A new Campden BRI consultation has identified the challenges that the food industry will need to tackle using science and technology. "Scientific and Technical Needs of the Food and Drink Supply Chain" was compiled following the extensive consultation of Campden BRI’s industrial members.
It is the largest and most comprehensive consultation of industry's needs and covered the entire food supply chain. It involved over 600 face-to-face contributions as well as a survey of Campden BRI’s 2,400 members in 75 countries, and many written submissions.
New challenges to be tackled by science and technology
Campden BRI has carried out the consultation every three years since 1996. A number of new needs were identified during this consultation, including:
• Sustaining product quality in the face of rising costs of operations and materials
• Soil health – stronger recognition of soil as a resource and methods for its protection
• Human microbiota – understanding and harnessing the role of gut microbes in diet-related health conditions
• Anti-microbial resistance – addressing its significance for the food and drink sector
• Cyber-security – managing the benefits and risks of the "connected world" (e.g. Internet of Things, "Big Data" and AI [artificial intelligence])
Steven Walker, Director General of Campden BRI said: “We are delighted that so many companies took the opportunity to share their thoughts with us. The findings will help us enormously – as the leading industry intermediary and provider of science and technology - in shaping our business plans to provide the industry with what it needs, through our support activities and pre-competitive research. It will also help us to forge collaborations – in the UK and internationally - with other providers, government and funding bodies to bring together the best in science and technology to address the challenges. Addressing these needs will help the industry to innovate, improve and comply, in pursuit of growth and commercial sustainability.”
Benchmarking and horizon scanning tool
The science and technology needs identified in the report are used in many ways. Companies use it as a benchmarking tool to sense-check the issues they are addressing through their own strategies. Many also use it to help with horizon scanning and to keep up-to-date with emerging challenges. It gives funding bodies, universities and research institute insight into the range of challenges facing the sector – and through this targets for their resources. Previous versions have also been used by universities to give their students – the food industry of tomorrow – insights into the types of challenges they will face when they take up technical roles in the sector. Campden BRI uses the information to shape its research and services to ensure they are aligned with the needs of its members.
Long-standing challenges for industry
Some of the needs raised are long-standing but continue to feature in the consultation. These include assuring product safety, encouraging consumer wellbeing through healthy diets, protecting consumers from food fraud, tackling industry’s skills shortage, and encouraging sustainable practices and reduced use of resources.
While Brexit does not represent a scientific need, it did feature in many of the discussions with UK and EU food and drink companies – in particular, regulatory change and uncertainty, potential changes to labour and impact on costs of raw ingredients, raw materials, packaging and distribution – where the consequences of Brexit will require scientific and technical solutions.