Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has approved a £228,000 investment in the initiative, which will be open to all food and drink firms in the Highland Council area.
The agency has commissioned consultancy firm Rural Matters LLP to create a Highland food and drink innovation network. This will be industry-led and focused on improving productivity, the adoption of new technologies, and nurturing the businesses of the future.
It will explore themes such as scalable premium products, a sustainable supply chain and the circular economy, digitisation, robotics and automation.
It will also include extensive consultation with the industry and supply chain to develop HIE’s plans to create a new food and drink technology hub in Highland.
The new network, which will also be open to social and community enterprises, will run for two years, promoting collaboration within and beyond the sector.
It will form part of the HIE-led Northern Innovation Hub (NIH), a project that received £11m from the UK Government and £1.7m ERDF support as part of the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal. The Deal is a joint £315 million initiative supported by both the UK and Scottish governments.
Food and drink is one of four key growth sectors the NIH will support, with the additional cross-cutting themes of technology and young people.
Claire Munro, HIE’s senior project manager for the NIH, said:
“The food and drink industry is one of the Highlands’ most important sectors and has significant potential for further growth so it is logical that it is one the four key sectors prioritised in the Northern Innovation Hub.
“This project will encourage and support food and drink companies to embrace technology and innovation with a view to increasing productivity, reaching new markets and creating quality jobs. In addition, it will reach out and engage with the food and drink producers of the future.
“We are very pleased to be working with Rural Matters LLP and look forward to engaging companies in the new network as well as in our plans to create a food and drink technology hub.”
David Gass, Managing Partner of Rural Matters LLP, commented:
“We are delighted to have been selected to deliver the first phase of the Highland Food and Drink Innovation Network. Food and drink remains a hugely important sector for the Highland Council region and we look forward to engaging with food and drink companies from across the region, and the wider supply chain for the sector.
“The Innovation network will add real value to the wider support and partnerships already in place across the sector. It will promote innovation and raise food and drink companies’ awareness and adoption of new technologies and processes, and collaboration opportunities that will help support their growth and productivity. It is intended the network will be very much industry led and owned, facilitated by Rural Matters, and responding to industry demand and ambition.”