November 8, 2018, by Lexi Earl
The Food Innovation Centre at UoN
The Food Innovation Centre at the University of Nottingham is a unique space that works directly with food and drink businesses to tackle various challenges. Since beginning in April 2016 they have helped over 130 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) succeed in innovation challenges or create inventive new products. The small team, headed by Richard Worrall, is a key connection between academic research in the university, and small and medium-sized food and drink companies in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
The Food Innovation Centre, based within the Division of Food Sciences, is currently funded by the European Union, through the European Regional Development Fund. Support for SMEs has ranged from advice on how to develop new products, scale up production, use new ingredients, improve nutritional profiles of products, and make processes more efficient. Using research findings and knowledge regarding consumer trends and demands, the Food Innovation Centre has helped companies pioneer new products. Because the Centre is situated at the University of Nottingham it is able to provide academic expertise, including access to scientists, technicians, and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
Richard Worrall, head of the Centre has said, “The Food Innovation Centre is fast becoming the place for food and drink firms in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to go to, if they are seeking skilled expertise for their innovation challenges. We are giving SMEs access to the University’s superb facilities and knowledge, previously only available to larger businesses”.
The Food Innovation Centre has helped a diverse range of SMEs. For example, Johnny Pusztai, butcher at JT Beedham and Sons in Nottingham, commented “the business will be able to promote itself as a healthier meat producer based upon the latest University research and student input”, after the Centre helped him in developing healthier sausages. Likewise, James Pogson of Northern Tea Merchants Limited, was thrilled that the Centre was able to capture the sensory descriptors of various teas in their range, saying “I love the way that you have taken something which was always taught to me as an ‘art’, and given it such appropriate, measurable and sensible criteria”.
Sometimes this work has resulted in opportunities for undergraduate and masters’ students too. The Cake Decorating Company (the UK’s largest supplier of cake decorating supplies) got in touch because they were trying to develop a sugar-free sugarpaste (for traditional decorating of cakes). Given the focus on sugar reduction at the time, this was a timely and hugely relevant project with many potential transferable skills and it became one of the Food Science students’ projects. More recently, a cider producer in Derbyshire had an apple pomace waste and this was given to the students to create value from a food product derived from the waste stream. The student group went on to win a UK national food industry competition – Ecotrophelia – with their Pom Puff snacks and competed in the European finals in October of this year.
The Food Innovation Centre is a leading centre for SME engagement in the UK and a huge asset to the Food Science community at the University of Nottingham, bridging the gap between industry and researchers for smaller companies.