'Positive vibe' for innovation centre

An industry-wide Fresh & Prepared Produce Innovation Centre funded by the Government's Agri-Tech Strategy (ATS) came a step closer after a meeting of representatives from across the sector at the end of last month.


Jointly organised by the Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) and the British Growers Association (BGA), it brought together around 60 representatives of growers, manufacturers, marketers and retailers.

"The industry is keen to be involved and there was a positive vibe," said Horticultural Development Company business development manager Steve Tones.

"The first task was to give them all a clear understanding of what the ATS is about and how it might facilitate innovation centres for the good of the sector. Then there were group discussions looking at questions such as how the centres should interface with existing bodies."

He continued: "The next step is to keep widening the net to other businesses, to try to be as engaging as possible. We want to keep the momentum up."

But he admitted: "We still don't know what these centres will look like. Only by summer will we have a good idea of the form they will take and who will participate. We don't want to add new bricks and mortar though. They will be embedded in existing institutions and will bring people together in a virtual sense. The challenge is to make them sustainable after the five years of pump-priming from the Government is at an end."

HIP chairman Mary Bosley said: "Our objective was to engage with the industry first rather than academia. The fact that there was undoubted enthusiasm from across the sector gives us a mandate to put forward a bid.

"It's still to be decided whether innovation centres have a thematic focus or are more sector-based, but we perceive huge potential to develop something around fresh and prepared produce. It's good that there isn't a predetermined model."

Guidance on formally submitting a bid for funding is expected from the Government in spring or early summer, she added.

Financing Innovation and catalyst fund

The Agri-Tech Strategy has allocated £90m for innovation centres and £70m as a "catalyst fund" for individual projects across the food and farming sector.

The Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) and British Growers Association have focussed on the former. HIP chairman Mary Bosley said: "The catalyst fund is for businesses to pick up on - either on their own or with other businesses or academics."

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