Interview with Rosmarie Reuss and Denise Ott, from EurA

#SmartProteinEU

What is the role of your organisation within the Smart Protein Project?

Rosmarie ReussEurA supports the Smart Protein project in business development and sustainability assessment. The key activity within business development is to analyse the commercial feasibility of our project’s alternative-protein products. We accompany the project partners in transforming early-stage research results into marketable consumer products. At the same time, we develop best-practices scenario so that products can reach consumers effectively. We support universities in developing their own food startups and try to improve the value chains of small-and medium-sized companies within the Smart Protein project.

Denise Ott: While sustainability analysis aims to drive development on a sustainable path, the key role is to highlight environmental and economic hotspots during the early-development phase in order to provide ample time for stakeholders to optimise scaling-up activities. The quantification of the ecological and economic impacts of the complete value chain will also help to identify a more sustainable production system.

Why did you decide to join this project? 

Rosmarie Reuss: Agricultural and dietary behaviour changes are needed in order to confront the challenges we face today. When applying for the funding, we were convinced that we could contribute to this transition by working on alternative proteins. We realised that ensuring the affordability and accessibility of nutritious food is a key lever for achieving climate-protection goals. In this sense, business development is a key element of the project in order to contribute to market readiness.

Denise Ott: The main reason for joining the project is the noble cause behind it. Moreover, it is a pleasure to somehow contribute to the sustainable food systems of the future by joining the Smart Protein project.The positive activity of exploring and measuring the ecological and economic effects helps Smart Protein prototypes to compete against existing protein food and agricultural methodologies. This project will help in adopting sustainable protein products which are more cost effective and environmentally friendly. This is where the experience and expertise of EurA in the field of life cycle assessment can be relied upon. With more than 15 years of experience, the Sustainability Department at EurA AG already performs life-cycle assessment for various industry domains.

What are the benefits that this project brings to your organisation and to Europe and European citizens in general? 

Rosmarie Reuss: As a technology and innovation consultancy operating throughout Europe, EurA has supported future market leaders in the innovation process for more than 20 years. Smart Protein aims to increasing the consumption of alternative plant-based protein products in Europe and to develop a sustainable food value chain.

Denise Ott: By quantifying the environmental impacts and exploring the optimisation potential for the sustainable protein product-value chain, the Smart Protein project completely justifies our motto of “you can only manage, what you can measure”! The end results of the project will not only bring down the environmental footprint of the food industry but will also help to reduce emissions on a personal level.  

What are the key challenges that you are trying to solve?

Denise Ott: Our team at EurA does not see it as a challenge but as an opportunity to grow and learn each and every day. Performing a life cycle assessment is always a time-intensive process that requires a well-defined goal and scope in order to obtain results which are aligned with the aim of the project as a whole. There are four different phases, namely, (1) goal and scope definition, (2) life-cycle inventory analysis, (3) the actual life-cycle impact assessment, and (4) the interpretation of the results.

The most critical phase is the life-cycle inventory analysis, which determines the robustness of the results. This phase includes data collection, which has its own challenges. The bigger challenge this year was the delay of planned activities because of the pandemic (COVID-19). It is challenging to compare pilot-scale results with industrial-scale results because results are not directly proportional and pilot-scale data is not representative of industrial-scale data. As early-stage practitioners of life-cycle assessment, we need to be very sensitive towards the uncertainty which comes with the limited amount of data available and ensure that the results are aligned with the goal and scope of our study.

Another common challenge is achieving an appropriate balance between the environmental and economic impacts. It is often noted that in order to reduce the ecological burden of a product, the cost of the product increases significantly. Therefore, it is very necessary to find a balance between both these factors, including the environmental cost-reduction potentials as an argument for paving the way for more sustainable proteins and plant-based food.

Rosmarie Reuss: We see an opportunity in the successful transformation of the protein sector, but there are still problems with taste, texture, and nutrition – and pricing issues are important. These are breakout years for the plant-based-food sector and we have a unique opportunity to take part – although the regulations around novel foods require high commitment, efforts, and investment.

What results from the Smart Protein project are you and your team most excited about?

Denise Ott and Rosmarie Reuss: The development of alternate plant-based meat and sea-food products is something we all are looking forward to. Realising the sustainability potential within agri-food systems is something which intrigues us at EurA. We are very interested to know how the results of this project will attract consumers towards adopting plant-based protein products in their daily diet.  

With our project results, we will improve the taste profile of alternative-protein products. Eventually, this will become less a point of distinction and consumers will shift to a more plant-based diet, based chiefly on nutrition and price.

Dr.Denise Ott studied chemistry at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and completed her PhD in 2009 with dealt with the implementation of sustainability in research, development, and education. She then worked as a postdoc at Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and TU/e Eindhoven, focussing on the R&D accompanying ecological and economic assessment of process and product developments. Since 2018, Denise Ott has been leading the Sustainability Department at EurA AG. Together with her highly motivated team, she has so far acquired and participated in numerous national and international R&D projects as a LCA/sustainability consultant and also supports companies in CSR topics, such as the preparation of sustainability reports. Ott is currently involved as Work Package Leader in the H2020 Smart Protein project.

Rosmarie Reuss is a specialist in business and innovation consulting, with broad international experience. After studying political science in Germany and France, she worked with international consultancies as a project manager and gained professional experience by working in organisations and political institutions such as the Red Cross Headquarters and the European Commission. Since 2012, she has been working with Eura AG, where she specialises in business development and international funding in the health, nutrition, and environmental sectors.

The answers to all the questions were also supported by Shashank Goyal and Karoline Wissmann from EurA AG.