We set up Food Innovation @ Abertay in 2006 as a means of sharing the university’s knowl- edge and expertise directly with food and drink businesses. Our aim was to apply our academic skills and research to “live” industrial projects, to meet the needs and ambitions of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so that they would be able to develop their ideas and expand their businesses.
Our very first project involved developing a range of new jams and chutneys for a local farm shop, and now we do everything from developing exciting new products and carrying out consumer research, to in- creasing shelf-life and reformulating existing products. Although we remain a compact core team of three – me and two experienced food technologists – Food Innovation @ Abertay punches considerably above its weight as it has assisted over 150 companies in the past five years alone.
We add to our core team as and when needed – either from industry specialists or from our pool of academics who have expertise in areas such as sensory perception, the development of new ingredients and how to create new products using food industry by-products. This is something with which the root vegetable producer Nessgro asked for our assistance, for example, as they wanted to turn their vegetable surplus into a product that would add value to their business. We also help SMEs tap into new food trends – creating gluten-free and dairy-free versions of existing lines, or using novel ingredients such as pumpkin flour or dried seaweed combinations that tie in with consumer demand for healthier snacks or alternative seasoning options.
Because of recent Government legislation and industry pressure from governing bodies, many companies require assistance in reducing the salt, fat and sugar content of their existing products, as well as help with removing certain colourings which are less acceptable to the consumer nowadays. If you take certain ingredients out of a product then of course it affects the fl avour and consistency. So our food technologists work to develop a new version of the product – whether that’s sausages, shortbread, cheesecake or even tablet – and then use our group of 159 consumer panellists to see if they can detect a difference between the new version of the product and the old one.
Our expertise can be used in other ways as well. We were at the heart of developing the definitive Dundee Cake recipe with the city’s bakers, and this has now been submitted for Protected Geographical Indication status approval. Using a matrix of 30 recipes – which spanned the period from the 1800s to the present day – we were able to determine the common ingredients down the decades and create a historically accurate base recipe.
From this, we developed a range of recipes before selecting a final three and conducting taste trials in Dundee’s City Square with over 400 Dundonians, so that their preferences could be used to decide which of the recipes would go forward in the application. Food Innovation @ Abertay works with companies on the ideas they have and helps make these a reality for them.
We are pas- sionate about food and drink and about helping businesses reach their full potential. Provenance is another high priority for consumers these days, so we help with packaging and labelling, using our eye-tracking technology to make sure this information is placed in the most looked at location.
The company’s own designers can then create something that will truly stand out on supermarket shelves. We have been doing all of this, and more, successfully for over nine years now and we look forward to helping Scotland’s exciting food and drink industry prosper for many more years to come.
Jennifer Bryson is business development manager for Abertay University’s product development and consumer research centre Food Innovation @ Abertay.