Skip to main content
Harper Adams University logo

    All Harper

    How research at our Food Academy spiced up the work of a Telford business

    19 October 2023

    Work at Harper Adams University has helped spice up the work of a Telford business through providing vital research to improve its efficiency.

    The work – carried out at Harper Adams University – was part of the AGRI (Agritech Growth and Resources for Innovation) Project, a partnership between  Harper Adams University and Aston university which ran from 2017 until earlier this year.

    The project, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, supported small and medium sized enterprises in the agri-tech and agri food and drink sectors and supported more than 155 businesses across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, and Herefordshire.

    Among these was Lajina Masala, a company based in Telford that sells Indian spice blends – whose owner was interested in growing her business and making the business more sustainable.

    AGRI Project Innovation Specialists conducted nutritional analysis on the company’s spice blends, ensuring they met Government labelling requirements, and helped to research different packaging types for the blends which would be more sustainable.

    Meanwhile, the industry-standard facilities in Harper Adams University’s Food Academy were used to conduct trials examining different spice grinder machines – to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of each and decide which one would make the business more streamlined, saving owner Lajina Leal time and helping her to scale up her work.

    Lajina said: “The support from the AGRI Project was fantastic, it has saved me time conducting the research myself and time when creating my products for sale.

    “I set up Lajina Masala in October 2013, almost 10 years ago, to teach curry lovers how to cook authentic, homestyle Indian meals from scratch.

    “I knew spicing would be a barrier for my clients, so I created a brand of seven spices to assist with their everyday cooking needs. Home cooking brings families, teams and groups together to learn a new skill and create happy memories whilst dining.”

    While the work she carried out with the AGRI Project centred around her spice blends, Lajina also works with food lovers to help them develop and perfect their own dishes.

    She added: “You can learn to cook with me in my virtual curry club or book in-person classes or team building experiences, specifically created to suit your needs, time management, logistics and teamwork will be built into the corporate packages as standard. 

    “You will learn the skills to create your favourite dishes, bursting with fresh flavours so delicious that you will want to re-create the flavours time and time again.

    “My approach is friendly, informal, casual, fun, yet extremely productive and enjoyable.”

    During her time working wth the AGRI Project, Lajina became close with the members of the team, so when it came time to book a Christmas meal last year, the team decided an authentic Indian team-building cooking workshop would be a perfect way to celebrate.

    The event started with the team getting to make up their own gol gappas or pani puris, which are wheat savoury cases that can be stuffed with salad, fruit, tamarind dips and sweet yoghurt dressing, while also learning about Lajina’s culture and the foods she eats.  During the session, Lajina also spent time finding out about each particpants’ cooking ability so that they could be split into three groups, each of which had a mixture of cooking abilities.

    Each of the  groups were given all the ingredients, equipment and instructions to make three authentic Indian dishes: a dip/chutney, main dish and dessert.

    Tanya Postles, an Innovation Specialist based at Harper Adams University said: “After working with Lajina for the AGRI project and getting to know her, I was looking forward to attending her workshop knowing her personality and passion for Indian cooking would shine through.

    “Not only did we learn new skills, but it was also a lot of fun and we got to eat a delicious meal afterwards! It was interesting for me as I’d become familiar with her spice blends through the Innovation Support work, but now, I know how to use them when cooking for my family at home!”

    Lajina spent time teaching everyone to make chapatis from scratch, ensuring that they were shaped correctly and cooked on the burner for the right amount of time.

    Raghavan Chinnambedu Murugesan, an Innovation Specialist based at Aston University said: “Learning to make the chapatis was my favourite part. They are a food that my family do not get to eat very often as we do not know how to make them.

    “Lajina spent individual time with me teaching me how to make them and letting me try a few times; she even gave me her special tips, so that I could make them at home with my family.”

    And Melissa Sambrook, Project Officer, added: “When I first contacted Lajina about organising the event, she was really helpful and knowledgeable, ensuring that the dishes we would make would be suitable for the teams’ dietary requirements. She planned and organised the whole thing and kept it within our budget. She even understood when we had to reschedule the event due to the train strikes. Lajina and I had many discussions whilst planning the event, she was very enthusiastic and excited, which was nice.

    “Lajina also invited me to have some private cooking sessions with her to help me to be able to make great tasting food that would be suitable for me, with all my allergies and intolerances. She told me all about her healthy journey and has inspired me to take my own journey!

    “I have lost over four and half stones by eating curry most days, weight training in the gym and simple, holistic routines are part of a healthy lifestyle.  I have another couple of stones to lose and believe this will happen naturally, without putting too much pressure on myself. It’s the healthiest and happiest I have been for a long time.”

    Lajina said: “Indian cooking can be so healthy, tasty and fresh when cooked correctly and my passion lies with sharing skills with you to get the best from the ingredients. I’ll teach my clients to learn and experiment with their favourite ingredients and flavours.”

    Project Manager Martin Grant added: “It was nice for the whole team to be able to come together for this event especially as some of us have never met in person due to the constraints of Covid-19 and the project being across two universities.

    “The whole team enjoyed themselves, got to have a laugh, learnt how to make some delicious meals and eat them. Lajina made the whole thing fun, and we enjoyed supporting her business again. We can’t wait to see what she does next and hopefully we will be involved in that too!”

    Cookies on the Harper Adams University website

    We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the website. However, you can change your cookie settings at any time.