IOP: UK should invest in food manufacturing

3 Nov 2016

The UK should invest in food manufacturing to maintain its economic competitiveness in the face of a new relationship with the EU, according to a new Institute of Physics (IOP) report.

IOP: UK should invest in food manufacturing

The UK should invest in food manufacturing to maintain its economic competitiveness in the face of a new relationship with the EU, according to a new Institute of Physics (IOP) report.

The report, The Health of Physics in UK Food Manufacturing, calls on the government to establish an industrial strategy committee for the sector, to be chaired by a minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Such a committee would, it says, be able to provide a coordinated, strategic, raised investment in the research that underpins what is the UK’s largest single manufacturing sector.

It would also support collaborations between academia and industry, spread awareness of the industry’s reliance on technological innovation, and inspire physics students to work in food manufacturing.

Speaking at a launch event held at PepsiCo’s Leicester premises and attended by representatives of industry, academia and research councils, the Institute’s chief executive, Professor Paul Hardaker, said: “We believe food manufacturing should play a key role in the government’s industrial strategy.”

In welcoming attendees to the event, the Institute’s president, Professor Roy Sambles, said: “MPs are concerned about Brexit. Some of you here will be key in that space.”

He noted that the IOP’s role in this area is about “recognising the value of physics and focusing attention on innovation, and encouraging the UK to look to the future.”

Hardaker added that it’s important for organisations such as the Institute to get involved in this process, and called upon industry to join with the IOP in driving these messages forward.

The Institute’s report notes that the food manufacturing sector is larger than automotive and aerospace put together. It accounts for 19% of total manufacturing turnover, generates a gross value added of £28 bn and doubled its exports in the decade to 2014 amid an overall decline in UK exports. However it isn’t growing as quickly as the automotive industry.

R&D spending is low compared to other sectors, and it receives little public R&D funding, meaning the UK’s food manufacturing sector is at risk of losing out to international competitors.

Science is a proven driver of economic growth and productivity – research by the UK Innovation Research Centre suggests that for every £1 invested in R&D by the UK government, private sector R&D outputs rise by 20 pence per year in perpetuity.

This effect exists at both national and sector levels, and the fast growth within automotive correlates with an increase in that sector’s R&D spending since 2008 – an increase not seen in the food industry.

Consultations between academia and industry facilitated by the IOP revealed that physics is relevant to many of the precompetitive research areas that the sector has identified as priorities.

Although much of the sector’s productivity is underpinned by physics, there is a widespread lack of awareness of this.

The report also says that there is clear room for growth in funding for the physics disciplines that underpin food manufacturing, and the IOP’s analysis of the funding landscape suggests that it is fragmented and doesn’t meet the sector’s needs.