roadmap in 2012, to enable identifying and making better use of potentials earlier on, and in turn strengthening the competitiveness of the member companies of foodRegio. The jointly developed innovation map serves to identify potential collaborative projects that reflect future issues in the food industry and is used to prepare a roadmap for implementing innovation activities within the network. The innovation topics include “Resource and Energy Management”, “Innovation Organisation” and the area of “Sustainability”. The innovation map is continuously updated and further developed during the ongoing process of innovation management in the foodRegio network.

The foodRegio network is not only the figurehead of the North, but it has also established national reputation in the field of innovation. In January 2014, the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy ranked foodRegio among Germany’s top five innovative and efficient regions. The initiative is funded by the economic state programme of the State of Schle­swig-Holstein – with resources from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The joint goals include tapping potentials through inter-company collaboration projects, making better use of synergies, exchanging knowledge in a more targeted manner, promoting innovation, significantly strengthening com­­petitiveness and better supporting growth.

Autorenfoto_Björn_JacobsenProf. Dr. Björn P. Jacobsen
The author was born in 1968 and studied Business Management and Regional Development. Since 2005, he has been manager of the head office of the foodRegio network, and he is also managing principal of foodRegio e.V. Prof. Dr. Björn P. Jacobsen lectures on international and intercultural management at the University of Applied Sciences Stralsund.