New centre of excellence aims to address food industry skills shortages

In partnership with Sheffield Hallam University

Wednesday 04 November 2015 16:18 GMT
(Sheffield Hallam University )

The challenge of an ageing workforce in the food and drink industry means that by 2020 more than 100,000 individuals will need to be recruited, and almost a quarter of these will be at managerial and professional level.

Figures also show that 20 per cent of UK food and drink businesses report having skills gaps in their existing workforces, particularly in technical roles where science and engineering skills are required.

It is against this backdrop that Sheffield Hallam University's new National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) was set up with the support of more than 40 companies – including Mars, Nestlé UK, Warburtons and Premier Foods – and backed by funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The centre is set to move into new premises in 2017, and has begun a series of research and innovation projects to complement new courses in food engineering, which have been designed in partnership with industry.

Its first research projects are to help household names such as Nestlé UK and the makers of Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings to make their production processes more efficient.

NCEFE director Martin Howarth explains: "We are delighted to receive these first commissions from the food industry. They have the potential to achieve big savings, lower the carbon footprint of two major industry players and allow our students to tackle real scenarios.

"Together with our recent intake of students to undergraduate and postgraduate food engineering courses, these substantial research projects underline the commitment Sheffield Hallam has to food production and developing the skill-set for this multi-million pound industry."

The NCEFE is leading three Innovate UK projects, two with Nestlé UK and one with Dext Heat Recovery. The centre will receive more than £2.25m for them and they will begin immediately by recruiting research teams and state-of-the-art equipment.

Specifically, the first project will look at the carbon footprint of the 40-metre long ovens used by Nestlé UK to manufacture KitKats, to see how its waste heat recovery processes can be improved, with a bid to save the company up to 15 per cent on its energy bills.

Academic researchers and partners Spirax Sarco will try to develop a novel heat recovery solution to recover the energy used in the roasting process, increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs.

In a second project, engineers will work with Nestlé UK, First Milk and Foss to reduce raw milk supply chain wastage by three per cent across the UK supply chain.

The technology will deliver huge energy savings across the Nestlé UK group, and reduce process waste at its Dalston plant.

Ryan McNeill, Resource Efficiency Lead for Nestlé UK and Ireland said: "In meeting the greatest challenges facing our business today and in the future, the need to collaborate is clear. Through our projects with Innovate UK we are driving innovation, gaining new insight into our operations and adding value to our business partners, academia and society."

A third project will see the centre work with Dext Heat Recovery and Hull-based William Jackson Food Group, the makers of Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings.

Researchers have developed a successful product that recycles the wasted heat from industrial kitchens, enabling a reduction of up to 60 per cent in energy costs for food service sites.

All three projects will appoint a postgraduate doctoral student to work alongside Sheffield Hallam academics within the centre.

Angela Coleshill, of the Food and Drink Federation, partners in the NCEFE, said: “This is a major first achievement for the centre, and a fantastic example of collaborative research and development that will not only deliver impressive energy and cost savings for the companies involved, but also increase food supply chain efficiency and skills development, which will benefit the whole industry.

"We look forward to seeing this innovative research translate into real solutions to help improve the productivity and competitiveness of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in