The Food Incubator helps food and drink start-ups navigate their way to market through its expertise in thermal processing, identifying appropriate and assured processes to improve safety and shelf life.
Having worked across the food and drink industry at a number of well-known names – including senior roles at the Fabulous Baking Boys, Everfresh Natural Foods, Shipton Mill and Celtic Bakers – Russell was well placed to share his experience with other businesses seeking help.
“When the opportunity came to run the food incubator, we realised very quickly we would have an incredible diversity of products that would come through us, so we weren’t going to be limited to one or two product types,” he explained.
“I just felt like doing something a bit different and bringing some of my knowledge to help other companies really understand what they could do. Also, the move to and desire for clean label products is such that thermal processing has a really unique offering in that respect – you can do a longer shelf life product, ambient or chilled, without using expensive freezers or preservatives, that’s fantastic.”
“In the short few months we’ve been around we have helped some surprising companies that thought they were not going to get something that we were able to deliver. The range of products and companies that we are talking to is challenging, but mentally stimulating.”
Russell went on to speak of the challenges that may face start-ups in the food and drink industry, before moving on to the major challenge surrounding the lack of understanding that consumers and some manufacturers have for thermal processes.
“I don’t think people understand that range of products that thermal processing applies to,” he added. “The consumer probably thinks that frozen and fresh is best and a lot of manufacturers have got thermal processing equipment and they run the process – without necessarily understanding what they are doing.”
Lack of understanding
While the system may work without any understanding of how it works – for example, if the operator who helped install the system leaves the business – problems arise when changes need to be made. Now, without the understanding of the system, simple tasks such as a small change in packaging design could lead to much bigger problems.
“We’ve been to companies where you ask a couple of questions and it’s quite clear that people don’t know what they’re doing,” Russell continued. “The problem you’ve got with many companies is that the increase in the number of food standards, combined with a reduction in the number of skilled auditors, means things are getting missed out.
Russell highlighted the growth in food safety scares, despite the introduction of more and more legislation surrounding food standards and safety. The culprit, as he told it, lied in the lack of understanding from both factory staff and auditors.