A report released recently by Unilever alleged that partnership of large manufacturers and start-ups was currently what it termed as a ‘strategic imperative’. However, top ingredient suppliers are as well now beginning to play a role that is equally entrepreneurial in investing in food plus drink start-ups,.  Some of them include Döhler, which is based in Germany.

Döhler stated that, just like other ingredients suppliers, it backed “hundreds” of its customers each year.  It does so in areas ranging from formulating recipes to the legal aspects of labelling as well as declarations.

But according to the company’s innovation manager Robert Despineux, during the past three years the firm has gone further than that as it has been making direct investment in “more than 40 start-ups”.

Döhler had, in these instances, taken a stake in every new business, though not a majority stake.  Despineux stated: “Venture support usually leads to strategic support’’.

The United Kingdom ‘very active in terms of start-ups’

Despineux is based at the company’s headquarters in Germany, and he reportedly said: “The UK is very active in terms of start-ups”.

He further said:  “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.

He concluded: “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 more and more considering other places in the world where it can invest, with a focus on the U.S.

The company already has details of its ‘open innovation platform’ at www.we-bring-ideas-to-life.com where they can be viewed.  Plans of launching a dedicated venture website – come end of this year – are also underway.

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

Start-up arena too competitive

Talking generally about innovation, Despineux had this to say: “There’s a really strong focus on naturalness, reduced-alcohol beverages and reduced sugar, for example – and turmeric. I can’t count how many ideas we’ve seen innovation to do with turmeric.”

And regarding recipe development, he explained that when it comes to areas ranging from food safety to shelf-life as well as stability, the company could help by offering advice.

“In Darmstadt, we have the largest development teams,” said Despineux. “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.”

Although Despineux is the head of the innovation team, he works closely with a separate ventures team owned by Döhler.