Ingredients firm invests in start-ups

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Döhler’s Robert Despineux laims the UK is ‘very active in terms of start-ups’
Döhler’s Robert Despineux laims the UK is ‘very active in terms of start-ups’

Related tags Entrepreneurship

A Unilever report recently claimed that collaboration between large manufacturers and start-ups was now a ‘strategic imperative’. But leading ingredients suppliers are also now starting to play an equally entrepreneurial role in investing in food and drink start-ups, among them German-based Döhler.

Like other ingredients suppliers, Döhler said it supported “hundreds​” of its customers every year in areas from recipe formulation to the legal aspects of labelling and declarations. However, over the past three years or so, the company had gone much further, directly investing in “more than 40 start-ups”,​ according to its innovation manager Robert Despineux.

In these cases, Döhler had taken a stake in each new business, but not a majority stake, Despineux said. “Venture support usually leads to strategic support,”​ he added.

The UK is very active in terms of start-ups​,” claimed Despineux, who is based at the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany.

‘UK is very active in terms of start-ups’

“I don’t have exact numbers when it comes to new UK businesses I’m in contact with, but there are a lot. They’re very strong in the fields of health and nutrition, clean-label beverages with natural and functional ingredients, and very gentle processing technologies.

“At the outset, we focused on Germany and Austria, when it came to Europe, but are now looking at more and more start-ups across the rest of the continent.”

Döhler is also increasingly looking at other parts of the world, with the US a focus for investment.

The company already has an ‘open innovation platform’,​ details of which can be found at, and it plans to launch a dedicated venture website by the end of the year.

“Consumers are increasingly interested in smaller, local companies, and there are a lot of young, niche businesses around,”​ said Despineux. “But that also means that the start-up arena is highly competitive.”

‘Start-up arena is highly competitive’

Regarding innovation in general, he said: “In the UK, there’s a strong focus on naturalness, reduced-alcohol beverages and reducing sugar. Lately, we’ve seen some great innovative concepts around the trend ingredient turmeric.”

When it comes to recipe development, Despineux explained that the company could help with advice in areas from food safety to shelf-life and stability.

In Darmstadt, we have the largest development teams​,” he said. “But when it comes to aspects such as taste-optimisation, we prefer to work more closely with the particular country or region where the product will be sold.”

While Despineux works in the innovation team, Döhler also has a separate ventures team, with which he works closely.

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