On Tuesday 24 January 2023, Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham and Cllr Jan Aldous, The Worshipful The Mayor of Medway, joined Professor Jane Harrington, Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, to declare open the brand-new food innovation centre at the Medway campus in Chatham.
Also present was Mario Caccamo, CEO of NIAB – the National Institute of Agricultural Botany – who led the project. He said, “Our mission is to make Kent and Medway the centre of innovation in food. What is exciting is we are bringing equipment that would normally be inaccessible to companies, we are making it accessible to them, here.”
Professor Jane Harrington, after being shown round the MFIC and seeing what the equipment - which includes a 3D printer - could do, said, “It is spectacular. It will transform what we do in food innovation, not just for the region, but potentially the country and the world. It really is an amazing facility.”
The research and innovation focus areas of MFIC are:
• Alternative protein-based food
• Novel food processing
• Flavour, texture, and sensory research
• Food safety and nutrition
• Fresh produce storage and sustainable packaging
Rehman Chishti MP said, “We’re looking at future health inequalities, we’re looking at food production and how we now bring forward those new and fresh ideas to be able to deliver, with regard to the issues of the day. Food security is massive, and we have a centre here which deals with the innovation of food production and working with the local authorities and stakeholders, I’m delighted to be here to see this cutting-edge technology by local academics and scientists at Greenwich University.”
Andy Frost, NRI’s Director of Business Development & Partnerships said, “The potential is huge for this region and following Covid, a lot of people made different life choices and there is massive interest in creating new food and drink products. We are here to help with that.”
The MFIC is also the home of Growing Kent & Medway’s plant-based Food Accelerator Programme, which offers a full business and technical innovation support service to local plant-based food & drink producer/entrepreneurs.
NRI’s Valerie Pondaven, Food Accelerator Programme manager said, "We don’t want to keep all this expertise just within the university, we want local businesses to explore food and drink production techniques with our experts. The University’s food scientists and academics are on hand to give practical help to business owners to solve challenges. Kent is the garden of England, so we are looking at horticulture, agriculture – all the wonderful plant-based food that is readily available here."
Showcasing their produce at the MFIC opening were local food and drink producers Pretty Pink Potato, a producer of vegan meringue, and Zambur Ferments a producer of fermented drinks and raw food like kimchi and kombucha. The guests enjoyed sampling their products and chatting about how they were made.
Jan Aldous the Mayor of Medway said after trying a vegan meringue, “Normally it’s [made of ] egg protein but here they can do it with potato, it’s looking at all the different ways to make our food healthier and more interesting. It’s a thing of the future and it’s wonderful to have it here in Medway.”
NRI’s Parag Acharya, says, “With a strong focus on food research, climate-smart innovation, training, and knowledge exchange, MFIC is a place where the future of food is realised through developing transformative technologies and understanding the science behind them, which enables us to successfully bridge the gap between the science and application.”
These new facilities are mainly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of their ‘Expanding Excellence in England (E3)’ programme, which supports NRI’s Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI). In addition to the facilities and with an E3 investment of £7.5 million, NRI has appointed more than 20 researchers and developed local and international collaborations under FaNSI. Amongst these new collaborations is the £18 million ‘Growing Kent and Medway (GKM)’ led by NIAB, which supports local economic development through technology-driven horticulture, fresh produce packaging, food and drink processing and its supply chains. MFIC is also part of the GKM skill hub for training student cohorts and disadvantaged members of the local community to develop industry-focused skills and technical know-how for better employability, thereby promoting inclusive economic growth.
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