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The European OPTIFEL project

Coordinated by INRA, the OPTIFEL project aims to define and propose fruit and vegetable-based foods that will improve the nutrition and eating pleasure of elderly populations. 

Fruit and vegetable counter at a supermarket. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian

In the 27 countries of the European Union, old-age dependency rates are set to rise from 26.8% in 2012 to 38.3% in 2030 (Source: Eurostat). The increase in the number of elderly people living in institutions or at home will therefore be considerable. Under these conditions, there are risks of malnutrition in this population, which may lead to a loss of independence.  The principal objectives of the Optifel project, coordinated by Catherine Renard, a Research Director at INRA, are to: i) establish specifications regarding the expectations and needs of the elderly, ii) based on these findings, to design fruit and vegetable-based foods, and then iii) to produce sample products to be tested in this population.

The factors involved in developing these specialised products act at several levels: at the organoleptic level, to ensure taste perceptions adapted to the specific organoleptic preferences and expectations of this population; at the nutritional level, to guarantee the better preservation of nutrients during storage; at the functional level, to deal with the loss of mastication capacities through the use of appropriate textures, and at the health level, to generate guidelines regarding the serving of foods that exclude any microbiological risks, through the training of staff in appropriate preparation methods.

Fruits and vegetables constitute an important element in the diet of this population, and will therefore be used to obtain a greater diversity of products.

The project will be carried out in six phases:

  • Identification of user specifications. The aim is to collect, refine and formalise the needs and expectations of users in terms of sensory and nutritional quality, texture, and the cognitive and biomechanical ergonomy of product packaging and ease of preparation.  This phase will notably take account of the evolutions of taste perceptions in elderly populations, and changes to their physical abilities and appetite, notably in terms of portion size.  Particular attention will be paid to the management constraints that are encountered by care staff in retirement homes.
  • Definition of functional specifications. The aim is to translate the recommendations resulting from the first phase (needs and expectations of elderly people and care staff) into the design of functional food products.  Translation of these expectations, recommendations and preferences will result in technical, formulation and texture specifications, etc..
  • Development of appropriate processes, packaging systems and logistical systems.  This phase will design, develop and manufacture foods that comply with the specifications thus generated.  This will result in the manufacture of prototype foods based on fruits and vegetables, although they may also incorporate proteins.  The two product types targeted are functional drinks and fruit and vegetable-based products with modified textures.  Issues related to the transport and storage of products will be studied in order to minimise their impacts.
  • Determination of the impacts of storage and preparation on product properties. This phase will enable evaluation of whether the product complies with the specifications.  Particular attention will be paid to the impact of the final stages of preparation and service (mechanical and nutritional properties, microbiological safety).  A life cycle analysis will also be performed on the different options regarding the distribution of products as a function of the frequency of distribution, product shelf lives and packaging and waste.
  • Determination of the acceptance of products in situ (at home or in a retirement home). The aim is to test the "prototype" foods directly at home or in retirement homes.  The products will be tested in terms of their acceptability and satisfaction (taste, texture, packaging, etc.).  These interviews will be supplemented by anthropometric measurements (body weight, body mass index, etc.).
  • Dissemination and transfer of the technology.  The aim is to transfer the results to all stakeholders: the scientific community, industry, logistics specialists, healthcare staff, etc.

The usefulness of this project will also concern an increase in the competitiveness of European fruit and vegetable processing companies, as they will be the first to address this growing segment of the population by placing value on fruit and vegetable-based processed products.

This project is receiving support from the European Union under its FP7 programme for research and development.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Catherine RENARD Joint Research Unit for the Safety and Quality of Plant Products (UMR408)

OPTIFEL in numbers

  • 4 years of research and innovation (2013 -2017).
  • €3 million support from the European Union under the FP7 programme for research and development.
  • 26 European partners.  
Etal de fruits et légumes d'un supermarché.. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian

The Partners

Academic partners:

  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) (FR)
  • Dijon University Hospital Centre (FR)
  • Institut Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentaries (ES)
  • Instytut Ogrodnictwa (PL)
  • Medical University of Lodz (PL)
  • University of Leeds (UK)
  • Wageningen University and Research Centre (NL)
  • Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften (CH)
  • MTT Agrifood Research Finland (FI)
  • Hämeen ammatillisen korkeaakoulutuksen kuntayhtymä (FI)

Private sector academic partners:

  • Ecole Supérieure d’Agriculture (ESA) (FR)

Private sector partners

  • Aileden Biri (TR)
  • Casa Mas (ES)
  • Centiv Gmbh (DE)
  • Christian Potier (FR)
  • Quantis (CH)
  • Fundacio Alicia (ES)
  • Polskà Roza (PL)    
  • Emporhotel (ES)
  • Roquette (FR)
  • SEB (FR)
  • SAS Plastiques RG (FR)
  • Inra Transfert (FR)
  • Arcadia international E.E.I.G. (BE)
  • Nutrimarketing SAS (FR)

Technical centres:

  • Centre technique de la conservation des produits agricoles (FR)