Cascade funding

Cascade Funding Call for Collaborative Projects: Spoke 04 Food Quality and Nutrition, University of Milan.



Dec 4



Jan 25


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The University of Milan, as the lead partner of Spoke 4 within the PNRR OnFoods partnership, is launching its first cascade funding call aimed at networks of companies, universities, and research centers for the development of innovative and sustainable solutions in food quality and nutrition.

The cascade funding call for proposals related to OnFoods Spoke 04 is open until January 25, 2024, and is focused on fundamental research, industrial activities, and experimental development.

The financial allocation for this call, provided by the University of Milan as the Implementing Entity of Spoke 4, amounts to €4,180,000.

88% of the amount (equivalent to €3,680,000.00) is for research activities to be carried out in one or more regions in the Southern Italy, specifically Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia, Sardegna, and Sicily.

The remaining 12% of the funding (€500,000.00) can be used for research activities in the other regions of Central and Northern Italy.

40% of the total funding can be allocated to research activities conducted by public and private research organizations, while 60% is designated for businesses (SMEs and large enterprises).

The call is open to research partnerships external to OnFoods and must consist of a minimum of 3 partners up to a maximum of 6.


General action context of OnFoods

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that must be achieved. Among these, promoting sustainable production and consumption, improving health, and combating climate change are undoubtedly strategic objectives to be pursued through the OnFoods project.

While production is responsible for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), it is estimated that the share of greenhouse gases emitted by the global food system may be even higher (around 34% of total greenhouse gases). This includes not only the contribution of processing processes but also post-sale activities, such as consumer food preparations and the impact of food waste.

The global availability and quality of food also influence human health on many levels. According to the latest WHO report, contaminated food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 420,000 deaths annually. Therefore, food safety is crucial. Equally important is the consideration that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) cause 41 million deaths annually, accounting for 71% of all global deaths. A healthy and accessible diet is of crucial importance in reducing this burden and the associated healthcare costs.

In this context, OnFoods (Research and Innovation Network on Food and Nutrition Sustainability, Safety, and Security – Working ON Foods) has sought to develop a holistic approach capable of implementing synergy among various disciplines, ranging from social and legal sciences to agricultural economics, food chemistry, food technology and engineering, logistics, microbiology, marketing, human nutrition, and many medical disciplines.

Furthermore, the connection between research institutions and industrial partners is key to promoting research and development activities that can have implications in the production context, generating an impact on the various pathways leading to virtuous and sustainable development of different food systems with repercussions on the environment, population well-being, and the overall socio-economic system.

Purpose and General Objectives: OnFoods and Spoke 4

The OnFoods project unfolds through the coordinated activities of 7 Spokes, each focused on specific yet broad topics related to food production, transformation, and the final impact of food on consumers. 

All Spokes conduct their research activities independently while being deeply interconnected and operating in perfect complementarity to promote dialogue among different disciplines and approaches and amplify potential outcomes.

There are six general objectives that the OnFoods project commits to achieving within 36 months:

  • 1. Promote sustainable food production
  • 2. Foster sustainable food distribution
  • 3. Develop innovative technologies for sustainable food production and consumption
  • 4. Increase adherence to more sustainable dietary patterns
  • 5. Improve the quality of food and diets
  • 6. Ensure food safety for the general population and specific vulnerable target groups
In particular, Spoke 4 - Food Quality and Nutrition aims to achieve the general objectives 1, 3, 4, and 5.

Specifically, Spoke 4 conducts research activities aimed at enhancing food quality and nutrition to better meet the needs and expectations of the modern consumer. This is achieved through food reformulation, the development of innovative and sustainable technologies, and a new approach to food design that safeguards nutrition and health at the population level. It also considers possible inter-individual differences and responses to food intake and dietary patterns, which are fundamental to personalized nutrition approaches.

Furthermore, as defined in the project, the research and development activities of Spoke 4 are expected to contribute to the achievement of five sustainable goals:

  • SDG 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
  • SDG 3. Ensure health and well-being for all at all ages.
  • SDG 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
  • SDG 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
  • SDG 12. Ensure sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

To achieve the various general and specific objectives, Spoke 4 has promoted various research and innovation themes within the OnFoods project aimed at supporting the development of innovative solutions at various levels, including strong public-private partnerships and, in some cases, collaboration with other Spokes. In this regard, one of the objectives of Spoke 4 is to further promote strategic project activities that can increase the impact of research and innovation achievable within the project's 3-year duration, stimulating the creation of new partnerships between businesses and research organizations for some of the core themes of the Spoke.

Theme 01

Reformulation or enhancement of food products through the implementation of innovative and sustainable (bio)technological processes.

The objective is to improve the quality of the main categories of food products with importance in the national context, both for their potential impact on consumers (e.g., nutritional status, reduction of food-related risk factors) and for the impact that new processes can have on the production sector in terms of innovation and sustainability.

Specifically, as reported in the OnFoods project, the approaches developed may include the use of new or implemented (bio)technologies to improve the quality, safety, and nutritional characteristics of products, including the reduction of any antinutrient compounds or the enhancement of certain ingredients or raw materials. The improvement of products can also take into account consumer acceptability.

Research activities may involve prototyping and/or scaling up of new sustainable and healthy products to meet the needs of different consumer targets. They may also aim to improve the sensory characteristics of healthy foods that are less consumed due to being perceived as less acceptable or to meet the needs of new dietary trends (e.g., ready-to-eat products).

The innovation generated should increase the availability of sustainable food and dietary patterns, thereby increasing the chances of long-term adoption by consumers. It should also enable the availability of new virtuous processes for sustainable production.

The project proposals submitted may include numerous final research deliverables that may need to be added to one or more of the deliverables planned within the scope of Spoke 4 (WP4.1 -; WP4.4 - of OnFoods.

Theme 02

Food quality and sustainable nutrition in the restaurant and distribution system

The contribution of collective catering to achieving nutritional and sustainability goals is increasingly important, given the enormous number of meals served daily not only in public and private cafeterias but also in small and large restaurant chains and distribution services across the national territory.

In addition, large-scale distribution plays an increasingly significant role through numerous private-label catering and production services.

Improving the quality and sustainability (environmental, nutritional, and economic) of food/meals produced in these activities (e.g., through ingredient and preparation selection or service improvement) could have a significant impact on consumers and the entire sector.

Furthermore, these activities can leverage smart methodologies and new strategies aimed at promoting consumer awareness and inclusion in the realm of food sustainability, in addition to providing nutritional information.

Activities may include an analysis of the overall quality of food in collective catering in its broadest sense, aiming to redirect it toward sustainable and nutritionally beneficial diets/menus/products. This could also involve the opportunity to develop personalized offerings based on various potential consumer targets.

The project proposals submitted may include several research final products (deliverables) that may need to be added to one or more of the deliverables planned within the scope of Spoke 4 (WP4.1 - of OnFoods.

Theme 03

Sustainable technological innovation for the reduction of food waste and their valorization in the production of new value-added foods

Improving the quality and nutritional safety of food products can also be promoted through strategies that leverage solutions aimed at reducing food waste and/or maximizing their valorization.

Such approaches will enable the redirection of agri-food production systems towards circular economy models, obtaining new innovative foods/ingredients/supplements from by-products and waste of agri-food supply chains, reducing waste, and valorizing specific by-products and commodities that would otherwise be destined for disposal.

Activities may involve the use of green technologies for the extraction of bio-compounds, the development of new high-nutritional-value foods/ingredients, and new smart packaging to preserve the quality characteristics of fresh products.

The project proposals submitted may include numerous research final products (deliverables) that may need to be added to one or more of the deliverables planned within the scope of Spoke 4 (WP4.1 - in connection with Spoke 2 (WP2.1 - and WP2.2 - of OnFoods.

This call is related to

Spoke 04

Food quality and nutrition

To push towards sustainable and tailored food and nutrition

Lead organisationUniMi

Spoke leaderPatrizia Riso