Scotland is renowned for its rich and diverse larder – and 2015 is shining a spotlight on the industry with the Year of Food and Drink. Innovation is crucial to the future success of the food and drink industry, not only to improve all aspects of the supply chain, but also to remain as competitive as possible on a global level. 

Interface Food & Drink (IFD) is a Scottish Funding Council initiative aimed at promoting and supporting innovation in the food and drink industry through engagement with Scottish universities. A team of five specialists work with industry and academia, understanding the challenges faced by companies and translating how technologies and expertise in Scottish universities can be applied to help solve these issues. IFD works very closely with the wider Interface team, who have successfully facilitated over 2,000 introductions between companies and academics over the past 10 years.  

IFD has been instrumental in creating and supporting a number of Common Interest Groups (CIGs) across Scotland. The aim of the CIGs is to bring together companies and other stakeholders, such as Scotland Food & Drink and the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, with a common purpose or issue, to work together to develop industry wide solutions. The benefits of a joint working approach can be seen in groups such as the Scottish Craft Distillers Association and Scottish Rapeseed Oil group which have both carried out a number of academic projects, and are now branding themselves as a group to increase commercial opportunities.

The group set-up allows IFD to deliver innovative projects that deliver a real impact.  They provide a forum for SMEs, who individually often don’t have a research and innovation budget; this approach enables them to pool resources to take advantage of university expertise to deliver projects that can have real benefits to the industry. 

Of equal importance to IFD and its funder, the Scottish Funding Council, CIGs encourage academics to work with the food and drink industry. In fact, funding is geared towards this type of collaborative working to support feasibility studies and proof of principle projects.

Mark Bush, owner of rapeseed oil producer Summer Harvest, said: “The Common Interest Group allows us, as producers, to work together, sharing knowledge and experiences which will allow us to create a centre of expertise to push the rapeseed oil sector in Scotland forward. By setting up the group we anticipate additional opportunities will develop and we believe that by being a part of a group the members will be in the best place to take advantage of these.” 

Many companies are unaware of the access they may have to university assets. Hiring specialist pieces of equipment is a cost effective solution which has already supported numerous food and drink companies, from validating health claims of products to developing new and efficient processing techniques. This has enabled faster release of products to market, increases in profits and waste reduction. The equipment that facilitates these activities range from food processing, high tech kitchens, and food analysis, to specialist facilities, such as microbiology, sensory science, human nutrition and chemistry. Interface is well placed to assist companies locate these types of solutions.

The universities are also enormously experienced in the commercialisation of research and technology. Companies can adopt and commercialise university developed technologies to help fast track innovation, reduce research and development time and cost, enable faster lead time to market and enhance product lines. University Technology, provides a single location to enable companies and investors from business and industry to find these new technologies and exciting technology transfer opportunities. 

New advances in research are happening every day and companies have the ability to access not only the end products but the instruments which are used to create them. Interface Food & Drink can help with that journey of discovery.

By Helen Pratt, Project Manager, Interface Food & Drink

This article first appeared in The Times Business Insight on 9 June 2015.