Posted 24 November 2023
“It has been a great experience to support all the fantastic local businesses in Shropshire. It is inspiring to meet and work with the talented people in the area who are committed to innovation and sustainability in the agri-tech and agri-food sector.”
Chocolatier Sue Gilmour, left, at the Ludlow Food Festival
A project which successfully supported nearly 150 Shropshire and West Midlands SMEs in the agri-tech and agri-food and drink sector - drawing on expertise at Harper Adams - has come to an end.
The Agri-tech Growth and Resources for Innovation (AGRI) project was a partnership between Harper Adams University and Aston University, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Over the course of six years, the project was delivered to businesses in the Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and Herefordshire regions.
A team of experts provided businesses with free bespoke one-to-one support which had a beneficial impact on the business’ productivity, efficiency and commitment to innovation.
Businesses were assisted with - but not limited to - product development, process development, nutritional analysis and shelf-life testing, waste valorisation, bid writing, sustainability processes, business innovation planning, 3d printing and photonics.
Some businesses also benefited from the expertise and knowledge from Harper Adams University academics, had projects conducted by undergraduate and postgraduate students and were able to use the start-of-the-art facilities in the Regional Food Academy.
Bottle Top Bar, a company the AGRI Project supported, are a mobile bar company, based in Shropshire, that can be hired for private functions. The company were looking to expand by producing alcoholic ice creams to be sold at events. Tanya Postles, an Innovation Specialist with a background in food science, worked with the company to source ingredients, conduct recipe development and conducted organoleptic shelf life testing.
Nicole Hitchen, owner of Bottle Top Bar, said: “I am able to take forward the research and information from the development stages forward to make a suitable product with different lines to market. The highlight of this work was working with Tanya; I was able to put forward my thoughts and ideas for the products and see them put into action.
Chocolatier Sue Gilmour, who also worked with the project, added: ““As a small producer time and expertise are limiting factors when it comes to enhancing our product offering, the support we received has been invaluable.”
Sue Gilmour with Harper Lecturer Rachel Hilton and Innovation Specialist Tanya Postles
Following the support from the AGRI Project, companies have further developed their businesses and even won awards.
For example, Olitory Kitchen secured a star rating in the 2021 Great Taste Awards for their Ruskie pierogi, and Sue Gilmour’s Sue Gilmour Chocolates won the 2018 Ludlow Food Festival Best New Product in three categories for their vegan truffles.
Eric Siqueiros, Innovation Manager said: “It has been a great experience to support all the fantastic local businesses in Shropshire. It is inspiring to meet and work with the talented people in the area who are committed to innovation and sustainability in the agri-tech and agri-food sector.”
Despite the AGRI Project reaching its end this year, a new follow-on venture – Sustaining Shropshire – is set to begin at the end of this month.
Melissa Sambrook, from Sustaining Shropshire, said: “Sustaining Shropshire will pick up that role by offering one-to-one development support, staging a series of events and workshops to help bring businesses together to share knowledge and ideas and creating new networking opportunities.
“The project has won funding from Shropshire Council through the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Its one-to-one support will be both to help drill down into the companies involved and highlight where they can best innovate and how they can use low carbon and environmentally-responsible technologies to improve their sustainability.
“Sustaining Shropshire will promote sustainable practices in local businesses, creating a more resilient community that balances economic growth with innovation in technology and environmental stewardship.”
A launch event for Sustaining Shropshire is set to be held next week at the Food Academy at Harper Adams on 29 November, starting at 4pm.