Necessity is the mother of invention. Or, as Martin Gilbert, co-founder of Aberdeen Asset Management, put it recently in an interview: the key to achieving success during sustained economic pressure is to turn apparent risks into opportunities, writes Patrick Machray OBE, Chair of Food Hub (NES) Limited and Vice-chair of Opportunity North East, in the June edition of The Business in the Press and Journal.
These statements should resonate with the food and drink manufacturing and production sector, which has had to cope with change and uncertainty at a pace and scale like never before.
Consumers’ eating and shopping habits have transformed with an acceleration of online sales and home delivery, cooking from scratch and increasing focus on health, wellbeing and sustainability. Whole markets closed down in foodservice, hospitality and tourism. Every aspect of doing business was disrupted - from sourcing packaging and getting goods to market to skills shortages and accommodating social distancing in the workplace.
We can all agree that production continued, deliveries reached customers, and the stock on the shelves kept the nation fed. This feat demonstrated the adaptability and ingenuity of food and drink businesses and the dedication and talent of thousands of people who work in the sector.
SeedPod is a beacon for their entrepreneurial spirit and ambition. The £21 million industry growth hub to be built at Scotland’s Rural College campus at Craibstone will support the sector to evolve and embrace new growth opportunities.
SeedPod will put the region's businesses at the forefront of innovation, productivity and sustainability, increasing high-value exports and creating new jobs. This project - co-created with industry and led by Opportunity North East - will drive green economic recovery, low-carbon food production and contribute to net-zero goals.
The sector’s priorities and business needs have driven the concept development and its detailed design. There has been extensive consultation, testing and refining with the industry over the past year. SeedPod will deliver what food and drink manufacturing and processing businesses at all stages of growth in the region and across Scotland want.
SeedPod is where high-growth early-stage businesses will locate into food-standard production units with access to development kitchens, wrap-around business support, and expert mentoring to scale their production and grow at pace.
Growing and established businesses will go to SeedPod to trial and adopt the latest tech, automation and process innovations to become more efficient, productive and sustainable in their manufacturing, processing and supply chains.
While businesses seeking to identify new food trends and sell premium products into global markets will draw on SeedPod's combination of global consumer and market insights and development kitchens to experiment and refine new products.
There are several elements to SeedPod, which combine to create the go-to centre for industry growth.
The first is support. Seedpod will provide sector-specific programmes and access to expertise and knowledge, including mentoring and peer networks, to enable businesses to grow faster.
The second is innovation. SeedPod includes development kitchens to catalyse product innovation and demonstration spaces for new production processes and technology. Its co-working, collaboration and presentation areas will facilitate knowledge sharing and connect businesses with research, innovation and commercial applications. The latest foods of the future consumer insights, data, trends and foresight work will drive product innovation and premium market development.
The third is digitisation. Seedpod's advanced manufacturing and industry 4.0 activity will ensure that businesses lead in automation, tech and robotics to increase productivity and sustainability. A new partnership with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, announced this month, makes SeedPod part of a country-wide capability network and the centre of excellence for food and drink manufacturing.
Fourth is expertise. SeedPod will enhance the region’s entrepreneurial food and drink culture and provide access to knowledgeable people deeply committed to supporting businesses and the sector's future.
Fifth is partnerships. SeedPod will be the focal point for evolving industry partnerships with Scotland Food & Drink, governments and their agencies, and delivering elements of the sector's national recovery plan.
The project partners support the industry's growth ambitions and recognise this region's leadership role in driving change and progress. SeedPod includes £10 million of capital funding provided jointly by the UK Government and Scottish Government via the Aberdeen City Region Deal. Opportunity North East has committed £4.4 million towards delivering SeedPod’s objectives. Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is a strategic delivery partner and is providing the site for SeedPod.
I am encouraged that we are getting the right mix of facilities, support and activity. The project is already attracting sector investment and sponsorship. Businesses are stepping forward to fund SeedPod's functionality, including its development kitchens. Work continues to secure further resources and funding for delivery.
With planning approval secured in May this year, the next 18 months will see procurement completed and construction begin and run through 2022.
It is essential to reflect that the combined food, drink, agriculture, and seafood sector is north east Scotland’s most significant industry after energy. It already contributes more than 20% of Scotland's sector outputs and provides 22,000 jobs in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Its growth is critical to our economic future.
In SeedPod, we prepare all the ingredients necessary to turn risks into opportunities and deliver a recipe for success.
You can read the June edition of The Business here.
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