Innovation focus to help NI food firms overcome market turbulence and grow

The Ulster Business School is helping companies to survive and prosper in today’s turbulent trading conditions

By Sam Butler
Monday, 4th July 2022, 12:00 pm
Ulster University offers a range of tools to help food companies surmount the current crisis
Ulster University offers a range of tools to help food companies surmount the current crisis

Food and drink companies seeking to plot a course beyond the current global crisis in operating costs, especially spiralling energy tariffs, and to strengthen both short and long term business are being offered assistance by the Ulster University.

The university’s Ulster Business School is aiming to help companies in our most important single manufacturing industry to survive and prosper in today’s turbulent trading conditions which have also been impacted by Brexit and the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.

An initiative to help the industry has been introduced by the school in the shape of postgraduate degree course to encourage companies to invest in design and innovation. Often companies facing adverse market conditions can benefit by investing time and other resources by rehaping existing products or developing new ones in line with changing markets.

Evidence suggests that businesses which innovate grow nearly twice as quickly in both employment and turnover as non-innovators, helping to fuel the economic growth of a region.

The university programme, which starts in September, aims to enable companies of all sizes and categories in our £5 billion food and drink industry, an industry which currently employs around 100,000 people across an extensive supply chain and exports products to over 70 countries worldwide.

Ulster Business School’s Professor Geoff Simmons explains: “In today’s fast-moving world, product life cycles are getting shorter and new product and process development is needed to remain competitive. Companies can enhance their competitiveness and sustain their business by increasing their understanding of consumer behaviours and design innovative solutions on the MSc Food Design and Innovation course. This enables them to give customers what they want and grow.”

Participants, he continues, are able to access cutting edge consumer insight data and facilities allowing them to bring their ideas from conception to reality. Tackling current challenges facing the food and drinks industry, the extremely practical course has the potential to add unrivalled value to a business by enhancing innovation and management capabilities to come up with smart products and processes that strengthen the ability to compete successfully in key markets here and abroad.

It’s been designed as an extremely practical course to help participants tackle current challenges facing the industry and has the potential to add unrivalled value to a business by enhancing management capabilities and the capability to respond to conditions with innovation especially in areas such as new processes and products.

Participants will also learn how consumers shop and what this means for a company’s future products and business with the university’s virtual shopping Consumer Insight Lab. They will have access to the university’s award Academy restaurant and the Food and Consumer Sensory Testing Lab which has already assisted many smaller companies in the development of new food products, including the likes of Belfast’s Hellbent. Foods, a manufacturer of South African influenced sausages, meatballs and burgere. In addition, 14 development kitchens and 20 sensory booths are available at the university for innovative product creation in particular.

World leading Compusense sensory software is available to allow participants to determine consumer preferences for a product or service. Access to key market reports, such as Mintel and Passport Euromonitor, can help companies to identify consumer trends that help to shape future innovations.

Designed in collaboration with key industry thought-leaders, by taking part in this course companies will gain membership of the Institute of Hospitality and become part of a network of professionals whilst being supported and educated by industry experts and researchers.

“Armed with insight, facilities and expertise and with practical assessment aimed towards a company’s unique business scenarios this course will help to find solutions to problems, get a step ahead of competitors and ultimately future proof a business. It’s time to adapt, it’s time to innovate, it’s time to develop the products that consumers want,” adds Prof Simmons.

Applicants should normally possess a second class honours degree or better in any discipline, or an equivalent qualification, or demonstrate their ability to undertake the course through the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL).

They must also possess a level of English language competency acceptable to the university. In addition, applicants must have at least one year’s

managerial/executive/owner position within a Food & Drink company.

The design and innovation programme, which has been endorsed by food promotion body Food NI, is a further example of the strength of the university’s commitment to promote the successful development of the local food and drink centre.

It has invested substantially in an impressively flexible and adaptable centre of excellence to provide sector specific support to Northern Ireland’s local food and drink industry in research and business education. Other tools for ambitious enterprises include the Consumer Insight Lab using Virtual Reality technology, and the Big Data Hub utilising market intelligence information and shopper loyalty card data.