Make Innovation Happen offers one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs

Behind-the-scenes support available for food and drink innovators.

Food and drink is a competitive field and the struggle to stand out is real, with even the most traditional family firms realising the need to branch out to stay ahead.

A lot of the hard work goes on behind the scenes, at various stages in the supply chain, which can mean that we as consumers don’t fully appreciate the effort that has gone into bringing that new bottle of tonic or creatively-labelled cheese to market.

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As food and drink is an important contributor to the economy – it provides 114,700 jobs, has a turnover of £14.4 billion and exports totalling £5.5bn – organisations in the industry have joined forces to bring an ambitious support service to the table.

Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.
Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.

With innovation identified as a key pillar of growth in Ambition 2030, the growth strategy for farming, fishing, food and drink, Make Innovation Happen was launched by Scottish Enterprise (SE) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) in May.

Jim Watson, SE’s director of innovation, says: “Business innovation is fundamental to Scotland’s future economic growth.

“That’s why we’re fully committed, alongside our partners, to the Make Innovation Happen service to help Scotland’s food and drink industry accelerate market-driven innovation across the whole supply chain, from primary producers all the way to consumers, to open up new markets and revenue streams.”

Make Innovation Happen is a one-stop shop which has brought expert matchmaker Interface and a host of other “connectors” on board to help businesses to innovate and grow.

Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.
Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment.

“Make Innovation Happen is about getting the support agencies together round the table and developing a service that works to help individual companies on a journey,” explains Howell Davies, sector engagement project manager at Interface.

“Businesses go through different stages of growth and the Make Innovation Happen connectors will help find you the right expertise, whether that is academic assistance or help from Scottish Enterprise or HIE.

“Sometimes it’s just about looking at things differently and asking where innovation can help.”

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Research shows that when a business innovates, it is twice as likely to grow and three times more likely to export successfully.

Many businesses are already making good use of the innovation products and expertise available, but feedback suggests that they feel finding the right support could be improved and simplified.

The Make Innovation Happen service will provide food and drink businesses with a single, streamlined access route to that support.

The Make Innovation Happen service has set out three main objectives:

– to help more first-time innovative businesses integrate innovation into their development and growth plans;

– to see more businesses scaling up through the exploitation of new and improved products, processes or services;

– to see more larger “mature” innovators growing in UK and international markets through innovation.

A practical example of the service’s support is the £650,000 Collaborative Innovation Fund which opened for applications in July.

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It recognises the importance of bringing together different specialists to unlock new thinking.

The successful growth of Scottish food and drink over the last ten years highlights how multi-disciplinary project working between businesses, academics and other innovation providers has stimulated fresh thinking and created opportunities.

The type of collaborative project the new fund might support is the trial mussel hatchery in Shetland where the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group and the University of the Highlands and Islands are looking at the commercial feasibility of producing spat (baby mussels).

If successful, the project will lead to a commercial-scale hatchery and ultimately contribute to the Scottish shellfish sector’s ambitions to grow by 21,000 tonnes annually by 2030.

This type of initiative is just one way of making real the shared vision of establishing a vibrant food and drink industry where innovation is driving growth, productivity, competition and well-being in Scotland.

Yester Mains Farm, East Lothian

A business that has been hard at work looking at ways to protect its brand and refresh its product line is Yester Mains Farm in Gifford, East Lothian.

Run as a family farm for 20 years, Jackie and Simon McCreery began processing and retailing milk in the early 2000s before branching out into cheese production.

“We undertook a review of the whole business five years ago and I think we realised that if we stayed as we were and didn’t grow our product range, our market, and didn’t begin to innovate, we would just stagnate and probably disappear,” explains Jackie McCreery.

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“We decided that there was a gap in the market for a really artisan Scottish-made soft cheese.

“We have created an artisan range of cheeses made here on the family farm with our own herd of cows’ milk being used. It’s a really fresh product and high quality.”

Yester Farm also makes and sells a Scottish mozzarella – perfect for homemade pizzas – and there are plans in the pipeline for another new range, although the exact details are still under wraps.

“We couldn’t have done what we have done without the help that we have had.

“Scotland is a good place to be a food and drink business at the moment.

“There is quite a supportive environment and we have educated consumers who want to buy our Scottish produce, so I would say it’s necessary for all companies not to just stand still, you have to move forward and that involves some sort of innovation.”

Black Wolf Brewery toasts grant for bottling line equipment

For both new and old hands on Scotland’s food and drink scene, innovation has helped to unlock doors.

Black Wolf Brewery might have been in production for ten years at its site near Stirling, but the team there has its eyes firmly on the road ahead.

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“Innovation is really important to us,” explains Andrew Richardson, director at the brewery.

“We enjoy producing new beers but innovation can also take many other forms. It could be a different size of bottle, different labels, it can be how you produce the beer. There’s a lot of different ways that we try and innovate here.”

In 2016, Black Wolf Brewery invested in a new bottling line which Richardson says has been the company’s biggest innovation to date.

“Now we can produce really small quantities of beers,” he explains. “It also lets us try a different bottling format so as well as doing glass in 500ml and 330ml, we can do PET in a plastic bottle and that’s a really important innovation for us as well.”

The forward-thinking brewery secured grant support to help with the purchase of the equipment – an outlay that couldn’t otherwise have been justified.

Richardson says: “We could have bought something smaller and then struggled a bit. Instead we bought the right size which has given us flexibility to produce all our own beer and also to be able to bottle beer for other people.”

The brewery, which is on a site that has been home to breweries for centuries because of the quality of the water, also recognises the need to respond to consumer demand by keeping the recipes flowing.

“We want to grow the business as quickly as we can, so we want to launch new beers which we think will be attractive to our customers,” says Richardson.

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“We want to get export moving faster and our contract bottling business where we bottle for other people has grown very fast and we would like to keep that moving.”

Richardson says that for his business, innovation has been the key to success.

“You look across food and drink and people are looking for new products, new ideas, new packaging. You have got to be doing that, you have got to keep moving. If you stand still you are actually going backwards because everyone else is moving forwards.”

Drive to future opportunities

Innovation fuels every industry. It’s how businesses come up with new or improved products and services that customers and consumers want, and it is how they compete in the world. It can be anything that adds value to products, people and processes or to the workplace.

Make Innovation Happen was launched in May and is delivered through a coalition of key public sector and industry bodies, working together to drive innovation, with £1.1 million new funding from Scottish Enterprise (SE) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Make Innovation Happen provides a single, streamlined access route to a range of advice and support to help food and drink businesses in Scotland to innovate.

– Innovation Connectors are available to help businesses tap into the resources available from the public sector and from Scotland’s universities and colleges.

– Innovation Coaches offer the ability and experience to help drive innovation and exploit opportunities in the marketplace.

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– £650,000 has been invested by SE and HIE in a food and drink Collaborative Innovation Fund. The fund is now open for applications from groups collaborating to address key food and drink opportunities or challenges

– Insights on the latest market opportunities can help businesses identify opportunities to innovate and can be accessed online and through a programme of Scotland-wide events.

– Look out for the Make Innovation Happen workshop at The Scotsman’s Food & Drink Conference on 14 November in Edinburgh. Businesses involved in the food and drink sector are invited to register and find out about how innovation can support business growth.

For more information visit or call 0300 013 3385.