With a mission to accelerate innovation in the agri-food sector, QOOT, which means food and sustenance in Arabic, launched in February at Lebanon Agri-Food Innovation Day 2019.
The first agri-food innovation cluster in Lebanon, QOOT has gathered successful Lebanese entrepreneurs and pioneers to collaborate, promote and develop smarter solutions in the sector. QOOT was initiated by Berytech and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and it is being implemented by FoodValley NL, the leading agri-food cluster in the Netherlands.
Meet below the first 20 cluster members through the innovations that have made them eligible to be part of QOOT.
209 Lebanese Wine
209 Lebanese Wine is Lebanon’s first one-stop online shop for locally produced wines and spirits (gin, vodka, and arak) where users can order bottles online and have them delivered to their doorstep. The platform includes the vast majority of Lebanese wines ranging from small producers who may have limited distribution to large wineries who sometimes want to make their older vintages more accessible.
209 Lebanese Wine acts as an online sommelier giving users guidance on wine pairings and wines to match their taste or budget to name some examples. The wines are mainly distributed locally but a collection of them have begun their international journey. They are graduates of Berytech’s Agrytech Program.
Al Rifai has implemented a firm traceability system starting with the reception of the raw materials and until the distribution of the end products. At each stage of the production process, a lot number is assigned to the processed goods. Delegated personnel are responsible for carrying out the different traceability tasks including ensuring the right system implementation in the processing area or keeping track of related records in Al Rifai’s ERP system.
arcenciel’s agricultural program, in cooperation with the faculty of Sciences of Saint Joseph University, has succeeded in developing Lebanon’s first bio-pesticide. arcenciel’s bio-pesticide contains crystal proteins of the local strain of bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis which targets larva belonging to the family of Lepidoptera. The Lepidoptera, in high numbers, wreak havoc on a wide range of crops such as grapes, olives, tomatoes, apples and pine trees and are a growing threat to the Lebanese eco-system, threatening Cedars. The product works by triggering crystal toxicity under specific pH conditions and enzyme activity within the insect’s intestine, blocking its digestive system receptors leading to cellular death. This process makes the product safe to humans, microorganisms, animals or other non-targeted and beneficial insects.
Bioland produces organic fruits and vegetables, cow and goat dairy products (organic goat dairy products are seasonal), meats and chickens, dried fruits and nuts, honey, olive oil, and mooneh products and essential oils. Since eating organic is still a niche market in Lebanon and perceived as only for the wealthy because of its higher than conventional agriculture price tag, Bioland is trying to do two things. It is trying to make organic products affordable for everyone in Lebanon, especially for fruits and vegetables where the cost of production is close to conventional agriculture. The extra price for organic is in the certificate and in the risk of having to throw away all the crop if there is a diseased product since antibiotics cannot be used on organic produce. Bioland has established, over the years, three distillation sites in Lebanon which use steam technology, the newest technique to get the best yield and oil quality. Bioland has developed exclusive contracts with farmers for raw material production and with global companies for final product selling.
Biolicious offers a range of certified organic, wholesome and gluten-free food packed with nutrients and flavor. The ingredients used in Biolicious and the way they’re combined (the healthy offering) as well the profile of the product itself are all innovative. For example, Biolicious crackers are made of 80 percent vegetables and soaked seeds; kale chips were adopted to local taste using local flavors like tahini, sumac, and pomegranate molasses. Biolicious commercialized and modernized traditional ways of preparing food (such as soaking seeds).
Colonel began selling growlers – meaning two-liter glass gallons of beer filled up fresh – a year and a half ago at their brewery in Batroun. The beer in the growler lasts for two weeks. Once consumers are done with the beer, they bring the jug back and refill it from the brewery itself or any pub that sells Colonel draft beer.
Crown Flour Mills
Crown Flour Mills produces standard pita bread mixes but recently developed a mix for double layer gluten-free bread and a double layer low glycemic index bread mix ideal for those with diabetes.
Sunset yellow is the common name of a synthetic azo dye commonly used to color and flavor potato chips and crackers. Daher Foods have replaced sunset yellow in their paprika and cheese lines of chips with natural products called paprika extract and Carmine (both of which produce red colors). While they are more expensive that sunset yellow, Daher Foods believes it is worth the extra cost.
Many aspects of Eshmoon are innovative and can be summed up with coming back to our local roots in order to express their unique local identity. Eshmoon’s philosophy and mindset of being true to themselves are what makes them innovative and drives their solutions. Eshmoon uses local products such as carob molasses to sweeten their chocolates and desserts. The logo itself is a reflection of their identity and is unique in that it combines five elements of nature (air, fire, minerals, water, and wood).
GoBaladi produces a conventional and certified organic goat dairy products range (including local essentials such as Laban, soft labneh, halloumi, double crème, and milk) made from local goat milk. Working with local goats to produce a diverse line of dairy products had never been done before and came with challenges but GoBaladi persevered because they believed in a sustainable ecosystem. For example, local goats only produce milk from March to September and so GoBaladi got techniques which are applied on European goats to make them produce milk yearlong and applied them to the local goats used for the conventional line (it is against the regulations of the organic certifications to interfere with the goats’ habits). GoBaladi also worked the local goat farmers – who are mainly uneducated and with little resources – on best hygienic practices and on how to increase the yield and improve the quality of milk in a natural way. Contrary to industrially farmed goats (which stay inside the farm all the time), GoBaladi’s local goats are for the most part free-range meaning they roam the pristine hills on GoBaladi’s land in Mount Sannine and feed on the grass there (in the organic line, the goats are 100 percent grass-fed while in the conventional it is 60 percent grass-fed and 40 percent feed).
Gout Blanc introduced two types of European goat breeds into Lebanon: the Saanen and the Alpine. These types of goats give 1,000 liters of milk per lactation and produce milk for ten months of the year; they only rest for the last two months of their pregnancy. So what Gout Blanc did is separate the goats into main groups and control their breeding so when one group is pregnant the other is producing milk and vice versa. Through this way, Gout Blanc had year-long access to fresh goats’ milk and so could produce fresh goat dairy products such as spreadable labneh (they were the first to introduce it to Lebanon) and halloumi. They were also the first to produce French goat cheese in Lebanon. Gout Blanc started with 60 goats in 2006 and through trial and error in learning how to take care of them, today they are at 1,250 goats with the aim of reaching 3,000 goats soon.
Heineken released into the Lebanese market, in mid-January 2019, Heineken 0.0%, a non-alcoholic version of the internationally acclaimed all natural and premium beer. It tookHeineken’s research and development team many years to come up with a non-alcoholic brew that would retain the same refreshing taste of the alcoholic version of Heineken. Today, Heineken 0.0% tastes different from regular Heineken. However, it has the same characteristic fruity notes, but with a soft malty body. Heineken is the first beer brewery in the world to release a non-alcoholic premium beer. While there are beverages that promote themselves as non-alcoholic beer, they are in fact simply malt beverages.
Hum’N Go transformed a traditional plate – hummus, into a healthy grab’n go snack. Capitalizing on the trends of grab’n go and healthy snacking, the product cup includes brown breadsticks on one side and hummus in different flavors on the other side. Hum’N Go currently comes in two flavors: the original and hummus with pomegranate molasses – the latter of which is proving to be a big success in the market. Two flavors are currently under development. Hum’N Go was able to increase the shelf life of hummus from the standard 20 days to four months while remaining within EU standards (using temperature and pressure instead of preservatives) which is a major asset for the export market. Hum’N Go is a winner of the Mount Lebanon Youth competition, organized by Berytech with UNDP.
Karma’s innovation is in its business model which added value to the fresh produce export business in several ways. First of all, they shortened the supply chain by procuring produce directly from the farmers and selling them directly to the retailers. Then, they reduced transit time shipping their produce by air instead of land or sea freight. To improve the process even further, they partnered with DHL International which offered them exclusive cold storage at Beirut RH Airport, made accessible dedicated customs clearance and launched scheduled flights of DHL’s own cargo planes to transport Karma’s produce faster and more efficiently than a regular commercial flight.
Chateau Kefraya undertook a comprehensive study over all of its lands, using technology to better understand it. They began by using ‘drone technology’ to obtain a top view of their vineyards, allowing them to identify, through the different shades of colors, which zones of parcels have a similar soil type. They then took samples from each zone to analyze the topography of the soils, with the help of a specialist in Pedology. After a better understanding of its vineyards, Chateau Kefraya moved to the ‘micro-climate’ study. For that step, they attached sensors to each zone of the grapevines to understand the impact of the micro-climate parameters on it: humidity, water, temperature, and soil moisture on the grapes; a set of information used for the sake of the quality of wine that will be later produced. Chateau Kefraya is one of the worldwide pioneers to use this technology on wine and the first to use it in Lebanon.
LibanJus was the first factory in Lebanon to make use of solar energy with the initial phase of 135-kilowatt peak (KWp) executed in partnership with the UNDP and partially funded by the EU. The remaining phases were funded by LibanJus while benefiting from Green loans. As of two months ago, LibanJus has 920 KWp of solar panels installed. LibanJus’s solar panels stretch across the factory’s roofs and cover an area of 6,000 meters squared. The factory runs on 50 percent green energy. It took LibanJus a year of engineering to be able to override the problem of Lebanon’s electricity cuts which are not conducive to large scale solar plants.
Riachy Vineyards introduced a selection of cool climate Lebanese wines produced at high-altitude regions that are prone to high climatic variability. Located at 1600 meters of altitude in Mount-Lebanon, Riachy Vineyard grapes mature slowly during the mountainous colder nights and milder diurnal temperatures. This leads to a late-season harvest which allows Riachy Vineyards wines to slowly unfold their unique character.
Robinson Agri works behind the scenes but is very much involved in the food value chain. Robinson Agri is driven by their motto of sustainable innovation and by their commitment to improving living conditions which they see as part of their CSR. As an implementation of their motto and CSR, they are introducing new techniques to the agricultural sector and enabling innovation. They adopted a new technique in agriculture called grafting to improve the vigor of the vegetable plants and their yield and reduce the use of pesticides. Robinson Agri also implemented smart irrigation solutions in agriculture to decrease water consumption while increasing the production of fruits and vegetables and boosting quality and uniformity. With the one cut lettuce that Robinson Agri introduced, less water is used to clean the lettuce; time is saved with minimum food waste – which is very important in the hospitality business.
The innovation of Shuman Farms lies in improving feed efficiency. They developed a feed evaluation system with research centers in Europe through which they optimize the technical performance of the chicken. Health and management systems are constantly changing, and Shuman’s feed evaluation system is changing along as well. This system is the product of an ongoing Research and Innovation Program which was also developed by Shuman Farms and which has a mission to stay up to date on the latest techniques and research relating to poultry.
Smart Gourmet is producing a line of healthy and authentic Lebanese food that is rich in vitamins and is bacteria free. It has no preservatives and yet it has a one-year shelf life. They were the first in the world to develop this technology for extending the shelf life of food products without using preservatives through a cooking process and technique. Smart Gourmet is a graduate of Berytech’s Agrytech Program.
Teknologix has developed a software solution applied to food and beverage processing machinery (since this is the most prevalent industry in Lebanon) which automates the generation of machinery related data reports. Teknologix’s software solution programs the machinery in a way that they process the raw data stored within them into useful reports which can be analyzed by the business owners.
The Good Thymes
The Good Thymes took zaatar, the ingredient that every Lebanese knows and loves, and developed a brand and a story around it. Moving beyond this, The Good Thymes developed ten mixes of zaatar, including spicy zaatar, fruity zaatar or zaatar with keshk transforming zaatar into a unique product. The Good Thymes has also developed a herbal infusion based on zaatar.
UNIPAK has shifted from being simply a box producer to also becoming a packaging consultant working with its customers on optimized solutions for their packaging needs. A new platform has been set in place to offer customers the ability to manage their packaging supply chain activities from the comfort of their desks. Through this platform, customers can benefit from consultancy on their packaging problems, receive solutions using the lasted 3D design tools, and place and track their orders online.
Zakka Technologies provides alternative solutions for industrial needs. They pride themselves on their flexibility with their customers, providing them with numerous options and solutions, as well as their fast response. For example, Zakka Technologies has a new generation of industrial printers (used to label expiry and production dates on packages) which uses HP technology with cartridges. This means that unlike conventional industrial printers, it uses much fewer consumables like inks or solvents, requires little to no service or maintenance and is more compact. Another example is a filling machine that requires no electricity and no compressed air. It is semi-automated and thus ideal for medium size operations. Zakka technologies also provide top quality fully automated filling, capping and labeling lines as well as packaging machines for various application, powder, and viscous product filling machines all of which make use of the latest technologies and energy conservation developments.
With a startup called Rigino (Agrytech Program Batch II), Zejd – producer of a wide range of fruity extra virgin olive oils and flavored oils, will be utilizing a production and traceability software to be able to efficiently trace any product from the shelf back to its raw material. Youssef Fares, the founder of Zejd, hopes that with time, this software will be developed on blockchain technology meaning that each part of the production chain will independently enter their data. He is also planning on eventually using the Internet of Things to optimize the production line.
About QOOT, Agri-food Innovation Cluster
QOOt is open to every Lebanese agri-food business that shares its vision to make innovation the norm in this sector, including small, medium and large enterprises dealing in food production, input supplies, processing, distribution, marketing, technology, and retail, among other verticals. http://qoot.org