Food, innovation and entrepreneurship at the crossroad of sustainability

Silvia Gaiani leads research on food, innovation and entrepreneurship with a strong focus on sustainability transition in the region of South Ostrobothnia.

Silvia Gaiani is a senior researcher at Ruralia Institute, which is part of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Helsinki. She is an agricultural economist by background and before joining Ruralia Institute she has worked as a food loss and waste specialist for FAO and for different research institutions.

In her research, Gaiani examines food innovation and entrepreneurship towards sustainable food systems in Finland, with a specific focus on South Ostrobothnia. Gaiani’s research is interdisciplinary and analyses, for example, the current level of innovation in the region, how innovation and sustainability can go hand in hand and merge, and the role that geographical location plays in supporting and promoting new ideas, novel food products and business models.

“I think that my research is coming at a very interesting time in Finland, because a number of recent policies are supporting the development of sustainability transitions in food in the country”, Gaiani says. In particular, she refers to Finland’s food researcher strategy for 2035, which aims at making Finland a test bed for innovation in food.

The main aim of her research is to produce knowledge that can help support and shape the active role of food companies in South Ostrobothnia and Finland. The research could potentially lead to the creation of an Innovation Hub or Food Business Booster in the region that could also support start-ups to emerge and flourish. Gaiani’s aim is also to establish long-lasting collaboration with food supply chain stakeholders, local institutions, national and regional partners to contribute to the establishment of a regional innovation ecosystem through bottom-up experimentation and creation of relationships and trust. These aspects become vital, as the effectivity of an innovation ecosystem is dependent on how well its different elements interact with each other.

Gaiani says that we are globally under pressure to develop a new food system. The upcoming food system will differ from the current one in multiple ways. Until few years ago, the emphasis was on cheap price, good looking food, packaging and logistics. In the future, the system will become more demand-driven and short-supply chain oriented. Consumers will play an increasing role and the emphasis will be on transparency, traceability, food safety, animal welfare, wellbeing. Key words at the center of the new food system will be regeneration, circularity and locality.

At the moment, Gaiani is conducting interviews with food companies in South Ostrobothnia. There the food supply chain is highly bipolar - as in the rest of Finland. The majority of regional food companies are micro- and small enterprises but they co-exist alongside a number of big food companies such as dairy company Valio, the meat house Atria, and the alcohol company Altia. Therefore, with a few exceptions, food companies in South Ostrobothnia mostly focus on niche innovation and some interesting new products have gained national attention, such as the broad bean-based meat substitute “härkis”.

With her research, Gaiani would like to make an impact and see actual changes happening in the region. “I would like to do my little piece of work and help food companies to take the long path towards sustainability”, she says. 


Sustainability Research in Spot­light – video series!

Sustainability Research in Spotlight video series aims at opening up what sustainability research can be about. Sustainability science is inter- and transdisciplinary field of research covering a variety of research topics, approaches, and theories. The new HELSUS video series gives a voice to sustainability scientists and different perspectives of sustainability. We start with eight videos in which HELSUS members introduce their valuable research. In the following weeks, we will introduce one researcher and research per week. We hope that these videos enlighten your autumn and give food for thought!