There are many essential steps in the chain that links the primary producer of foodstuffs to the consumer.
Some consumers are served their food directly by caterers. Most derive their food from a retailer, who provides the essential service to the consumer, their customer, by making available their needs and wants in a convenient and affordable manner.
In a less visible, but no less important part of the chain, upstream from the retailer and downstream from the primary producer is the food and drink industry.
The food and drink industry is crucial the health and wellbeing of not only the individual UK consumer: it is crucial to the health and wellbeing of the UK economy.
The sector is the largest component of the UK manufacturing industry. Measures such as turnover, employment, or gross value added, all compute at approximately 14 - 16% of the total. In addition, this performance is stable. The industry has been, is, and will continue to be, a major factor in the lives and economic health of the people and the country.
The industry is characterised by fierce competition. For a business to prosper, innovation is essential, and the drive to maintain a competitive edge underpins a significant investment in the research and development. UK food manufacturers spend over £1billion per year on R&D, though this amount is not evenly distributed throughout the industry. A relatively small number of companies account for the large majority of the R&D investment.
The UK food industry operates in a global context, and it is now widely agreed that the world is facing a food crisis. At the launch of the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) in 2009, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, defined the challenge of what he called "the perfect storm".
A combination of increasing population, more affluent and ageing households, and the effects of climate change will create a requirement for the world to produce 50% more food, using less water and energy by 2030. Science and engineering can provide solutions, and biosciences will be particularly important. Although the UK is blessed with a significant research base of scientists and engineers, the translation of research into use is very important.
To meet the challenges faced by the UK food and drink industry, potential solutions from science and engineering have to become a reality. The Knowledge Transfer Network is charged with playing a key role in this process.
Bioactives are an area where proprietary products, such as those blocking cholesterol, have had a major impact on the market. Research into functional foods is required to identify how bioactives moderate metabolic pathways and benefit the health of the individual. This research has the potential to bring benefit to those at risk from cancer and Gl and metabolic disease states, such as non-insulin dependent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Crohn's disease and IBS.
Advances in the area of nutrigenomics are leading to insights into the ways in which health is related to an individual's genetic makeup and to their diet. Knowledge in this area has to be built systematically and it has to be matched by public acceptance of genomic testing as a tool for health management before the benefits of the approach can be delivered.
The potential for diet to affect other conditions related to ageing, such as cognitive impairment and Parkinson's will be assess through careful review of research findings and consequent targeting of research, in dialogue with research councils and other relevant funding bodies.
One of the main roles of KTN's Food Team is to put companies and innovators in contact with the knowledge and funding that they need to bring new products and processes to market, promoting profitable growth through innovation.
There are two priority themes that underpin our work.
Other sources of information
Future food security is a key global challenge: we need to produce more, from less and with less impact to meet growing demand and the consequences of climate change. Using science and innovation will be critical to success.
We have consulted widely with industry and academic stakeholders to identify the research priorities needed to maintain and enhance the UK's competitive position in global food manufacture.
The precompetitive vision for the food and drink industries has been developed to complement the UK agricultural technologies strategy, describing the shared innovation priorities of the food and drinks manufacturing sector, intercalating with the agricultural technologies strategy through the whole supply chain to the consumer and also considering health and diet influences at an entire population level.
Progress in all the areas outlined in the vision is essential for a resilient, resource-efficient and safe food manufacturing supply chain for 21st century populations, here and across the world.