Student - April 23, 2009

THE RESTAURANT WITH A FUTURE

The Restaurant of the Future is putting the finishing touches to a new business plan with which it will be a better fit with Wageningen UR research groups. Manager Bart van Nunen makes light of the high expectations of last year. ‘Innovative research in a new facility needs a start-up period of three years.’

Van Nunen has been managing the restaurant since mid-2008. Millions of Euros were then invested in the restaurant, and the emphasis – and the publicity – was firmly on its role as an advanced office canteen. In retrospect, Van Nunen says it was wishful thinking to imagine that food companies and caterers would be queuing up to do innovative camera-based behavioural research in Wageningen. ‘There was an over-ambitious business plan.’

This resulted last year in a loss of half a million euros. This year, losses should be halved, and in the course of 2010 Van Nunen expects to break even. He bases this projected growth on the successful ‘participants day’ of a few weeks ago. ‘Over the past year we have built up a network of 42 participants, including major food companies, who are keen to be involved in our research.’ In the coming year he expects to turn contacts into contracts.

The number of assignments is growing, even though they won’t yield a profit this year, says Van Nunen. Food scientist Gertrude Zeinstra, who is studying how you can get children to eat more vegetables, recently had three hundred children at the restaurant, with their parents. ‘Our added value is that we provide a real life eating context where we can film the interaction between child and parents.’ Also in the past year, a new fish product has been developed and work has been done on salt reduction (with a soya sauce company) and on the presentation of fresh salads. In total there are about fifteen research projects which have produced results of both scientific and marketing value, Van Nunen explains.

He emphasizes that he is the manager of the Centre for Innovative Consumer Studies (CICS). This centre consists of about fifteen consumer researchers who have the use of an extensive research laboratory, of which the Restaurant of the Future is part. ‘We combine theoretical and applied research in a range of laboratories such as ‘mood rooms’, ‘food labs’ and sensory labs, and ultimately in the ‘real life’ context of the restaurant. We also work with home panels.

The strong emphasis on the research facilities is helping to get collaboration with the Wageningen research groups off the ground. ‘Kees de Graaf’s new chair of Sensory science and eating behaviour fits in perfectly. But we also work with consu¬mer researchers from the Social Sciences Group and with researchers from Human Nutrition and the top institute, Food and Nutrition. Our new mission is consumer-driven healthy food choice, with two themes: consumer-driven product innovation and healthy food choices by parents and children. This gives us a focus and a recognizable market profile.’

Through the close collaboration with research, the sensory lab is almost fully booked until the summer vacation, says Van Nunen, and the other labs are quite booked up too. ‘But the running costs are still high. The restaurant is on very expensive square metres ,and with a salad test you only earn back a couple of square metres. If you can run several consumer tests at the same time, it starts to get interesting.’
The new business plan will be presented to the executive board in July.

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