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Leroux: 155 years of innovation

16 Jan 2014 | Investment, Health, Nutrition and food

Leroux successfully maps the chicory genome and wins an industrial innovation award from France’s Banque Publique d’Investissement (BPI), capping more than 10 years of research with scientific partners.

Driven by innovation

Founded in 1858, Leroux grows and processes over 80,000 tons of chicory root a year from its base in Orchies in northern France. The company has made innovation central to its strategy from the start, filing its first patent — a packaging machine that could fill 200 packets an hour — in 1863.

A century and half later, BPI has presented Leroux with an award for industrial innovation, recognizing a decade of research into chicory root, from modeling of the molecules that give the plant its characteristic bitterness to identification of its antioxidant molecules, promotion of its nutritional potential, and more.

Mapping the chicory genome

In 2011, Leroux invested in a specially designed drying and roasting machine developed in a research program recognized by the local Nutrition, Health and Longevity cluster. Partners in the project included the cluster itself, Florimond-Desprez Veuve & Fils, Lille 1 and Lille 2 universities, and the Lasalle-Beauvais Polytechnic Institute.

This cutting-edge machine allows researchers to study the impact of drying and roasting on plant characteristics that shape the final product: bitterness, growing practices, and plant varieties, notes R&D engineer Grégoire Volpoet.

“We’ve now mapped the chicory genome, and it will be the backbone for all of our future development,” says Olivier Hermand, CEO of Chicorée Leroux, adding, “This data will help us optimize plant breeding to improve crop yields, resistance to pests and disease, flavor and antioxidant properties. Now we can start putting this knowledge to work!”

Growth prospects

Leroux had sales of €36 million in 2012, with exports to some 50 countries accounting for 38% of the total. The company holds a virtual monopoly on chicory in France, with 95% market share. By mapping the plant’s genes and investing in a pilot project that will facilitate new-product scale-up, Leroux hopes to expand its market share around the world.

Source: Leroux

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