NI experts helping smaller food companies in NW grow faster

Dozens of artisan and smaller food and drink companies in the North West and beyond are benefiting from the commitment of one of our leading further education colleges to the growth of this hugely important and increasingly successful sector in markets beyond Northern Ireland.

Friday, 17th December 2021, 11:16 am
Emily McCorkell of Lo&Slo Sauces in Londonderry has benefited from the expert support from Foodovation at the North West Regional College

Dozens of artisan and smaller food and drink companies in the North West and beyond are benefiting from the commitment of one of our leading further education colleges to the growth of this hugely important and increasingly successful sector in markets beyond Northern Ireland.

The Foodovation Centre at the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Londonderry is now recognised as a hub of excellence for food development and technology. It’s an organisation with a lengthy track record of making positive things happen for ambitious enterprises.

Among successful ‘graduates’ of the centre, which is managed by Stella Graham, a successful professional in new product development with over 10 years’ experience in local food manufacturers, are Derry artisans Lo&Slo Sauces, Carol’s Stock Market, Monto Chocolates, and So Good Juice, as well as Causeway Cookie Company, Portrush, Whoosh, Coleraine, and Ballyclare’s Antrim Hills Spring Water.

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Emily McCorkell, owner of Lo&Slo Sauces, a specialist in barbecue products which the centre team helped her to perfect, is full of praise. ‘’I absolutely love Foodovation,” she says. “Their ethos and support are and will continue to be far reaching. They’ve been instrumental to the launch of my business and the help and support I’ve received has been second to none,” adds Emily, originally from Philadelphia who has exciting future plans for her small enterprise.

Director of Antrim Hills Spring Water, a producer of artesian well waters, Peter Geary shares Emily’s enthusiasm. “The work provided by the centre helped us greatly to develop recipes which we would be struggling to achieve otherwise,” he says. “The centre has also given us advice on how to process the products for better shelf-life and given us assistance with labelling information. The project provided good value for money”

Foodovation also helped Cookie Dough in Portrush develop novel gluten free cookies, a service strongly recommended by Sam Swart, the company’s owner. “I cannot recommend the InnovateUs programme and NWRC Foodovation Centre highly enough,” she says. “The support and invaluable expertise I received from the centre’s Karen Marren is immeasurable. The project was to develop my existing gluten free cookie recipe into a fully plant-based gluten free cookie. The seemingly daunting task flowed smoothly and resulted in not one but three viable end products,” adds Sam.

And Monto Mansour, owner of Monto Chocolates, adds: “Foodovation has been an invaluable help, offering hands-on support with a great depth of knowledge at every stage of my product development.”

Based on NWRC’s Strand Road campus, Foodovation is part of the wider Business Support Centre which has specialists in creative and digital media, engineering, product design, electronic engineering, virtual and augmented reality, IT, business training and skills for collaborative initiatives.

Foodovation opened in November 2016 following a £500,000 NWRC investment on back of the good work there on food over many years. It works closely with Department for the Economy funded programmes and Invest NI’s Innovation Vouchers and local councils. It is also engaged with key industry bodies such as Food NI.

Underpinning the launch of the centre was a recognition that entrepreneurs, smaller businesses and chefs would benefit from greater support in the city.

“A scoping exercise was completed in the local area with 60 small established food producers and as a result NWRC realised that these businesses needed technical support and advice to grow,” Stella Graham explains. “The research also identified there was a strong need for a state-of-the-art facility to allow them to innovate and develop new products they could bring to the market,” she adds.

“We now have a team of food development chefs and technologists who support clients with new product development. We offer support with recipe development, recipe engineering, new product development, process improvement, food safety and shelf life, packaging, product labelling and nutrition claims,” adds Stella.

The centre features advanced production equipment and now has clients in all sectors of the food industry. Sheila’s team includes experienced consultants Karen Marren and Rita O’Hara who work on a one-to-one basis with companies with agreed projects.

Stella continues: “Our state-of-the-art facility is fully equipped with everything an entrepreneur or business needs to upscale production. We have a kitchen studio and development kitchen at the centre for our clients to use, and we support clients with technical knowledge and skills transfer so that they can develop their current and future products.

“We like to think of the centre, which is easily accessible, as a one stop shop for food and drink product development. Our main aim is to transform ideas into market ready products. The demand for support from the centre has grown significantly and there is now a diverse team in place to support businesses as they pursue growth in the ever-changing market.”

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