Delivering sustainable growth through Innovation

20 December 2013

The FDF sets out its vision for an innovative, resilient, resource-efficient and safe food and drink manufacturing supply chain that delivers affordable, nutritious and safe food for 21st century populations. The vision includes ten long term priority areas for innovation.


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The Innovation Gap

The UK food industry – in common with the global food production system – faces fundamental challenges that require urgent attention including:

  • Reducing our environmental impact
  • Meeting growing global demand for food
  • Producing more from less as pressure increases on resources
  • Mitigating the potential impacts of climate change
  • Reformulating and creating new products to meet diet and health requirements
  • Delivering our vision of 20% growth in the sector by 2020

Meeting these challenges will require a transformation in the way we currently do business at all levels – from the ingredients we use and the products we make to how we package them and transport them to our customers.

UK food and drink manufacturers currently bring over 8000 new products to the market every year, investing £1bn a year in innovation. This increases the availability of high quality, safe and nutritious food at affordable prices, with plenty of choice to suit individual tastes and diet. We need to harness that record of innovative success to unlock transformative technological innovation in a way that literally revolutionises our sector to address the challenges outlined.

This can only be done with long-term commitment, a clear sense of shared priorities, sufficient funding, a strong relationship between researchers and industry and a structure which the research community and industry can navigate their way through without undue difficulty. This is a particular challenge for an industry where over 80% of the 6000 companies are medium to micro sized.

There is currently a gap between basic and applied research and no clear articulation of the strategic innovation priorities necessary to meet the environmental, social and economic challenges we face.

The Government's Agri-Tech Strategy is a move in the right direction. We now need to build on this to create an innovation vision and shared priorities for the manufacturing sector and the whole supply chain.

In this way we can start the process of unlocking the full potential of what science can contribute to delivering sustainable growth to the largest manufacturing sector in the UK; and healthier, more secure and sustainable food and drink, which is affordable and accessible to all.

A Shared Vision for Innovation

Our vision is for an innovative, resilient and resource-efficient food and drink manufacturing supply chain that delivers affordable, nutritious and safe food for 21st century populations. In order to deliver this we need industry, government and research communities to agree a shared agenda for sustainable growth through innovation from one end of the food supply chain to the other. We have therefore developed our original vision, launched in 2012 with the National Technology Platform for food (NTP), to focus on a number of priority areas.

Innovation Priorities

Working with our partners in the Food Sector Group of the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and the National Technology Platform for Food (NTP), we have looked at the fundamental challenges we face and identified ten long-term priority areas for innovation.

To view these innovation priorities in more detail, please view: A pre- Competitive vision for the UK's Food and Drink Industries - pdf | 1.88Mb

We have also identified the need to:

  • Improve knowledge transfer
  • Ensure we have the technical skills required to compete globally and attract inward investment
  • Create a multi-disciplinary, strategically focussed approach to deliver integrated solutions

Case study

The Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University

The new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University is a standout example of how industry, government and academia can collaborate to bridge the research gap. The £6.9m investment by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the Centre coupled with industry support and leadership will help to create world-leading capability and deliver innovation and skills solutions for UK food and drink manufacturing. This focal point for research and innovation excellence will play a leading role in meeting the considerable challenges identified in our shared vision.

Innovation funding

A map to innovation funding for food and drink manufacturers

Food and drink manufacturing is a key sector for the UK economy and consumers benefit from safe, nutritious and varied food at affordable prices. Pre-competitive research and co-ordination of efforts between different companies, research agencies and institutions is essential to deliver innovative solutions.

To help food companies navigate the often complicated and confusing innovation funding environment, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) has created the Agri-Food Landscape Tool.

The Agri-Food Landscape Tool is intended as a user- friendly interface that presents a de-cluttered view of various opportunities to access support and funding to drive innovation in Agri-Food. It complements the assistance that the KTN Food Sector can offer to companies by providing an easy to use, up to date, web-based resource that can be accessed at any time.

Delivering the Vision

The right policy and collaboration framework to encourage innovation is critical to our sector and to UK plc.

Our sector is thriving and vital and has a proud track record, but the competition from elsewhere is becoming ever stronger and unless we provide the right incentives, and make it easier for business to engage with the UK research base, we will not keep pace.

We need:

  • Funding models and delivery mechanisms aligned to business needs
  • Better communication and coordination of the many different initiatives which already exist, ideally through a single contact point
  • Support for R&D investment at least equivalent to our European competitors
  • An evidence-based regulatory approach which does not act as barrier to new technologies

The call to action

We have taken the first steps in creating a better future through our 10 priority areas for innovation.We now need to build on this working with our partners with an interest in promoting innovation in food and drink. FDF is in arguably a unique position, as the voice of the sector and a trusted partner to government and other key stakeholders, to articulate the needs and priorities of the sector and we will use this position to help develop and champion a clear view of where and how limited funds should be spent to tackle the highest priority challenges.

We have already begun our conversations across disciplines and across institutions. Our initial discussions confirm that in the future we must find new ways to produce old favourites, innovate to create new ones and get closer to our customers in order to:

  • Make our supply chains work better for suppliers, customers and the environment
  • Make better use of simulation and modelling to de-risk investment in new facilities
  • Keep our machines running for longer and in better condition for example with self-cleaning technology
  • Make sure that our processing capability is matched effectively to our raw materials
  • Improve the quality of our products through technology, for example better use of sensors in manufacturing
  • Create packaging that works across the whole chain – improving efficiency and reducing waste
  • Redesign our packs to help consumers waste less and to increase product enjoyment

The rewards

The challenges facing the sector are immense - and we cannot afford not to meet them.

We know that working together at the pre-competitive stage can deliver tangible down-stream commercial benefits and maximising our ability to find solutions to the key strategic challenge facing the global food system – how to feed a growing population whilst reducing our environmental impact - is an essential factor both in the UK's food security in the long term and to the delivery of £4bn growth in our sector by 2020.

More information

Contact: Serena Broadway, The Knowledge Transfer Network
07826 505756