Sheffield food engineering centre develops vision

The new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering today formalised its vision and targets with guidance from industry leaders.

Around 100 Food and drink manufacturers, from family firm SME leaders to Nestlé’s UK CEO Fiona Kendrick, converged on the Sheffield Cutlers’ Hall today to establish a vision for a new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering and buy-in to its development as a hub for industry competitiveness.

The centre, which had funding of almost £7m confirmed in July this year, will support the training and development of students on Sheffield Hallam University’s new MEng in Food Engineering.

It will also, however, provide businesses in the food and drink supply chain, with facilities to support research and development with an emphasis on process engineering.

Mirroring developments in the pharmaceutical industry, the centre will encourage research projects to address pre-competitive industry processes where collaborative, industry-led research can have the widest possible benefit to the UK food and drink industry as a whole.

Priority areas will include; solutions to waste and energy efficiency, smarter packaging and the impact of integrated retail on production technologies and techniques.

These areas of potential for pre-competitive collaboration in the food and drink sector were recently identified in research from the Technology Strategy Board.

After using its £6.9M set-up funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and an additional £1m contributed by industry, the Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering will be run as a commercial enterprise by Sheffield University.

Today’s meeting however, demonstrated the University’s commitment to making itself as accessible as possible to industry and to ensuring it answers the real needs and concerns of food engineers and manufacturers.

Input from today’s presentations and debate will help to form the governance structure for the centre, which will include a number of focused working groups, and to prioritise it first research programmes.

Comment on the Centre’s potential to accelerate the food and drink sector towards its target of 20% growth by 2020, Melanie Leech, director general at the Food and Drink Federation said: “The new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University is a standout example of how manufacturers, government and academics can collaborate to bridge the food industry’s research gap. The shared vision and priorities that we have developed today will make this world-class facility a focal point for research and innovation excellence.”

Justine Fosh, CEO of the sector skills council Improve and of the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink agreed, saying: “The Centre of Excellence, along with the new dedicated food engineering degree, represents a solid bridge to an additional £1billion in Gross Value Added by food and drink businesses and a significant new conduit to attracting high level talent.”

Click here for an interview with Caroline Keohane, policy director at the Food and Drink Federation regarding the intentions of the new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering, including its strategies for coordination with other national centres.