The Welsh government has launched a £21 million programme to fund research in food and drink production and support small to medium-sized food manufacturers in the country.
The HELIX project, which is being funded through the Rural Development Programme for Wales, will focus on knowledge transfer initiatives and research into global food production and waste reduction.
Part of ambitious plans to grow the Welsh food and drink industry by 30 per cent by 2020, the project is expected to generate over £100 million for the Welsh economy.
In particular, the research will take into consideration new challenges and opportunities facing the industry as a result of Brexit. The findings will then be passed on to Welsh producers to help them grow their businesses – both domestically and on the international stage.
Although food production in Wales is focused on dairy, beef and lamb, Wales is home to a number of vegetable producers and cooperatives, particularly in cabbage, leeks and potatoes. Among them is growers’ cooperative Puffin Produce whose Pembrokeshire early potatoes compete with Jersey Royals and Cornish earlies in the early-season new potato market.
The cabinet secretary for environment and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths reacted to the project launch, saying: “We’ve set ambitious targets for the food and drink industry to achieve growth of 30 per cent by 2020 and I am pleased to say we are firmly on course to meet that target.
“Project HELIX is the next step on the journey to ensure our food and drink industry is globally recognised for quality, creativity and skills.”
Developed by Food Innovation Wales (FIW), which is a partnership of the three food centres in Wales, the programme will support food manufacturers over the next five years in three main areas:
1. Innovation: Fast-tracking new innovative products and food company start-ups
2. Efficiency: Assisting businesses to reduce waste and save costs in food processing
3. Strategy: Boosting skills in key areas such as food technology
Highlighting the importance of innovation in growing the Welsh food and drinks industry, Professor David Lloyd from Cardiff Metropolitan University said: "We want the industry to be innovative right across the board, from improving nutritional standards and new product development in response to health and well-being challenges to retail and market trends.”
Lloyd, who works at the ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre, which partners the FIW, added: “Our aim is to put Wales on the global food and drink map, and to do that, HELIX will provide high levels of support such as identifying business people who want to invest.”
The HELIX project was launched at Welsh Government’s TasteWales event on 23 March where over 100 Welsh producers showcased the Welsh food and drink industry to more than 150 UK and international buyers.
It is expected to create 370 new jobs, primarily in rural Wales and the Valleys, as well as safeguarding a further 2,000 over the next five years.