Queen Margaret University gives Scottish businesses food for thought

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Those in the know think that Scottish businesses are missing a trick. Academics and university commercial specialists are keen to point out that a wealth of expertise to support business development is available within Scottish universities. But are we making the most of this resource? Edinburgh-based academic, Dr Jane McKenzie, claims that specialist knowledge and facilities within our universities has the potential to transform businesses. Importantly, universities can also access essential funding to assist with business growth. The challenge is ensuring that our SMEs begin tapping into this invaluable resource.

With a background in industry, Dr McKenzie has witnessed first-hand the benefits that SMEs can derive by working with universities. As Academic Lead for Food & Drink Knowledge Exchange at Queen Margaret University, Dr McKenzie assists Scottish food and drink companies to develop and innovate in order to access the global market for healthy and functional food.

Dr McKenzie’s latest venture sees her spearhead the first Centre for Food Development & Innovation in Scotland, which is being launched at Queen Margaret University in December. The new Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation is helping to drive Scotland’s position as a leader in food and drink innovation in Europe and supporting access to the global market for healthy and functional food.

Over 100 invited guests from Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink industry will get a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the new facilities. These include a dedicated microbiology laboratory; fully-equipped sensory suite; dedicated chemistry laboratory and a white room for industry to test new technology. Guests will also hear from a range of food experts about the progressive research that is taking place both in the University and across the industry. Queen Margaret University has established academic expertise in the application of science to support commercially successful research and development within industry. Scientists at Queen Margaret University have already conducted a wide range of research to support Scotland’s SMEs and artisan producers, including: iQ Chocolate in Stirling and The Chocolate Tree chocolatier in East Lothian; Gusto artisan dressings, marinades and oil and vinegars in Leith; Black & Gold rapeseed oil in East Lothian; Edinburgh’s leaf tea experts, eteaket; and Cuddybridge fruit juices in the Scottish Borders.

With a base at the new Centre, the pioneering food processing company, Advanced Microwave Technologies (AMT), will demonstrate its use of cutting-edge technology. Emerging as one of the world’s most innovative users of microwave expertise within the food and drink industry, AMT has developed a gentle method of pasteurisation which has the potential to revolutionise global food processing. Trials run with commercial food businesses helped QMU researchers prove that the new technology can extend the shelf-life of food and drink without destroying nutrients, antioxidants and without altering taste. Guests at the Centre’s launch will see the machinery in action and sample the food before and after processing.

Representatives from some of Scotland’s leading food and drink businesses that Queen Margaret University has worked with will also be showcasing their products at the launch.

Through practical innovation support and creative business solutions, Queen Margaret University is helping Scotland’s leading food and drink businesses with new and innovative product development and analysis; development of leading edge functional, health enhancing products and ingredients; and formulation of existing products – for example healthier alternatives to fat, salt and sugar.

Queen Margaret University’s food innovation experts are also identifying innovative sources of raw materials to produce novel ingredients and ensure sustainability; ingredients to improve product processing and preservation; nutritional analysis; shelf-life testing; consumer focus groups and taste panels.
Commenting on the launch of the new Centre, Dr Jane McKenzie, said: “We’re really excited to have reached this significant milestone in the development of Queen Margaret University’s Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation. Facilities like this are currently unavailable elsewhere in Scotland, so research work is often sent to England or Northern Ireland instead.

“The new facilities combined with Queen Margaret University’s academic knowledge and expertise in food, nutrition and biological sciences is already offering companies in Scotland’s food and drink industry an unrivalled opportunity to innovate and develop new products which are underpinned by the University’s scientific research.”

Dr McKenzie specialises in human nutrition and metabolism. She has over five years experience as a clinical dietitian in a variety of roles, including paediatrics and gastroenterology. More recently, she held the position of Project Manager in Paediatrics at Numico Research, developing and researching new clinical nutrition products for Nutricia.
Since 2006, Dr McKenzie has been a Lecturer in Biochemistry & Metabolism at Queen Margaret University, teaching a wide variety of modules within the Department of Dietetics, Nutrition and Biological Sciences. She has conducted research in collaboration with the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, investigating various aspects of paediatric nutrition. In addition, Dr McKenzie has researched a wide range of aspects relating to fish and Omega 3 fatty acid intake.

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