Personality of the Year 2014: 'When you’re working for the EU it has to be innovative'

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Jan-Willem Van der Kamp led 13 European firms in the EU-funded HealthBread project
Jan-Willem Van der Kamp led 13 European firms in the EU-funded HealthBread project

Related tags Van der kamp Project management Snack

Jan-Willem Van der Kamp from TNO has been voted as BakeryandSnacks’ Personality of the Year 2014 for his leadership on HealthBread - an EU project to develop healthier breads.

Van der Kamp has coordinated work among a number of European companies to conceptualize and develop clean label baked goods with improved health properties.

Products and concepts developed under the EU HealthBread project are now being rolled out across a number of European countries, including Germany, Austria and Italy. There has also been international interest from an American entrepreneur looking to start up an Austrian bakery chain in the US, featuring breads developed under the project. caught up exclusively with Van der Kamp to find out more about the year that got him recognized by his peers – to hear a winner’s story.

Firstly, how does it feel to be recognized by your peers?

I’m very happy because running such a project always involves more work and effort than you think, especially for me as project coordinator. But, people were willing to spend extra time and weekends working… Especially in the autumn when we were at the final reporting stages, my wife got a little bit angry because of how much time I spent on the project!

Van der Kamp worked hard to communicate findings and progress of HealthBread at several press conferences
Van der Kamp worked hard to communicate findings and progress of HealthBread at several press conferences

How does it feel to see your ideas realized?

It’s quite rewarding because most projects, especially EU projects, end with promises – results that could be used or may be used… It’s much more seldom that those results are applied into practice and here it is - applied into practice and indeed at a much larger scale than what was expected.

…When the EC first launched the project they used the headline ‘a bread revolution is in the making’ and my first reaction was ‘no, it’s exaggerated’. But, we’re using mild-tasting alternatives to bran and the concept of longer fermentation for better taste and better bioavailability of minerals and our bakers are adopting this. If this is adopted more widely then indeed it will be a radical revolution. 

Is there anything you’ve learnt about yourself?

The first year was pushier and the second year was more interactive – and this is interaction that I learnt a lot from. I admired the others for what they did yet I had the feeling I could help the others perform better, but then I had to learn not to be too controlling; to also leave some more freedom to participants and to use what they gave for input.

What was your toughest moment during the project?

There was always this time pressure because it was only two years. It was quite important to keep the pressure on timing to deliver results… I never had the feeling we would fail, so to say, but you had to be constantly aware that time management was so important. One great help was the practical system of having a telephone conference every month, and sometimes real meetings because everybody gets nervous one week before and thinks about what they want to say! 

The HealthBread project saw plenty of test baking take place
The HealthBread project saw plenty of test baking take place

How important was collaboration and innovation?

I think collaboration was quite crucial and also good relationships with the partners, so that you could be frank if it was required… I think what was also a help was that this project didn’t come out of the blue – it had a predecessor the HealthGrain Project –  and a number of the key people were known from this big project.

In the final stages, what was important for innovation was the creativity of the bakers themselves. So, indeed the concept of long fermentation was taken up by everyone but they each did it in quite different ways… It even led to unexpected innovations. One unexpected innovation was that some of those fermentations caused longer shelf life – there was one baker living in the Austrian Alpine area who delivered to all the mountain restaurants and the bread made during the project remained fresh at the end of the day.

What can others learn from what you’ve achieved?

When you’re working for the EU, it has to be innovative otherwise you don’t get the project. You have to stick out your neck and continue to realize these results - that is what other sectors could learn.

…What helped us was the concept of ‘mentoring partners’. Especially if you work with smaller industries as we did, as a project manager I was not that capable of interacting with Italian bakers, for example, so the idea was that we had project management based on science, then in each language area one partner familiar with the bakery sector who had a sort of intermediate role. Smaller companies can be quite innovative, but the bridge from this to the other more basic research is too large. But, via this concept of ‘mentoring partners’, you combine knowledge of science and knowledge of practice – that was essential.

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