The innovation co-creation laboratory unites companies and researchers in an unprecedented experiment in Latvia

Several Latvian entrepreneurs and researchers have started working together to explore, find concepts, generate ideas, and create innovative solutions towards sustainable food packaging. Giving the fact that food packaging is a current problem both globally and locally, and the demand for it is growing, Vidzeme Planning Region (VPR, Latvia) together with Riga Technical University (Latvia) is organising a cycle of experimental activities – the innovation co-creation laboratory (ICL).

Considering the different specificities of the work of both entrepreneurs and researchers, the stage of familiarization of challenges is of particular importance in the process of co-creation. While listening to the experiences of several entrepreneurs, each of the researchers had the opportunity to look at the daily challenges from a different point of view. The participants acknowledged that while they provide different products to their customers, the challenges are very similar, and it is great that they have had the opportunity to deal with them together. “We are in a process called connecting co-creation, hence its aim is to raise awareness not only of the needs of entrepreneurs, but also of scientists and researchers. This is a great way to create new opportunities and get to know each other for further cooperation,” says Inese Suija-Markova, ICL moderator.

Photo: ICL on Zoom platform

Aiga Tenisa, representative of Stora Enso Packaging Ltd., presented the challenges and opportunities of food packaging from the prism of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “Throughout EU, the systems are not harmonised in different countries,” said Tenisa, stressing that, when it comes to packaging the product, it is important to think about regulations, e-commerce, sustainability, and hygiene requirements, which have been actualized as a result of a global pandemic. The result of a study presented by the representative, indicated that 80% of millennials prefer to buy a product in sustainable packaging, which raised a discussion amongst the participants – does people actually make these choices, and are they even able to recognize sustainable packaging?

Daina Eglīte-Antona, representative of Labas Saknes Ltd., presented different food packaging tests and non-residual production in their company. To ensure that there is no leftovers, so the products wouldn’t produce a lasting effect in nature, paper/cardboard boxes were initially tested. The problem faced by the entrepreneur was to maintain the value of the product using the most environmentally friendly type of packaging. After 48 hours, healthy snacks lost their properties and changed consistency and taste, thus excluding the use of packaging. As of now, the company welcomes the “non-packaging” concept and supports the younger generation who prefers to shop using the packaging they bring. “After the current market offer, it is concluded that producing a very friendly product without food additives requires the most unfriendly packaging for nature to be realized,” says Eglīte-Antona.

Anna Marija Zīdere-Laizāne and Kristīne Ābelniece, representatives of Felici Ltd., introduced the audience with the experience of implementing packaging in the company’s business practices which is both sustainable and able to maintain the products quality. Several future challenges were mentioned – a competitive price, safe and qualitative product, as well as environmentally friendly and convenient packaging, which is convenient not only for production, but also for the consumer. Zīdere-Laizāne mentioned that “the problem arises from the fact that opinions differ. It is still unclear what determines nature-friendly aspects.” The representative recalled that not only packaging is important, but also the safety of the product. When the product itself goes to waste, even bigger problem arises.

One of the key insights raised by researchers during the ICL was the need for a platform where researchers and entrepreneurs can meet and collaborate on a daily basis to develop innovative solutions, exchange ideas, current events and contacts in the sustainability sector. Thus, the VPR representatives had the opportunity to demonstrate the bioeconomy innovation platform Biobord, created directly with the participation of the VPR and the Institute for Environmental Solutions, to facilitate the communication amongst them. More about Biobord: https://biobord.eu/.

While working in the groups, a great deal of potential opportunities for cooperation developed and the topics that the participants are interested in exploring in depth at the next IKL meeting were highlighted:

  1. The latest trends in the production of food packaging globally;
  2. More options for PET application;
  3. Multi-layer packaging sorting options;
  4. Biodegradable packages and products;
  5. Solutions that are also affordable for SMEs.

ICL sessions are based on a combination of two co-creation techniques – “World Cafe” and “Conceptual Mapping”. The next stage is scheduled for November 9 to 20, during which individual consultations of entrepreneurs-researchers will take place, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to ask researchers, involved in ICL, questions related to the challenge defined by the company in the field of food packaging.

The co-creation laboratory is implemented by Vidzeme Planning Region in cooperation with Riga Technical University in the framework of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme project “GoSmart BSR” and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Knowledge and Innovation Community (EIT Food) in the framework of the EU Research and Innovation Programme, with the support of the European Regional Development Fund.

More information: Santa Vītola, Project Manager in Vidzeme Planning Region, [email protected], +371 26674261

Prepared by: Marta Riekstiņa, Public Relations Specialist in Vidzeme Planning Region, [email protected], +371 25865495