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Companies partner with Scottish academics to boost growth

To drive research and innovation in Scotland’s food and drink sector, Interface Food & Drink has awarded a total of £75,000 to fund three collaborative projects between Scottish food and drink companies and Scottish universities.

Mara Seaweed, Devro and Lightbody Group Ltd have been announced as the recipients of the inaugural Interface Food & Drink Innovation Competition. Each company will benefit from a £25,000 grant to support collaborative projects with leading academics in the food and drink industry, to achieve economic impact and stimulate innovation and the adoption of new technologies within the sector.

The successful entrants met criteria set by experts from Scotland’s food and drink businesses. As a result, entries were assessed on supply chain efficiencies; cost and manufacturing effectiveness; energy and sustainability, new technologies and establishing and developing new global market opportunities.

Edinburgh-based Mara Seaweed, a company which sells a range of seaweed products from native seasonal seaweeds of Scottish and Irish provenance, will use its grant on a research project determining the commercial and technical feasibility of farming and processing a sustainable supply of edible seaweed. It will work in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.

Devro, a global and leading supplier of collagen food casings based in North Lanarkshire, will use the funds to support the manufacture and application of mechanical and finite element modelling of collagen casing, with the support of Glasgow University. The project is one of the first in Scotland to apply complex mathematical models based on advanced research of biological tissues to develop innovative sausage casings in response to changing customer demands, and bridges the gap between collagen casing manufacture and soft tissue modelling.

Hamilton-based Lightbody Group Ltd, part of the Finsbury Food Group which is the UK’s number one supplier of premium cake, will use the grant to support the development of hyperspectral imaging for the assessment of the quality and longevity of baked food products – a technology that has not yet been used within the bakery or cake manufacturing industry, in association with Strathclyde University.

Scotland’s food and drink industry is a key sector for the economy, employing in excess of 360,000 people. Manufacturing contributes £3.9 billion to the sector GVA , with many Scottish brands now household names within the UK. Scottish food and drink exports hit a record high of £4.51 billion in 2010 , with fish and seafood exports alone growing by 12 per cent, climbing to £620 million.

Interface Food & Drink promotes partnerships between businesses and academics to drive innovation through knowledge exchange in a sector that generates more than £10 billion for the Scottish economy annually.

Helen Pratt, national co-ordinator for Interface Food & Drink commented: “Stimulating innovation and development through collaborative projects helps to ensure the continued growth of Scotland’s food and drink sector.

“With support from the Scottish Funding Council, the three competition winners will now embark on six to nine month collaborative projects with some of Scotland’s best academic institutions, accessing the expertise and experience of academics in the fields in which they aim to develop.”

Laurence Howells, Interim Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “This programme illustrates the value of SFC’s investment in the ground-breaking work Interface is doing with food and drink businesses and university research departments.

”Our investments are having a significant impact on Scotland’s food and drink industry and creating jobs and growth in the wider economy too. These new projects are very impressive and initiatives such as this help to ensure the national economy benefits from the world-leading expertise that exists within Scotland’s universities.”

The competition attracted a number of high quality entries from a wide range of companies looking to work with experts from across the universities. Some of these will work with Interface Food & Drink to look at alternative ways and funding of driving their projects.

Food and drink businesses interested in sourcing academic expertise can contact Helen Pratt: / 0131 651 4019.