National Food Precinct – Notes

Notes from a meeting with Peter Schutz,

Chairman, Board of Directors, National Food Innovation Precinct, Tuesday 28 May 2013

John Hine and Associates Pty Ltd

The Board of the Precinct has been announced.  It is 50% female.  Assoc Prof Kym Bryceson of UQ is on the Board. A good spread of members geographically was achieved.  Board members were also chosen on their ability to provide in-kind support to the Precinct.  There are no public servants or Ministers on the Board.  All are food industry players.

The first board meeting will be held Monday 3 June 2013.  This meeting will decide;

  • The location of the coordinating office.  This will be in Melbourne, likely at a university.
  • Priority actions.
  • The selection process for the Managing Director.

Future Board meetings will be held regionally.

Some groups were asked to be Foundation Members simply to get the base membership needed to form a company.  Foundation Members will get no special privileges.

A Company Limited by Guarantee will be formed on 1 July 2013.

Companies, universities, TAFEs, industry and professional associations etc will then be invited to join.

The Board will have two Sub-Committees;

  • Innovation Capability and Skills, based on the premise that innovation is a business skill not a scientific skill.  Mr Schutz noted that it became apparent that too many of the applications for the former Food Innovation Grants were written by university or CSIRO groups, not company staff, and, while good science, were not necessarily market driven projects.
  • Market Development, to develop consumer insights.  The aim is to gather information on markets to assist companies develop market driven innovation projects.    Mr Schutz is keen to avoid production driven projects.

The Precinct is about;

  • SME food manufacturers.
  • Business skills development.
  • Linking SMEs to work together and with larger companies so that spare production capacity can be used and market information pooled on joint projects.
  • Facilitating export to Asia for all companies, given the limits of the size of the Australian market.
  • Addressing the fact that the Australian food industry is fragmented and broken.

Mr Schutz said that there was a good pool of knowledge of Asia in our food processing companies and that there is scope to set up ‘clubs’ to share this knowledge.  Forums and workshops were other ways to share this knowledge.

There was scope for regions to focus on discrete export markets.  For example, South Australia could link with one medium sized city in China, which could be of the order of 5 million people.

Other possible Precinct projects include;

  • Working with CSIRO to get better use of its good pilot plant equipment, which it was suggested was too expensive to use.
  • Help universities to get more focussed re their training of food science, technology and engineering graduates.   A greater level of applied training is needed.
  • Assisting in the assessment of applications for the Commonwealth’s Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Scheme, as future applicants will need to be linked to the Food Precinct.
  • Assist with assessment of applications for the Collaboration Fund, a $15M program where applications open in July 2013.  The aim is to have larger projects with several companies involved, with maximum funding for any one project being $10M.  The minimum grant will be $100 000.  Matching company funding will be required.  New kinds of collaboration are sought, across the food chain.  Invitations for grants under this fund will be called soon.  Companies should thus start to consider possibilities.
  • Assist the Rural R&D Corporations become more market focussed and less production driven.
  • Setting up a database of food manufacturers, who will be asked to make available core company data to others on the database regarding future collaboration opportunities.    The aim is to have listing for the first year free and then with a charge for year two.  It would be good to link this database with the database of Enterprise Connect, which has some 6 000 companies.
  • The database will also have training resources listed.
  • A National Coordination and Collaboration Network, to encourage shared projects.

The Precinct will;

  • be looking for a new name, the word ‘precinct’ implies a single area or building and is too limiting.  The concept is to develop a national network.
  • have $4M pa for operating expenses.
  • not own any building or run training courses.  The Precinct may well catalyse others to run training programs.
  • look at gaps in the apprenticeship system.
  • look to partner with the proposed CRC in Food Export.
  • talk to larger companies about various kinds of scholarships for food science and technology, from holiday jobs to full or partial fee payment.
  • raise the issue with universities of business training being an essential part of a food science and technology degree.

The Food Precinct is thus seen as a broad vehicle for bringing companies together to address common issues.  It is emphatically not limited by geography.

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