NIRS: Let´s not talk about “new technologies” but about good applications

NIRS: Let´s not talk about “new technologies” but about good applications

What if we had a tool that we could carry in our pocket and that would allow us to control the quality of the food products at any point in their production?

Dear sirs, we have it!! It seems like and advert selling a panacea,I know, but I´m not going beyond reality…. I´m talking about Near Infrared Spectroscopy technology, known as NIRS, which has been in our lives for more than 30 years and,at last, we are taking good aim at applying it in places and moments that can get us out of many predicaments in our day-to-day lives in the agri-food sector, so let’s give it the treatment it deserves!

Well, being rigorous with this technology , near-infrared analysis is an instrumental technique in the field of molecular spectroscopy, wihich requires chemometric treatment of the data obtained, because the signal obtained in the near-infrared is so complex that the bands of the spectrum are difficult to interpret. And here we start with the complicated terms… chemometrics? Quite simply, statistical techniques to which you have to apply logic, good common sense and a lot of chemistry!!!!

Portable NIRS with tester of the CARNIQUS project

The methodology followed using NIR spectroscopy leads us through analyses aimed at characterising products by quantifying analytical parameters that are of interest to us or that are critical for quality control of both raw materials and products during processing or of the final product.

In addition, another application of this technique is that it is capable of discriminating products according to the quality standards set by the company itself at each stage of processing. In this case, these are (non-targeted) classification models that allow you to identify or detect that something has changed in the product, which may be due to a change in the raw materials (differences in nutritional composition), changes between batches (which may affect the final product), production problems (dosage of ingredients) and even if there is any adulteration in any ingredient used or possible contamination in its preparation.

The verification of a production process generally depends on the results obtained in a laboratory through long and costly analytical methods, which implies “not-inmediate” response times. NIRS technology is an analytical tool that allows us to track the traceability at any point and along the entire production chain and, therefore, provides us with important advantages in decision-making or problem detection in situ.

Nowadays, portable equipment not much bigger than a smartphone, is already available, capable of analysing a multitude of products by simply selecting the right modelat any given moment. Although, it must be said, these models have to be meticulously developed by personnel who are experts in the technology, and that is what research centres such as CARTIF are here for.

It has been almost 15 years since I came across this technology thanks to a colleague who worked with it and it was out of sheer conviction that I took the baton of this great technique with which I continue to advance, learning and working, so that companies, especially in the agri-food sector, get to know it and take advantage of all its benefits.

The Second Green Revolution, or how agrigenomics is transforming agriculture

The Second Green Revolution, or how agrigenomics is transforming agriculture

In the 1960s, the American biologist Norman Borlaug used selective plant breeding techniques to create a dwarf variety of wheat that uses most of its energy to produce grain instead of stalks. This work won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and, along with that of many other scientists, is part of what we now know as the first Green Revolution. The Green Revolution many different technologies, including modern irrigation approaches, new pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and molecular plant breeding techniques. The results were obvious: from the 1960s to the 1990s, rice and wheat yields in Asia doubled. Although the continent’s population increased by 60%, grain prices fell, the average Asian consumed almost a third more calories, and the poverty rate halved. The United Nations now forecasts that by 2050 the world’s population will grow by more than 2 billion people. Half will be born in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 30% in South and Southeast Asia.

However, if we have learned anything in recent decades, it is that the techniques that were once so successful have not been the best for the planet. The intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides has contributed to soil degradation and water pollution. The adoption of monocultures, focused on a few high-yielding varieties, and the genetic erosion associated with crop selection processes, have led to loss of biodiversity and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Lombardy poplar (P. nigra cv ‘Italica’) individuals resistant (left) and susceptible (right) to infection by Melampsora sp (poplar rust), a common pathogen in the genus. Source: Bárbara Díez Rodríguez

The revolution also exacerbated social inequalities, as small farmers found it difficult to access new technologies, creating disparities in farming practices. The expansion of agricultural land to increase production has contributed to deforestation and changes in land use. The Second Green Revolution represents a contemporary effort to further improve the productivity, sustainability and resilience of agriculture by integrating advanced technologies, scientific innovations and sustainable practices. And this is where agrigenomics comes in.

In simple terms, agrigenomics is a field of applied research that focuses on understanding and harnessing genetic information to improve various aspects of agroforestry and livestock production. Big data and technology play a crucial role, providing the tools and infrastructure to manage, analyse and extract information from large amounts of genetic, agricultural and forestry data. With the advent of high-throughout DNA sequencing technologies, the ability to decipher the entire genetic make-up of crops is within our grasp.

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) system located in CARTIF’s laboratories, which combines complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology with the accuracy of Illumina’s chemical sequencing by synthesis (SBS) process. Source: Raúl Sánchez Francés

This influx of genomic data, combined with advanced bioinformatics tools (e.g. data analysis pipelines), allows researchers to identify key genes associated with desirable traits such as yield, disease resistance and stress tolerance. In addition, precision agriculture technologies, including remote sensing, drone surveillance and satellite imagery, enable real-time data collection on crop health, soil conditions and environmental factors. All this information allows us to optimise agroforestry practices, including the precise and targeted use of fertilisers, pesticides and water resources based on the genetic characteristics of crops. We can also investigate the role of micro-organisms such as soil bacteria and fungi to promote soil health, nutrient cycling and plant-microbe interactions; or use traditional breeding techniques, together with modern tools such as marker-assisted selection, to develop crops with improved traits such as higher yields, better nutritional content and increased disease resistance.

Ultimately, agrigenomics aligns with agroecological principles by providing tools to understand and exploit the genetic diversity and adaptability of crops and livestock. This knowledge contributes to the development of resilient, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable farming systems that prioritise biodiversity, local adaptation and reduced reliance on harmful chemicals.

World Food Day; with soul of water

World Food Day; with soul of water

Today, 16th October, we celebrate once again a very important date for each and every living being of the planet; World Food Day. This time, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) pays tribute to precious resource essential for life; WATER.

Water is life, as the motto of this year´s celebration says..

It is a driving force for people, economy and nature and is the lifeblood of food. Food security and proper nutrition are terms that are intrinsically linked to ecosystmes, where without water there is no life, no fundamental functions and no productivity-crucial aspects of food systems.

Water and food systems are profoundly linked through activities related to food production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption within a broad and complex socio-economic, political and environmental context.

Food we eat and how ir is produced affects water. In fact, if we think about the food we eat, 95% of it is produced from a combination of water and ground. However, we must bear in mind that water suitable for drinking, agriculture and most industrial uses, known as freshwater, comprises only 2.5% of the total. Surprisingly, agricultural sector alone consumes more than 70% of the world´s available freshwater supply. And here comes some worrying news: due to population growth, urbanisation and economic development, the global demand for water for agriculture is expected to increase by 35% for 2050. This problematic is already a reality; according to FAO, 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with high or very high water scarcity.

#leavenoonebehinf; Water is life. Water nourishes. However, 2,400 million people live in water-stressed countries and aproximately, 10% of world´s population lives in high and critically stressed countries.

In the case of food from fisheries and aguaculture, whose importance for the diet is high due to its composition of essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, the dependance on water is even greater. According to FAO data; at least 600 million people depend on aquatic food systems.

In addition to water quantity needs, water quality is also being affected by climate change and related diseases and food regions where extreme heat events occur.

Relationship between water and assurance of food and nourishing HLPE (2015)

These extreme weather events can affect water quality in several ways. On the one hand, rising temperatures can lead to the proliferation of water-and food-related diseases, as warm conditions favour the reproduction of dangerous micro-organisms. In addition, extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, can contaminate drinking and agricultural water sources.

According to the Intergovernamental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published last July, climate change is having a direct impact on decreasing food security and affecting water availability, hampering efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, oceans warming and acidification is having adverse effects on seafood production.

The same report again points to the need o to curb global warming. Limiting the growth of warming to 1.5ºC would reduce water stress and benefit this resource.

Therefore, climate change, water scarcity, the need to produce food for a growing population, degradation of water resources and associated ecosystems present significant challenges. In addition, other difficulties arise such as increasing competition for water use in different sectors and the lack of effective mechanisms to manage and protect the interests of those who are most vulnerable. There is an increasing urgency to find a sustainable way to manage water, which is referred to as “water security“. This would not only improve efficiency in food production and ease the tension in the conflict between growing demand for food and limited water resources, but also ensure access to food for all people. In this sense, water plays a key role in the process of improving our food systems.


There is a need to reduce water stress factors on food systems, as this has a strong negative impact on their functioning.

Water managament and governance is important not only in agriculture, but also in addressing water and food waste at all stages of the chain. The lack of relevant data between the different processes in the nexus highlights a lack of coordination between related actors and is a challenge that we need to address in a holistic manner.

The future of food is at stake, but there is no doubt that this necessary paradigm shift is intimately related with the future of people and the planet, and that it is a path for all of us towards a sustainable future, as our colleague Julia Pinedo explained in her post “Towards a food revolution”.

World Food Day is a day of celebration and a multitude of events and activities are organised around it. But, above all, it is an opportunity to reactivate our awareness of hunger and the planetary needs of ALL actos involved in ensuring a sustainable future of food for people and the planet.

Today´s agriculture is not sustainable and compromises the future if we don´t incorporate innovative axes and responsable solutions to ensure an adequate and sustainable food supply for generations to come. Our challenge is to produce more food and essential agricultural products with less water. This means creating and participating in integrated solutions for more efficient use and better conversation of existing water resources. Water challenges are pressing in all sectors, and achieving balance in water allocation requires collaboration between governments, farmers, researchers and civil society. To meet the water needs associated with food production, scientists and farmers are working together to develop sustainable water practices, such as building desalination facilities, creating reservoirs, applying water-saving technologies to reduce per capita water demand and improving agricultural efficiency.

Researchers seek new sustainable, social and economic solutions to address water challenges and meet our growing needs. This involves considering the complex interactions between resources and variables in realtion to water, energy, food and ecosystems.

It is therefore essential that our actions are linked across the water cycle and food systems to improve both the water cycle itself and food securty in the context of healthy and balanced ecosystems.

The choice of the food we eat contributes to the way it is used. Actions such as eating local, seasonal and fresh food or minimising food waste contribute to reducing the impact on water stress.

Therefore, at CARTIF we work from a broad perspective of action on the challenges associated with this valuable resource. An example of this is our activity in the FUSILLI project in the transformation of food systems in a holistic way with the objective of improving their environmental sustainability through actions related to water management, the reduction of food waste, social inequality in its use and the evaluation of the associated uses.

Towards a Food Revolution: UN Food System Summit + Stocktacking Moment

Towards a Food Revolution: UN Food System Summit + Stocktacking Moment

The food revolution has begun in Rome! From 24 to 26 July 2023, the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was filled with hope and action at the event UN Food System Summit + Stocktaking Moment.

More than 2,000 participants from 161 countries, including 22 heads of state and government, joined this epic gathering, along with over 100 ministerial delegates and more than 150 non-state actor organisations. The goal: to transform food systems for a sustainable future. CARTIF, in its commitment to the transformation of the Food System and in its role as coordinator of the FUSILLI Project, was present at the UN Food System Summit to follow the latest recommendations and continue designing innovative projects and solutions to help companies, cities and society in general in this transition towards a sustainable food system.

Although progress has been made since the 2021 Summit, we still face pressing challenges – more than 780 million people suffer from hunger and a third of food goes to waste! But here at UNFSS+2, we refuse to give up.

The first session, “Harnessing Urbanisation for Food Systems Transformation“, shone with innovative ideas. Urbanisation is a powerful driving force for change in the agri-food system, and cities play a crucial role in shaping the future of food.

How do we achieve a food revolution? By empowering cities to lead the change. Investing in technology and innovative solutions is key to ensuring sustainability – it´s time to choose healthier and more environmentally friendly food options! The future is now. Peru and Morocco are shining examples of successful governance mechanisms. In Peru, governance mechanisms at local and municipal level have been successful in promoting food security and nutrition. More than 20 actions directly related to cities have focused on improving food security and food health well-being. And Morocco, a shining example of harnessing urbanisation for food systems transformation, has focused on becoming greener, localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopting Mediterranean country initiative and embracing multi-stakeholder actions. These efforts are driving positive change in food systems and fostering sustainability.

This event is more than a summit, it is a call to action, it is time to step forward towards inclusive and sustainable food systems! The food revolution is underway, and you can be part of it!

The second day (25 July 2023) immersed us in the blue transformation of food systems. Representatives from various parts of the world came together to address the challenges and opportunities surrounding aquatic food systems.

Source: FAO via Linkedin

The creation of a Global Action Network for Sustainable Aquatic Food was at the heart of the session. The goal? To monitor and ensure responsible fishing practices, develop infrastructure, improve market access and preserve our marine resources – aquatic food is a treasure trove of nutrients essential for human health and prosperity.

Norway and its commitment to sustainable aquatic food left me in awe. With initiatives to monitor and ensure the sustainability of aquaculture, preserve nutrients and increase fish consumption in marginalised communities, Normway is leading the way to a healthier future in the blue economy!

But it is not only Norway that shines, Indonesia also presented its ambitious Blue Economy Plan 2025 – 2035. With ample maritime resources, Indonesia aims for inclusive and sustainable growth – aquatic food, rich in protein and with a low carbon footprint, is at the heart of its vision for responsible development!

South Africa and Tanzania also made waves with their visions for a sustainable future. South Africa focused on eradicating hunger and providing nutritious food through the sustainable use of aquatic resources. Meanwhile, Tanzania highlighted the importance of an inclusive and sustainable blue economy, encompassing multiple stages of production, processing and consumption.

The European Union (EU) was not far behind, showing its dedication to the blue agenda and emphasising collaboration between all actors in the food system. The EU is committed to improving infrastructure, livelihoods and connectivity with Africa to achieve a thriving blue economy.

During the session “Governance for Food System Transformation”, an essential truth was echoed: governance is key to a sustainable future. Inclusion, collaboration and leadership are fundamental to shaping resilient food systems around the world.

From the Lebanese Parliament, the power of legislation as a catalyst for impactful food initiatives was highlighted. Ensuring clear roles and responsabilities for all stakeholders is crucial for consensus and effective implementation.

Collaboration between stakeholders was also highlighted by the Ugandan delegate, who underlined that coordination and communication are key to driving change in food systems.

Financing initiatives for food systems transformation were also discussed, with representatives from Indonesia and Switzerland sharing their strategies. Access to finance and support for private investment are essential to achieve evidence-based policies and sustainability.

Furthermore, the importance of ensuring that decisions and policies consider the rural perspective was emphasised. Inclusion, transparency and access to resources such as land and water are key to transformative change.

Julia Pinedo, researcher at CARTIF, in UN Systems Summit

Digitalisation shone during the sessión “Digitalisation for Resilient Food Systems”. Technology, data and digital solutions are key to acccelerating the transformation of the food system.

From the World Economic Forum, it was underlined that digitalisation is a game changer. Artificial intelligence and real-time analytics are essential for progress.

Data platforms were also mentiones as a powerful tool to empower farmers with valuable and actionable information in real time.

The private sector demonstrated its importance in shaping resilient food systems. Public-private partnerships, responsible investments and collaboration are key to achieving sustainable outcomes.

The German government stressed that including private investment is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, the need to act responsibly and sustainably to ensure progress was emphasised.

The private sector was also encouraged to support nutrition and prioritise health over profitability. Collaboration and accountability are key to driving positive change.

In conclusion, resilient food systems are within our reach. With a blue transformation of aquatic systems, inclusive governance, digitisation and private sector engagement, we can build a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Day three was a day full of solutions, challenges and next steps for food systems transformation!

In the first session of the day, experts and stakeholders gathered to discuss “Mobilising Means of Implementing Food Systems Transformation”. Critical aspects for accelerating progress towards more sustainable food systems were explored. The World Bank presented an innovative tool called “REALTIME3Fs“, designed to financially support small and medium enterprises, farmers and other key actors. This tool addresses five essential pillars – food systems infrastructure, agricultural and value chain development, social protection, climate change and natural resources, and nutrition – ensuring that fianancial resources reach the most vulnerable sectors and promote holistic transformation.

However, challenges were identified in the financing of food systems, as global Official Development Assistance for food systems decreased in 2021. This raises concerns about the adequacy of funding to drive comprehensive change. This is where the role of the private sector becomes critical, as it is expected to invest in 50% of the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Investment in science, innovation and technology, as well as strengthening data and monitoring systems, were proposed as key solutions to accelerate transformation. In addition, the importance of trade in addredding global food gaps and meeting SDG2 (Zero Hunger) was highlighted. However, to achieve effective transformation, the need fir adequate governance, the participation of all stakeholders and a global financing agenda involving the private was emphasised.

The closing session reaffirmed the urgen need to mobilise resources for food systems transformation. Several challenges were highlighted, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the global crises and the war in Ukraine, which have further destabilised food systems and threatened vulnerable populations with hunger and malnutrition.

It called for concerted and urgent action in six key areas to achieve the potential of food systems: mainstreaming food strategies into national sustainable development policies, inclusive governance, investment in research and innovation, participatory design and implementation, private sector engagement and access to finance.

The UN Food Systems Centre will focus on coordinating inclusive national processes, and the entire UN system will work to enhance coordination and partnerships for real transformation.

In short, transforming food systems is a collective journey towards a sustainable future. Collaboration between countries, organisations and sectors is essential to achieve meaningful change and ensure that no one is left behind. With a focus on sustainability, equity and mutual accountability, we can build more resilient and just food systems for all. The future of food is in our hands!

POCTEP INBEC Project: Circular and sustainable bioeconomy carried out to cross-border business cooperation

POCTEP INBEC Project: Circular and sustainable bioeconomy carried out to cross-border business cooperation

The global challenges we face in achieving sustainable resource management, while delivering economic development, require the close collaboration of all actors in a chain consisting of industrial (business), government and research sectors. In this context, Circular Economy offers solutions to change and enhance the traditional Linear Economy and the development of a Circular Bioeconomy is a crucial opportunity for sustainable growth at regional, national and international level, through the contribution of all sectors involved. The Bioeconomy is defined as a set of activities that encompasses all sectors and systems that are based on biological resources (animals, plants, macro-organisms, and the biomass derived from them, including organic by-products).

The Circular Bioeconomy requires a boost from the private sector which, combined with a brave and decisive strategy from public administrations, provides a regulatory framework that generates social consensus, active participation of the value chain, drives business investments and reinforces legal certainty; all with the dual objective of creating stable and quality employment and advancing in the ecological transition of our economy. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed. According to estimates by the European Commission, for example, if all the current regulations were applied in the specific case of waste, more than 400,000 jobs would be created in the European Union, of which 52,000 would be in Spain.

Some of the projects proposed in this area are linked to the reuse of packaging, the development of renewable gases, the promotion of domestic energy self-consumption or the incentive of industrial recycling in sectors such as the automotive industry. All of these projects are promoted with the clear intention of contributing to the transformation of the production system, raising its sustainability standards and taking advantage of all the economic opportunities offered by the Circular Economy as a whole and the Circular Bioeconomy in particular.

In this sense, INBEC project is a Circular Bioeconomy project whose objective has been to promote the creation of new industries and economic activities, as well as the diversification of productive activities through the transformation of biological resources and the development of new bioproducts and services. This project has sought to maximise the potential of this area in Castille and Leon and Portugal, promoting the presence in new markets and the demand of this type of reosurces and products.

Mapa de las regiones de Portugal y Castilla y León donde se ha desarrollado el proyecto INBEC
INBEC project location

To this end, INBEC has encouraged and promoted a sustainable economy by increasing busines competitiveness in all sectors identifying existing resources in the regional sector of the Bioeconomy and Circular Economy, and thus promoting the development of R&D&I projects and cross-border cooperation, the creation of new industries and economic activities based on the transformation of biological resources and maximising the potential of the Bioeconomy.

Among the actions that have been carried out throughout the project, the following should be highlighted:

  • Characterisation and identification studies of companies, resources and activities by areas with the aim of finding out about the industrial base and endogenous resources present in areas of action. CARTIF has contacted and visited more than 25 companies in Valladolid and Zamora.
  • Nine action plans, one for each target area, have been drawn up to define the potential of possible actions to be
  • implemented in the field of bioeconomy and circular economy.
  • In terms of awareness-raising workshops, CARTIF has actively participated in the 16 workshops carried out in the project with the objective of informing and debating with SMEs and the self-employed on the principles of the bioeconomy and the benefits it generates for companies and society.
Foto del grupo que desarrolla el proyecto INBEC en las instalaciones de IPN en la reunión en Coimbra en Abril de 2022
Coimbra meeting [April 2022]
  • CARTIF has organized nine training and innovation workshops, about innovative solutions in matter of organization and management of productive processes, solutions for the implementation of new product design, containers and packaging.
  • Individual diagnostics and implementation plans,dealing with the degree of innovation of companies, self-employed and entrepeneurs in terms of organisation and process management. CARTIF has carried out more than 25 personalised diagnoses in Spain (Valladolid, Salamanca and Avila) and Portugal (Beiras e Serra da Estrela, Coimbra and Douro) with the actions and roadmaps to be followed to implement the proposed innovations.
  • As for the project bank, initiatives have been collected to generate new technologies or economic activities in the field of Bioeconomy. CARTIF has carried out more than 20 tutorials in the areas of Portugal (Terra Tràs Os Montes, Beiras, Coimbra, Serra da Estrela and Douro) and has provided technical support in the implementation of collaborative R&D&IMprojects and/or projects that have generated new activities in the field of Bioeconomy.
  • Finally, with regard to the promotion of demand and market development, the INBEC project has drawn up a digitalisation itinerary for companies, freelancers and entrepeneurs working in the Bioeconomy and Circular Economy sector. To this end, digitisation workshops, diagnoses and implementation plans have been carried out, focused on bringing closer and facilitating the incorporation of ICT solutions as tools for the substantial improvement of the competitiveness of companies, freelancers and entrepeneurs. On the other hand, by-products and secondary materials derived form the Bioindustry have been identified and puto to good use with the aim of exptending the value chain of biotechnological materials and products. A Joint Comercialisation and Marketing Plan for bioproducts and by-products present in each study area has also been carried out, with the aim of becoming more competitive through a joint comercialisation strategy with the collaboration of different agents and companies. To conclude this activity and the project, CARTIF has organised an Internatinal Forum for the exhibition and exchange of bioproducts, bioprocesses, application technologies and knowledge,etc. to share all the results of the project and in this way value and take advantage of the potential of the agents participating in it and promote the development of this new economy among society.

As a final conclusion, after the ,completion of this three-year project, more than 140 interviews with companies, entrepeneurs, freelancers and relevant agents have been carried out duringthe course of the project. On the other hand, more than 200 participants have been trained in training days, more than 150 participants in training workshops in the field of Bioeconomy and Circular Economy and technology transfer has been facilitated to more than 100 companies, advising and tutoring them to incorporate innovations and improvements in their production processess and in the design of their products/services. Likewise, a study of the best initiatives in the field of Bioeconomy and Circular Economy has been carried out (more specifically 20 detailed initiatives), technical support and tutoring has been given to more than 50 companies in collaboration with research organisations and/or technology centres for the implementation of collaborative R&D&I projects and/or projects that have generated new activities in the field of Bioeconomy. More than 100 people have been trained in the incorporation of ICTs focused on marketing and e-commerce, the degree of digital maturity of the companies has been assessed and a personalised plan has been drawn up to implement the technologies identified, an analysis of bio-products and bio-processes that could be incorporated into the value chain of the entities in order to promote their competitiveness (in the areas of action) has been carried out and a joint commercialisation and marketing plan for bio-products and by-products present in each study area has been drawn up with the aim of making the companies more competitive through this joint commercialisation strategy. Finally, through the organisation of the International Forum and by means of different working groups and with the institutional presence of relevant international entities, the potential of all the participating agents has been valued and exploited, thus promoting the development of this new economy among society.

Sergio Sanz, subdirector general de CARTIF, presentando el foro internacional del proyecto INBEC

INBEC project, in its beginnings, coincided with the health situation by COVID-19, a situation that affected the execution of the tasks. However, throughout the project we have had the opportunity to bring together a large working team (Instituto para la Competitividad Empresarial de la Junta de Castilla y León; Universidad de Salamanca; Diputación de Ávila; Fundación CESEFOR; Fundación Patrimonio Cultural de la Junta de Castilla y León; Fundación CARTIF; Instituto Politécnico de Bragança e Instituto Pedro Nunes) to evaluate the progress of the project, share all the information collected, as well as the problems encountered throughout its implementation to achieve an undoubted success in its execution.

INBEC project with file 0627_INBEC_6_E has been co-financied by the European Regional Development Fund ERDF through the INTERREG V-A Spain-Portugal (POCTEP) 2014-2020.
Redefining the value fo snacks; stress & snacks

Redefining the value fo snacks; stress & snacks

Let me tell you…

Food is intrinsically linked to our health and quality of life to the extent that melatimes play a crucial role in satisfying our needs both on a biological level (the nutrients provided by the food we eat) and on a psychosocial level. Among these moments are those associated with breaks, leisure or moments of distraction typically associated with the consumption of snacks.

The snack concept encompasses a wide range of products and is associated ready-to-eat foods that we find appetising, that do not cost too much, that are easy to carry around and that satisfy our cravings at the moment we need them.

The pandemic caused by Covid exarcebated the consumption of these products, for different reasons, such as the stress associated with loneliness, the situation per se or caring for our loved ones in pandemix conditions, turning them into products of true self-praise and indulgence and, even more, inseparable companions to beer and wine that lessened the asocial feeling that plagued us in many cases.

There is no doubt that our food consumption choices are associated with a multitude of factors, and stress is one of them. People are currently experiencing more stress than ever before and studies indicate that the year 2020 specifically was “the worst and most stressful year we have ever experienced” (Gallup, 2021)1 .

In the post-pandemic, a hybrid consumption scenario has been maintained where we continue to snack indoors, but we return to leisure occasions, to our workplaces, turning breaks and meal times into occasions for this snacking.

Snacking, or the consumption of snacks and caloric foods or beverages between meals, is a factor related to mental and physical health and has been specifically linked to obesity and thus with obesity-related. In fact, such products have been defined as an obesogenic product category.

This is where we can distinguish between healthy snacking (fruit, vegetables, nutritionally well-formulated processed foods) and the snacks that should be the subject of the law (high in fat, sugar, and high in salt)

Snacking, of whatever kind, is part of our diet, and some people even prefer this way of eating through small meals as part of their lifestyle, rather than larger meals that may encompass the concept of sitting down at the table. We have been talking about snacking as a trend for some time now and here at CARTIF, we continue to look at the best ways to satisfy

this new way of eating or this trend of snacking in between meals in a healthier way.

“Snacks is a food that is generally a samll portion consumed between main meals. Snacks are part of the daily diet. The question is, what are we looking for in a snack?”

How is nowadays market? What we want to eat as snack?

Snacks are still boomign in all their various forms. It is nor for nothing that the snack market is one of the largest and is forecast to grow by 6.2% per annum up to 2025. This growth is driven by a number of factors such as lifestyle, economic factors and, especially, the fact that we are eating out more, which has increased the demand for this type of products, packaged in portions and ready to eat.

As a result, snacking habits have become a subject of study for both the food industry and nutrition experts, especially as cosnumers pay more attention to maximising moments of well.being, indulgence or disconecction from the long list of activities that await us each day.

Moreover, we are increasingly aware of what we eat and the importnace of a helathy diet. With all this, we want snacks, they are part of our diet. With al this, we want snacks, they are part of our diet, but often we do not mkae the best choice (even knowing that we do not choose well) or we do not have the best products at our fingertips.

This dichotomy in the selection of the snack that we are going to taste makes it very complex to determine the guidelines we use to choose it and to make an analysis of what the consumer really demands.

“We are becoming more and more committed to our diet as a result of a better understanding of the realtionship between health and food, and snacks are no exception to this trend.”

Beyond the personal perception of what wellness and health mean, and the importance that this perception has in the choices we make when consuming these products, there are some established aspects that are also those that clearly set the market trend: we want to consume less sugar, less salt, less ultra-processed food, no additives, less trans fats and more fruit and vegetables.

In view of the consumption boom, although there is no doubt that the best snacks are at the lower end of the nutritional pyramid (fruit and vegetables), the Food Industry and researchers are working to promote and create wuality snack products that contribute to a more balanced diet through a nutrititonally balanced composition. For example, containing slower absorbing complex carbohydrates, protein, relevant micronutrients and healthies fats so that, overall, it can be considered a food that provides energy with adequate duration and nutrients with associated health benefits.

And what other factors are involved in our decisions?

Among the factors that can be included in pur eating behaviour are the so-called food environments, or what constitute the opportunities to obtain food where factors such as availability and accesssibility of food are considered. This makes it easier or harder for us to choose and consume food.

If we want to take care of ourselves, but do not want to give up snacking, and with the constrictions of the food environment in which we operate, our particular choices and food consumption can be a great opportunity to direct our attention towards healthier snacks.

In this sense, vending (or the sale of product through vending machines( is a good opportunity where schools, colleges, workplaces or other institutions can make more suitable snacks available at our fingertips, facilitating better choice.

Wouldn´t it be amazing to be able to say that snacks have come to be linke to health benefits for consumers?

We can think of formulating such products from a holistic perspective in which the product is part of a healthy and sustainable diet through its participation in the creation of a positive food environment and taking into account the above-mentioned psychosocial factors. In this light, we can start to think about the necessary ingredients.

It is well known that there is a growing interest in the consumption of certain ingredients or nutrients because of the functional properties they impart to the product and their relation to the maintenance or improvement of health-related diseases. Some options are the incorporation in the formulation to enrich with proteins from cereals or legumes, seed flours and sprouted grains, to include ingredients from the valorisation of by-products, to eliminate any additives and to process as little as possible.

The plant-based concept or foods made from plant-based ingredients has made a strong entry into this sector and is perceived as healthy products. We are looking for snacks that promote our “mental health” or a reduction in fatigue in the form of snacks that offer us energy to maintain our atttention. Breakfast substitutes in the form of a snack, but with all the nutrients we need, but we also want to know that they are sustainable products, local products and snacks that benefit our immune system – a long with list!

In the CARTIF Food Area, we continue to work in line with nutritional requirements in researching the use of new sources of ingredients for the development of healthy and sustainable snacks with good sensory acceptability. This is a real challenge for the food industry, aware of the priority of having products that improve well-being, provide good nutritional quality and health benefits.

1 Gallup (2021). Gallup Global Emotions.