May/June 2021

Belgium getting pilot fry line to test new techniques
By Melanie Epp, contributing writer

Belgian companies will soon have access to a new pilot frying line to test production methods for fries.

Ghent University in Kortrijk in the region of West Flanders has been awarded a €700,000 (approximately $830,000) investment to install a pilot frying line, taking the current testing facility from lab to industrial scale.

The Belgian Fries Pilot is an extension of the VEG-i-TEC living lab. It has a pilot line for the coating, baking and degreasing of potato products, as well as for oil recovery. The new installation will make it possible to test out new techniques, including the results of using a new shortening.

In 1990, 500,000 tons of potatoes were processed in Belgium. In 2019, this number increased to 5.3 million tons with a turnover of €2.5 billion. Industry leaders feel innovation is important if Flanders and Belgium wish to remain a leader in potato processing.

“Our fries and other potato products are world-renowned,” said Hilde Crevits, Flemish Minister for Innovation, Economy and Agriculture. “The fact that our potato processing has increased tenfold since 1990 only shows its importance for our economy.”

Crevits offered €138,620 in financial support for the project. EU subsidies (€277,240) and private donations (€285,860) will provide the remaining funding.

Mark Andries, Administrator General of the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), emphasized the importance of the project to the Flemish economy.

“Potato cultivation and all associated processing processes represent an important segment in the food industry,” he said. “Companies active in this sector must be stimulated to innovate and this can be done through this pilot line.”

As a spearhead cluster, Flanders’ FOOD is also particularly well placed to reach these companies. As a platform that helps facilitate innovation, Flanders’ FOOD aims to develop a more competitive, innovative and sustainable agrifood industry in Flanders.

Inge Arents, Flanders’ FOOD Managing Director, said allowing companies to take the step from theoretical to lab, and from lab to industrial scale testing is crucial.

“We want small businesses to be able to practice more: try more different recipes and test more processes than they would dare on their own lines,” she said.

Companies such as Vandemoortele also are very interested in using the pilot infrastructure to test new oils and fats, said Arents.

The Belgian Fries Pilot focuses on research using Industry 4.0, including data collection with inline sensors and more efficient energy use. The flexible frying line will be used to season, coat, bread and deep fry potatoes and vegetables, as well as meat and fish. As part of the VEG-i-TEC line at Ghent University, the frying line will be a strong addition to the already established washing, blanching and freezing lines.

The frying line will be fully operational by the end of 2022. It will be open for use for both free and independent research together with knowledge institutions and for company-specific projects both in Belgium and abroad.

Co-creation through collaboration between knowledge institutions, companies and other stakeholders with consumer feedback will lead to innovative potato products and potato processing processes.

“Continuing to innovate is the key to a successful future for our companies and by extension the entire potato chain,” said Romain Cools, Secretary General of Belgapom, the union for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry.

“A new pilot-scale frying line will make Belgian fries and croquettes even tastier and healthier in the future, and make their production more sustainable, and will serve our companies,” said Cools.

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