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Preserving traditions through research

Research is literally bearing fruit for Lerum, a century-old producer of jams and juices based in Western Norway. Through international research cooperation the company is preserving its role as a cornerstone of its small community.

“Did you know that the berries in jam are just as rich in antioxidants as fresh berries are?” asks Merete Lunde, R&D Director at Lerum. She has a PhD in molecular microbiology from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and is passionate about the content of fruit and berry products.

“We are always working to develop our products,” explains Dr Lunde. “Qualities such as antioxidant and vitamin content are vital in enabling consumers to make healthy choices for maintaining a nutritious, varied diet. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of this, which means competition for market shares is escalating. So we have to constantly seek new knowledge and keep on making improvements.”

Product development since 1907
The Lerum family has been refining its products for four generations. In 1907 an industrious couple named Kari and Nils H. Lerum were running their fledgling business of shipping village-grown berries by boat to the city of Bergen. One day, when a shipment of raspberries was crushed on the dock, the couple salvaged the loss by making juice and shipping that instead. The event turned into a success story of highly popular Norwegian juices and jams.

Today, over a century later, the Lerum family continues to stress innovation – keeping Dr Lunde very busy finding ways to develop improved, healthier products. Ensuring a reliable supply of high-quality local raw materials, reducing the sugar content of jams, and making healthier apple juice are just some of the challenges she faces.

“I’m so lucky to have an employer that sees the value of my research, even when it doesn’t yield immediate profits. The research will ultimately lead to specific products, though it may take time. Just as important are the new ideas generated by the knowledge we acquire through Norwegian and international projects. Without new ideas, we can’t advance.”

Since the 1990s Lerum had been struggling to make a profit on its production of certain beverages. In 2007, in order to bring in fresh ideas and a new strategy, the company hired Dr Lunde, who at that time was working at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

“My background in molecular microbiology ended up taking my job in a different direction than management had originally imagined,” she smiles.

Small player on research front
A year before being hired by Lerum, Dr Lunde was involved in the EU project LOWJUICE, in which Lerum together with the Nofima research group were the Norwegian partners. Other project partners came from Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey. The objective was to create an apple juice with more fibre and less sugar. Lerum had the key task of collating the findings from the various sub-projects under the project.

The EU project resulted in a prototype juice, which Lerum is now further developing in an innovation project that receives funding from the Research Council of Norway. If successful, this project will yield a completely new, healthier apple juice.

The collaborative international effort continues, reports Dr Lunde. “Now we participate in a European food producer network where we keep each other informed about the latest knowledge developments.”

Compared to some other players, Lerum is relatively small in the Norwegian food industry – so cutting-edge expertise can be the critical factor in competing successfully. “Bringing in new knowledge,” asserts Dr Lunde, “is essential for Lerum to continue evolving. The process of making our products better is never over.”

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