Cracking the Innovation Nut

25th May 2016

The main themes of Interface Food & Drink over the course of its life have been innovation, collaboration and impact, and each of those themes played a role in selecting the winning applications for the Legacy Competition, and also when acting as a judge for the Success through Partnership category of the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence awards.

When the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) developed the idea that was to become Interface Food and Drink (IFD), they hoped to get academia more engaged with the industry, and they charged us with developing projects of sufficient scale that they would have economic impact. Neither our project winners, nor those of the SFD Excellence awards have been announced yet, so I won’t be giving the game away here, but suffice to say I am delighted with both the entries and the outcomes. There are entries representing genuine collaborations along the supply chain and not only interdisciplinary but inter-institutional partnerships.

Many of the entries, whether for the Legacy competition, the Excellence awards or indeed, simply the final round of IFD funding with Feasibility and Proof of Principle awards, have the potential to make a real impact, particularly environmentally as the drive to reduce waste or to turn it into something of value continues. While universities have collaborated with the industry for a long time to develop new products, we’ve seen the introduction of new processes which increase efficiencies, reduce costs and contribute to sustainability – all hugely important to the continued success of the industry in Scotland.

Innovation is always the toughest nut to crack – we bandy the word around a lot, and yet so often we hear from companies that they really don’t know what it means or that it’s up to someone else “to do”. Over the course of the last five years, we have seen companies innovate in all manner of ways. Sometimes it’s been about the way they have worked with competitors or supply chain partners, sometimes it’s been the introduction of new technologies or the application of older technologies in new ways. Sometimes it’s been high tech, more often than not, it’s low tech, but it’s always been interesting and it’s always demonstrated just how dynamic this industry is.

The IFD team are in the process of carrying out an impact survey and we’ll have a much better idea of the overall achievement when we’ve done that. In the meantime, with the benefit of hindsight there are, of course, things we would have done differently, but looking back at nearly 100 projects funded by SFC with more than £1.2m, I’m very proud of what’s been achieved.