Scotland is renowned for its rich and diverse larder – and 2015 is shining a spotlight on the industry with the Year of Food and Drink. Innovation is crucial to the future success of the food and drink industry, not only to improve all aspects of the supply chain but also for it to remain as competitive as possible on a global level.
Interface has team members, from the Borders to the Highlands and Islands, ready to connect businesses to Scotland’s world-leading academic expertise – improving products and developing services and thus increasing productivity and profits.
Reflecting the sector’s unique qualities, Interface Food and Drink (IFD) was established in 2011 to promote and support innovation in the food and drink industry through engagement with Scottish universities. A team of five specialists works with industry and academia, understanding the challenges faced by companies and translating how technologies and expertise in Scottish universities can be applied to help solve these issues.
IFD works closely with the wider Interface team, which has been successful in facilitating over 2,000 introductions between companies and academics during the past ten years.
IFD has also been instrumental in creating and supporting several common interest groups (CIGs) across Scotland. The aim is to bring together companies and other stakeholders with a common purpose, such as Scotland Food and Drink and the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, to work together to develop industry-wide solutions.
“The benefits of a joint working approach can be seen in groups such as the Scottish Craft Distillers Association and Scottish Cold- Pressed Rapeseed Oil Group,” says Helen Pratt, project leader for IFD. “These started out by undertaking a number of academic projects, but have now increased their scope and are branding themselves as groups to increase commercial opportunities, and to turn up the volume on the issues important to them.”
The group’s setup allows IFD to deliver innovative projects that deliver a real impact. It provides a forum for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which individually often do not have a research budget. This approach enables them to pool resources and take advantage of university expertise to deliver projects that can bring industry-wide benefits.
It can also be a useful step for companies which may have approached Interface on an individual basis but now feel ready to undertake further, possibly more complex, projects which they might not manage on their own.
Of equal importance to IFD and its funder, the Scottish Funding Council, CIGs encourage academics to work with the food and drink industry. Funding is geared towards this type of collaborative working to support feasibility studies and proof of principle projects.
“By working as a group,” says Mark Bush, owner of Scottish rapeseed oil producer Summer Harvest, “we have created opportunities which we believe will benefit us as individuals as well as the Scottish food and drink industry.”
Few companies are aware of the access they may have to university assets. Hiring specialist equipment is a cost-effective solution which has already supported numerous food and drink companies, from validating health claims of products to the development of new processing techniques. This has enabled faster release of products to market, increased profits and waste reduction.
From food processing and analysis, and hi-tech kitchens, to facilities specialising in microbiology and chemistry, Interface is well placed to assist companies locate these solutions.
Companies can also adopt and commercialise university-developed technologies to help fast-track innovation and to reduce research and development time and cost. University Technology (www.university-technology.com) provides a single location to enable companies and investors from business and industry to find these new technologies.
Advances in research are happening every day and companies have the ability to access not only the end products but also the instruments used to create them. Interface Food and Drink can help with that journey of discovery.