The first Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation was launched at Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh this December.
The launch of the new Centre is enhancing Scotland’s position as a leader in food and drink innovation in Europe and supporting access to the global market for healthy and functional food.
Over 100 invited guests from Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink industry got a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the new facilities and heard from a range of food experts about the exciting work that is taking place both in the University and across the industry.
QMU’s on-campus SME, Advanced Microwave Technologies (AMT), provided a demonstration of its cutting-edge machinery. AMT is emerging as one of the world’s most innovative users of microwave expertise in its application to the food and drink sector.
Representatives from some of Scotland’s leading food and drink businesses that QMU has worked with also showcased their products.
According to Bank of Scotland’s latest food and drink industry economic report, “Arguably , most critical of all for long term growth is innovation and improvement to food produce and the development of innovative new food sources or ‘frontier foods’.” More than half the companies interviewed in Bank of Scotland’s third annual survey of Scotland’s food and drink sector expect their business to grow by 5 and 25 per cent over the next five years.
Many firms cite new product development and investment in existing products being the top two ways to achieve this growth. It is estimated that a growth in sales of premium health products could be worth an additional £1 billion to the Scottish economy by 2017.
Commenting on the launch of QMU’s new Centre, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment Richard Lochhead, said: “Scotland’s food and drink sectors are internationally recognised for their quality, many of the most famous products having a long history and unique sense of identity. The work of the centre is helping those companies evolve to meet new demand, develop new products and diversify into new markets, particularly lucrative export opportunities.
“Despite having a long history of collaboration with the food and drink industry, in the past three years alone, QMU’s innovation based engagements with SMEs in the sector have generated an estimated extra £5.7 million for the businesses it has worked with.”
QMU has established academic expertise in the translation and application of science to support commercially successful research and development within the industry, including research support for iQ Chocolate in Stirling, Gusto artisan dressings, marinades and oil and vinegars in Leith, Edinburgh; Black & Gold rapeseed oil in East Lothian; leaf tea experts, eteaket, in Edinburgh; Cuddybridge fruit juices in East Lothian, Belhaven Fruit Farm in East Lothian and The Chocolate Tree chocolatier in East Lothian.
Academic Lead for Food & Drink at QMU, Dr Jane McKenzie, said: “We’re really excited to have reached this significant milestone in the development of QMU’s Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation. Facilities like this are currently unavailable elsewhere in Scotland, so research work is often sent to England or Northern Ireland instead.
“The new facilities combined with QMU’s academic knowledge and expertise in food, nutrition and biological sciences is already offering companies in Scotland’s food and drink industry an unrivalled opportunity to innovate and develop new products which are underpinned by QMU’s scientific research.”
Through practical innovation support and creative business solutions, QMU is helping Scotland’s leading food and drink businesses with new and innovative product development and analysis; development of leading edge functional, health enhancing products and ingredients and formulation of existing products – for example healthier alternatives to fat, salt and sugar.
QMU’s team of food innovation experts are also identifying innovative sources of raw materials to produce novel ingredients and ensure sustainability; ingredients to improve product processing and preservation; nutritional analysis; shelf life testing; consumer focus groups and taste panels.
Scotland Food & Drink is the main industry leadership body aligned to the Scottish Government priority economic sector of food and drink. Speaking at the Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation launch, James Withers, CEO of Scotland Food & Drink, added: “The food and drink industry is one of the strongest performing sectors in Scotland’s economy. Our £14 billion industry rests on a growing reputation for producing quality products and an envied flair for innovation. However, we know there is always more to be done to ensure Scotland’s producers adapt to a fast-changing world and the Scotland Food & Drink partnership is working towards the launch of a new innovation action plan in 2015.
“Relationships between the industry and Scotland’s universities are critical. My ambition is that this new centre will provide producers with intelligence and support, to help them create exciting new products and in turn find new customers. With Scottish food and drink exports up 50% since 2007 and sales within the UK up by more than a third, we have real momentum. But competition is always fierce so innovation will be fundamental to staying ahead of the pack.”
The Centre’s facilities include a dedicated microbiology laboratory; fully-equipped sensory suite; dedicated chemistry laboratory and a technology room for industry to test new technology.