A quiet food revolution is taking place in the North West, and much of it is being driven by the dedicated team behind the new £0.5 million Food Innovation Centre, based in the North West Regional College’s Business Support Centre (BSC).
The Connected programme is central to this drive, paving the way for innovation and growth in the food sector by building relationships between food businesses and the region’s colleges and universities.
The Connected project is funded by the Department for the Economy and has eased the way for businesses in Northern Ireland to engage with universities and colleges.
“Food innovation is a key driver for growth in this area,” explains Brian McDermott, food technical consultant within the BSC. “Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of companies to improve their businesses and develop new products, by delivering help in such areas as new product development, operational and process improvement and food safety.”
One of the key activities long undertaken by the food development team has been to go out, talk to the food industry, assess their needs and look at how the college might provide support.
As a result of this insight, and with Connected support, the Business Support Centre developed a business case for the creation of a bespoke Food Development Centre to support the industry. That proposal has now been shaped by bricks, mortar and a fair dollop of passion.
The centre comprises three core areas:
- Production facility: operating at a level well above that of a domestic kitchen, but below mass production standards, this seed-bed facility allows for rigorous product development to be undertaken in a commercial environment.
- Food Science Laboratory: a high-end food testing lab, testing for allergens, shelf life, nutritionals and general for its composition. This is the first independent food testing facility within the region.
- Professional photographic studio: great food deserves great imagery, and the Food Centre’s photographic studio will enable high quality photographs and video to be produced.
When the Food Development team was established some five years ago, one of its first initiatives was to go out, talk to the food industry, assess their needs and look at how the college could provide support. This resulted in a number of actions being put in place, including the creation of a Chef’s Forum and a Butcher’s Forum. These have been among the college’s most successful activities.
One of the problems facing butchers was that they were losing business to the national supermarket brands. They knew that they needed to move away from their role as traditional butchers, and offer a new type of service in which they could add value. In order to add value to butchery, they needed to have culinary experience. Through Connected, the food development team helped them to find the solution, with an innovative approach to new product development.
The food team organised three separate Connected workshops, in which 24 butchers were physically trained and upskilled in new, innovative cuts of meat and in ways to prepare them. And with their new-found culinary skills, the butchers were, and are, able to advise their customers on how best to cook the meat, as well as give them specially prepared recipe leaflets. Success.
Food Development Centre Manager
North West Regional College
Connected Business Development Manager