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Government invests to help food manufacturers innovate

By Rick Pendrous , 28-Sep-2012

A new scheme offering vouchers worth £5,000 each to help start-up companies in the agrifood sector to innovate has been launched.

The scheme, run by the UK government-funded Technology Strategy Board (TSB), is designed to help small companies explore the possibility of bringing new knowledge into their businesses, to help with developing innovative products, processes and services.

It will enable firms to tap into the expert knowledge available within academia, research organisations and technical consultancies.

To qualify for the scheme, firms need to be small, UK-based and it has to be the first time they have worked with the selected knowledge provider. The idea they want help with should present a challenge for the business and require specialist help.

The scheme opened last Monday (September 24) and the deadline for applications for the first 400 vouchers is October 24. Successful applications will be allocated by means of a draw of eligible submissions. In later rounds, some 100 vouchers will be made available on three-monthly intervals.

For details, visit www.innovateuk.org/Competitions or email David Russell at the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network at david.russell@biosciencesktn.com

£7M of government funding

In a separate move, the TSB has just announced that 70 UK companies, universities and research organisations are to share over £7M of government funding to undertake research that could lead to innovative approaches to sustainable process manufacture – including within the food and drink sector.

TSB chief executive Iain Gray said: “Innovation in sustainability is vital for the continued success and growth of the UK process industry and this research and development will lead to innovations in manufacturing that will improve economic performance, benefit the environment and have a positive social impact.”

The 17 collaborative research and development projects include one led by C-Tech Innovation on an innovative, low-energy baking system. It is based on a two-step process consisting of an accelerated conventional baking stage followed by a novel post-baking cooling step. This reduction in baking time could reduce the overall energy consumption of the sector by 20%, according to the project partners.

A new postgraduate food programme set up at the School of Chemical Engineering in Birmingham has this month accepted its first group of researchers.

It forms part of the Food Advanced Training Partnership (Food ATP), a scheme set up to ensure the agrifood sector has the key skills needed to meet the challenges posed by national and global food security.

The partnership brings together leading UK institutions in food and agricultural research with the food industry.

Birmingham’s food team is developing the Food ATP programmes in conjunction with the University of Reading, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), to develop highly skilled food industry leaders of tomorrow.

The Food ATP will allow industry professionals to integrate learning from across the food chain from primary production to consumers. More than 20 industry partners are involved, including Kraft Foods, Waitrose, British Sugar and Sainsbury.

Cutting edge research

Professor Peter Fryer, head of the School of Chemical Engineering, said: “The unique Food ATP partnership will enable us to strengthen ties with the agrifood sector and develop cutting edge research to ensure scientists and researchers have the right skills to meet the challenges posed by food security, and are equipped to drive forward innovation and strengthen the competitiveness of the UK food industry.”

The Food ATP is one of four ATPs funded by the BBSRC until 2017. Another is the AgriFood ATP, jointly run by the University of Nottingham, Cranfield University, Harper Adams University College and Rothamsted Research.

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