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Why innovation is key to sustainable future growth


Melanie Leech

Director General of the Food & Drink Federation

Food and drink manufacturing is a great British success story. It is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, employing around 400,000 people.

New ideas and new approaches embraced by our industry have been transforming consumers’ lives for decades. We bring thousands of new products to market every year, increasing the availability of safe and nutritious food with plenty of choice to suit individual tastes and diets.

But as part of a global food production system we face fundamental challenges of world population growth, increased pressure on natural resources and the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. And we need to reformulate and create new products in response to our customers’ requirements on diet and health.

Meeting the challenges head on

Meeting these challenges will require concerted action and a transformation in the way we currently do business. That is why FDF has worked with others  to identify the top ten priorities for pre-competitive research – spanning food safety and authenticity, health and wellbeing, packaging and ingredients, as well as resource-efficient manufacturing of the future.

We are now refining these broad priorities and looking to build support for specific projects which will enhance the productivity of the sector as a whole or allow us to unlock new solutions to changing recipes. The UK food industry is one of the most competitive in the world, and that competition will continue to drive improvement across the chain. FDF is focusing its work on the shared challenges – ones which the sector can and must tackle together at the pre-competitive stage.

A standout example of how industry, government and academia can collaborate is the new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. The ambition for the Centre is to provide world-class engineering facilities, acting as a hub for engineering and related innovation and skills solutions in order to improve productivity and competitiveness in the sector. It will complement the work of other centres of excellence across the country and this network must equip us with the right collaborative framework to meet the priority innovation needs we are identifying.

The challenges facing the sector are immense – and we cannot afford not to meet them. Working together at the pre-competitive stage can deliver tangible down-stream commercial benefits in addition to maximising our ability to find solutions to the key strategic challenges facing the UK and global food systems. Innovation makes our sector an exciting place to work for future generations, and it will be key to the delivery of £4bn growth in our sector by 2020.

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