The Netherlands: circular agri-economy pioneer and powerhouse of food innovation

Although being a small country, the Netherlands has always punched above its weight and is a recognized  powerhouse in food, and a world leader in agrifood and agtech innovation:

  • 2nd in global agrifood exports, driven by advanced farming and smart food tech
  • Production and R&D operations of all top 10 agrifood players
  • World’s largest agrifood R&D investment
  • Wageningen University and Research is world’s No. 1 agrifood university
  • Targeting global circular agriculture leadership by 2030
  • Government support for alternative proteins research and development

Netherlands agrifood

A world leader in food and agriculture technology, the Netherlands has been intrinsically linked to the agrifood industry for centuries. And because we are a small country, limited in the land we can cultivate, sustainable food innovation has always been high on our agenda.

The result is that the Netherlands is considered a leader in food and agriculture technology. The country is an ideal breeding ground for sustainable agrifood production and innovation. A market that doubles as a living field laboratory, where industry leaders cooperate closely, innovate together, and explore new ways to enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability.

Wherever you look, the Netherlands is pioneering the shift towards alternative proteins and agritech development. Companies at the frontier of food and agriculture are developing new technologies, from top quality breeding materials and nutrients from alternative protein sources, to innovative fermentation techniques.

Dutch farmers are using precision farming and storage technology to produce top yields with minimal inputs. The country is pulling more than its weight in the development of plant-based nutrition. And Netherlands horticulture is setting new digital standards for automation, robotization, and AI.

Open-minded and innovative

When the world’s first lab-grown burger was unveiled here in 2013, it was the latest in a long line of Dutch food tech innovations. As well as becoming Europe’s largest consumer of alternative proteins, we have also consistently appeared near the top of the Global Innovation Index and European Innovation scoreboard.

In fact, the Netherlands is the global leader in agrifood R&D, spending almost a billion – led by the likes of ENOUGH, Fuji Oil Group and BASF.

They are supplied with talent from a world-class community of research institutes and universities. Wageningen University and Research is the world’s leading academic institute. And other, multidisciplinary universities in Amsterdam, Delft, Den Bosch, Eindhoven, Groningen, Maastricht, and Utrecht are also dreaming up solutions to the world’s biggest food challenges.

Leading R&D lights

Outside of academia, research institutes further bolster R&D in agrifood here. The Biotech Campus in Delft is the largest open innovation center and supports the whole innovation cycle, from research, to piloting, to production. Companies like Meatable, Vivici, and DSM work out of facilities like Planet, a local hub offering labs, pilot operations, and space for industrial production – plus networking opportunities with scientists, technologists, other companies, investors and policy makers.

Another example is NIZO Food Research: one of the world’s most advanced food industry research organizations. And then, there is the World Horti Center’s 38 state-of-the-art greenhouse departments, where researchers, entrepreneurs, and knowledge institutions collaborate freely.

Collaborate with ease

There is a clear triple helix commercial-academia-government approach. So whether you are in smart horticulture, smart logistics and circularity, indoor farming, knowledge transfer and trade – or another vital element of the agrifood chain – you will find a deep respect for cooperation.

It is born from the Dutch 1+1=3 mindset – that it is easier to scale challenges when we pool our talent and resources. Successes include the Dairy Campus, which unites dairy farmers, suppliers, and processors across the industry. Similarly, the sector is richer for the presence of Foodvalley, the Protein Community, Farm of the Future, World Horti Center, Brightlands Future Farming Institute, and FoodTech Brainport.

Government support

Every initiative exists within a political ecosystem focused on sustainable growth. The Netherlands aims to become the global leader in circular agriculture by 2030, for example setting out a National Protein Strategy.

With the aim of delivering self-sufficient levels of plant proteins over the next five to ten years, the strategy spans new and residual streams, along with cellular agriculture, fermentation, algae, and other sources. This comprehensive approach aims to address the growing demand for sustainable protein sources while reducing dependency on traditional agriculture methods.

Industry leaders

This investment has attracted a stellar cast of food companies. Giants include everyone from Coca-Cola, Danone, Heineken, and Kraft Heinz to Mars, Nestlé, Unilever, and Yakult. Plus, there is a diverse community of scale-ups, including Apeel, Beyond Meat, innocent Drinks, Meatless, Protix, and Oatly.

Focused on cooperation

They all benefit from a way of working born from operating in a country where nothing is far away. You can take a train across the country in under 3 hours. And everyone uses English as a business language. It is a country made for collaboration.

Our history of agricultural innovation is fueling our development of a future-proofed agrifood ecosystem. This is where you will find innovators, an entrepreneurial spirit, and compelling government strategies. A business accelerator primed to enhance your knowledge, resources, and technologies.

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