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How Food Innovation Wales is helping the food and drink sector grow

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

David Lloyd and Martin Jardine pose with Lesley Griffiths, minister for rural affairs and North Wales and Trefnydd. Credit: Food Innovation Wales
David Lloyd and Martin Jardine pose with Lesley Griffiths, minister for rural affairs and North Wales and Trefnydd. Credit: Food Innovation Wales

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Food Manufacture learns more about Food Innovation Wales (FIW) and Project HELIX, with a focus on the role that these initiatives play in supporting the food and drink sector.

At the trade show TasteWales / BlasCymru, held in Newport late last year, Food Manufacture sat down with David Lloyd and Martin Jardine of FIW.

Made up of three food centres situated throughout Wales, FIW is a pan-Wales service that provides food and drink businesses support with new product development (NPD), technical issues, waste management, food safety, certification and legislation interpretation.

The partnership consists of ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University, where Lloyd is a professor, Food Technology Centre in North Wales, which is part of further education provider Grŵp Llandrillo Menai where Jardine serves as director of agri food, and Food Centre Wales in mid-West Wales, which is part of Ceredigion County Council.

With a higher education, further education and county council partner in three distinct areas of the country, this allows FIW to provide the broadest level of support possible and it regularly takes advantage of the different areas of expertise held at each centre.

The three food centres allow us to draw from this large resource of expertise that spans the whole of Wales​,” Jardine told Food Manufacture.

Most of the teams have been in industry rather than being purely academics, which means they have experience as technical managers or NPD managers at a senior level within the food and drink industry.”

While FIW employees may have some teaching responsibilities at the institution they are associated with, their primary role is focused on supporting industry, which Jardine believes makes a real difference.

“The flexible work patterns employed by FIW mean that staff are able to support food companies based on production cycles where required,” ​he added.

FIW provides funded technical and commercial support to the Welsh food and drink industry through Project HELIX, a strategic initiative operated in partnership with the Welsh Government since 2016. Recently extended until March 2025, Lloyd said it is best described as a “knowledge transfer programme​” that now involves more than 700 food and drink businesses in Wales.

Project HELIX has historically been focused on SME businesses, and as Lloyd explained;

Across the whole of the UK, smaller businesses are likely to lack some of the expertise required to scale up and this is where our support can be so valuable.”

Offering further context, Jardine said that Project HELIX takes a three-pronged approach with industry at the centre, academia providing expertise and Government offering financial and infrastructure support, to help meet the Government’s strategic goals.

Jardine continued: “We can lever that knowledge into the businesses and help them grow. We want to support smaller businesses to develop to become the mid-sized businesses of tomorrow and create jobs and boost the food economy in Wales. Academia can then learn from industry and share that information with Government so that they can develop the next intervention and support mechanism for the sector. We can be the barometer of what is happening in industry and share that with the relevant stakeholders.”

The progress made to date is certainly impressive, with FIW having had £372m worth of impact on the Welsh food and drink sector. This equates to the creation of 709 new jobs and the safeguarding of a further 4,225 roles.

As was on full display at TasteWales / BlasCymru​, the initiative has also enabled vast amounts of NPD to take place, with 2,163 new food or drink products now on the market as a result of FIW support.

The goals of the Welsh Government and industry are the same; both want to achieve sustainable growth​,” Lloyd said.

With our work we can support businesses in growing their customer base or making their operations more efficient, and in turn help the Government meet growth or waste reduction targets.”

While commonly used, innovation is a rather tricky word to define. For FIW, it simply relates to introducing something new, whether that be a system, new product or a way of working.

Lloyd elaborated: “We have the capability to look at applied innovation, meaning we can take a process and alter it without impacting food safety but while removing waste. Academia can also take the data gleaned from the work conducted to write papers and inform their studies.”

With Project HELIX set to run until at least March 2025, FIW hopes to make a further impact on the Welsh food and drink industry as the year progresses. With more than 700 businesses already involved, it will be fascinating to follow its progress.

In other news, VFC Foods Ltd is seeking further acquisitions after rebranding as the Vegan Food Group.

Related topics People & Skills NPD

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