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Graduates From Britain’s Top Research Universities Could Help Food Industry Become Best In The World

FLI Food Economy

The next food revolution is under way. UK consumers spent £196bn on food, drink and catering in 2012. The sector contributed over £103bn to the economy, £19bn in exports, and 3.7 million jobs in close to 200,000 firms. It encompasses seemingly disparate businesses such as farms and fisheries, high-tech manufacturers, mass-market retailers and industrial caterers. It is intimately bound up in competition for the use of land and water, in the management of climate change, and in the nation’s health and well-being. Improved innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship and talent for the food sector are fundamental to the UK’s economic success, not only today but in the very different future of what we call: Food 4.0.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a group of industry leaders and academics in the UK are joined in a cross-sector task force recommending greater cooperation between universities and agri-food companies to accelerate Britain to the top of the global food economy.

A report, Leading Food 4.0, developed by the National Centre for Universities and Business, highlights that the food economy is one of the UK’s greatest success stories but its vast potential remains unfulfilled.

The findings show that the entire value chain, from lab to landfill, is full of stories of successful innovation locked away within firms and universities across the sector and more must be done to join up the fragmented parts.

The industry lacks a coordinating voice with which to speak to the raft of influential voices in the debate. Chief amongst these challenges is ensuring that universities and businesses have fully integrated and collaborative research programmes. The UK’s academic institutions are some of the most advanced in the world but their research needs to have stronger links to business for it to be deployed at production stage. The report recommends the role of the Agri-tech Leadership Council should be expanded to include the entire value chain.

Expanding the Agri-tech Leadership Council’s focus will help the UK’s universities to develop long-term, strategic relationships with the private sector and provide a clearer understanding of how their research can deliver real and tangible results. Currently universities and businesses often act independently of one another and, as a mechanism to improve this, the report suggests that the whole value chain needs more translators able to work across industry, universities and research institutes.

Using technology in an effective and appropriate way is pivotal to helping the world confront many of the economic, ecological and cultural challenges that it faces. Changing climate and increasing population mean that we are putting even greater demand on limited resources. Greater collaboration is required between universities, agri-businesses and government to address the challenges of sustainable land use at the landscape level.

If the food economy is to be prioritised as a driver for long-term economic growth then we need to ensure that we have the right flow of highly skilled workers. Universities and businesses should work closely together to excite students about the broad range of careers available and to foster greater talent, and education programmes.

Co-Chair of the task force and former CEO of J Sainsbury’s, Justin King:

“Today’s savvy shopper is more concerned than ever about provenance, nutrition, and ethics in the supply chain. The challenge is to improve quality, safety, affordability and choice whilst supporting economic social and environmental sustainability.”

Co-Chair of the Task Force and Vice Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Quintin McKellar:

“The UK’s universities are home to some of the most advanced research programmes in the world. The challenge we face is to harness this wealth of expertise to enable businesses to create solutions that will have a tangible impact on product improvement. We must ensure the innovation being delivered by academics is integrated into every level of the supply chain to maintain our leading-edge status”.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon. Elizabeth Truss MP:

“Our food and drink is one of the UK’s greatest success stories – it’s the powerhouse of the British economy, generating more than £100bn a year. The UK hosts some of the world’s greatest food and drink entrepreneurs, people with the ambition to grow and develop the sector even further.

Technology, skills, international investment and a global outlook are some of the ingredients that turned this industry into a world beater. By working together with businesses, universities and trade associations I am convinced this will happen.”

Chief Executive of NCUB, David Docherty:

“The relationship between universities and businesses is crucial to ensuring that the UK remains a leading force in innovation and productivity. NCUB’s role as a bridging organisation between these two sectors means we are uniquely placed to help act as a catalyst to advance the food economy. We have learnt many lessons from other sectors and believe that through working in partnership with business, universities and government we can unlock the potential of the whole value chain.”

Source: National Centre for Universities and Business

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