The hub of the development is Lille, which is seen as geographically strategic because of its links with the Eurostar. Yann Pitollet, chief executive of Lille-based Nord France eXperts, the public funded investment development agency for northern France, called this "the TGV effect".
Since the start of 2011, 18 collaborative projects have been recognised by a Nutrition Health Longevity (NHL) Cluster set up in the region in 2006. These projects represent €26m worth of research and development (R&D).
They include Oxychic, which has received €1.58m and involves chicory processor Leroux, which is based in Orchies. It aims to pinpoint functional components in chicory, including antioxidants, in order to promote its health benefits.
The three-year scheme will yield initial results by 2012 and Leroux hopes it will provide impetus for it to break into the food ingredients market.
Tate & Lyle Speciality Food Ingredients also gained a €4.4m grant under project Codex to develop ingredients for gut and cardiovascular health.
The work is being conducted in partnership with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) Naturalpha; Intestinal Biotech Development; and Génibio, plus a French academic laboratory.
And food group Lesaffre is involved in project Nutrice, which is fuelled by an R&D budget of more than €3m, and is exploring natural ways to improve the nutritional and sensory qualities of rice; cereals and vegetables.
The NHL Cluster participates in 12 collaborative projects with other European clusters. It has approved 152 projects since 2006.
It also supports the Nutriprev project, which was launched in 2008 and provides finance and advice on improving the nutritional quality of food products. To date it has financed 16 projects.
"Nutriprev is essential to fasten many SMEs from the agri-food sector to the NHL Cluster's action by sensitising them to the nutritional dimension, by accompanying them in their process of innovation and by helping them to invest into public-private ownership actions," said NHL Cluster president Marc Roquette.