By Rachel Mirfattahi, Sector Engagement Executive – Food & Drink, Interface, and Make Innovation Happen connector

It’s that time once again, when one looks back at what has happened in the past year, the things that have changed and excited us, and for looking forward at what is to come.

Here in Scotland we have a wonderful larder and could go through the day enjoying the crème de la crème; from porridge with berries and heather honey, to salmon or trout with seasonal vegetables, and venison or beef with red, white or blue potatoes! All washed down with some marvellous home-grown tea, craft beer, gin or whisky.

In 2017 we saw the unloved cauliflower and courgettes steaming through in popularity and small innovative starts ups challenging the big brands. Technology is helping businesses reach consumers in so many ways, from social media to virtual reality, and communicating with them about the products, provenance and their identity as an integral part of the consumer experience. We are an island nation surrounded by sea and what better ingredient to be the focus of research and innovation than seaweed. Around the world it has been used in everything from cosmetics to snacks and even reached main stream foods in the form of seaweed tagliatelle and seaweed bacon.

Research into its effect on weight management and anti-inflammatory properties will continue. Seaweed & Co. is leading a £100,000 research project, co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, partnering with the University of Glasgow School of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing, and nutritional food company Eat Balanced. The project will carry out further research on how seaweed can overcome iodine deficiency, particularly in diets which exclude natural sources of this vital nutrient and how it can be incorporated through innovative methods into the diets of those most in need.

Changes are often driven by the customer and we’ve been busy supporting the industry to innovate products that meet the needs of health and ethical conscious consumers, with meat-free alternatives for vegans, chocolate that is good for the brain and soft drinks containing less sugar, to comply with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy coming into effect in April 2018, all of which reinforces the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation policy.

The success story of Scottish Rapeseed Oil will be celebrated in 2018 with 10 years of production by seven businesses who got together with academics to find out more about its nutritional attributes and unique taste. It has gone from being the “new kid on the block” to a staple ingredient in many kitchens.

We will also start to hear more about the honeyberry; fruit of the honeysuckle plant known for its high nutrient and vitamin profile. The first honeyberry orchard has been successfully planted in Scotland and a cooperative of farmers are working in conjunction with academia through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with James Hutton Institute over three years. The group are focussing on developing the highest quality honeyberries and honeyberry products. In fact, a Honeyberry Gin is already on the market, which was a collaboration between Arbuckles and Strathearn Distillery.  

The gin renaissance has seen some unique and wonderful flavours emerge. Early on in the revival, the Heriot-Watt University International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, along with Interface and the Scottish Craft Distillers Association produced a reference library of botanicals grown in Scotland as a resource for developing new products, which has helped many distillers achieve exciting new flavour combinations.

2018 will also be a time for embracing innovative reformulation for health or sustainability reasons, not just for manufacturers, but restaurants, cafes, take-aways and in the home too.

Look out for our reformulation event in 2018 – it is sure to bring new ideas to the table and offer inspiration from different academic disciplines and producers.

We don’t know what’s happening with our island’s future, but perhaps we can make it an exciting and healthy one to be in. Happy New Year!