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Abertay launches specialist centre to support Scots food and drink business in world marketplace

Food and drink businesses in eastern Scotland can now get expert help developing new products and processes to help them compete in the world marketplace, thanks to a new initiative by the University of Abertay Dundee.

The University today launched food innovation @ abertay (FIA), a dedicated technology transfer unit aimed at supporting small and medium-sized companies.

Supported by £80,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, FIA will offer academic and business expertise to companies looking to develop new, healthier products and new markets as well as make use of new technologies and training.

Business leaders from the industry joined representatives of Abertay and Scottish Enterprise for the launch today, which took place at Dudhope Castle in Dundee.

Figures from Scottish Enterprise show that there are around 1,600 food and drink sector workplaces in Scotland, employing 53,200 people – about 17% of the total Scottish manufacturing workforce. The industry is closely linked to Scotland’s £2.47 billion tourism sector, but surveys have highlighted some structural and regional weaknesses.

More than two out of three Scottish food and drink companies employ fewer than 50 people, and in Tayside both employment and export sales have been on a downward trend in recent years.

Food industry expert Jennifer Bryson, who has joined Abertay to run FIA, commented: “The Scottish food industry is still very fragmented and lacks scale, making it harder than it need be to compete at European and world level.

“Yet we have some of the world’s finest food and drink products, and a strong track record of creativity and quality – all the ingredients for success, in fact. FIA aims to support the creation of a world-class Food and Drink Innovation Network, bridging the gap between industry and academia so as to help more SMEs in eastern Scotland taste international success.”

FIA will offer consultancy and applied research in food and drink, particularly in health and nutrition; adding value through innovation and brand development; and the exploitation of growth market opportunities particularly in foodservice.

It will advise companies on how to use university food technology expertise better, how to be more creative with new product development, how to add value and how to extend shelf-life so as to open up markets further afield. The main targets will be premium growth segments of the foodservice sector and value-added meal solutions within the retail sector.

Abertay is well-equipped to host FIA. The University’s School of Contemporary Sciences includes a Health and Food Sciences Division containing among others, food technologists, microbiologists and chemists. As well as running degree programmes in food science and food product design, the Division already carries out a lot of consultancy and research work for the food and drink industry.

Current research projects include the use of ultrasound for disinfecting water supplies to food and drink plants, working with major distillers on ways to prevent the counterfeiting of spirits, and new ways of using and controlling yeast in the food industry. Academic staff involved in this research will support FIA’s work, along with other experts in food and consumer law and marketing from Abertay’s Dundee Business School.

Professor Mike Swanston, Vice-Principal (Academic Development) at Abertay University, said: “FIA is a good example of how a university can do more than provide educational programmes. Knowledge transfer, as it’s now known, is a crucial activity. We need to make sure that the centres of expertise and knowledge set up to support education are available to the industries in which graduates will work.

“I’m delighted that we have key representatives of the Scottish Food Industry here this afternoon. I’m sure that today will be the platform for a successful future relationship between the university and the food industry. That type of relationship is a key requirement for modern universities and one that Abertay is fully committed to.”

Ian Findlay, a manager in the SE Tayside business growth team, presented an overview of the work done by SE’s food and drink team. He said: “The food and drink processing sector is a major contributor to the Tayside economy, employing more than 2,500 people directly across most of the industry sub-sectors, including meat, poultry, game, ready meals, bakery, vegetables, soft fruit and bottled water. Its importance to the local economy is significantly greater as most of the raw materials are also sourced within Tayside.

“We work with a number of companies within the sector, giving them a wide-range of support and advice to help them increase their productivity and potential, and we welcome this initiative.’’

Speakers at today’s launch included:

- Professor Mike Swanston, Vice-Principal (Academic Development), Abertay University;
- Sylvia Halkerston, HR Director, Macphie of Glenbervie;
- Ian Findlay, Company Development Manager, Scottish Enterprise Tayside;
- Jennifer Bryson, Business Development Director, food innovation @ abertay.

Kevin Coe | alfa
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