Agrifood Technology Station in Namibia – A Safari of Sorts

A delegation of four Technology Stations, headed by ATS, visited Namibian institutions and industries based on the signing of an accord between the National Commission on Research, Science & Technology (NCRST Namibia) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) of South Africa, including the decision of TIA to increase its African footprint toward furthering collaboration and exchange in the southern African region. This was conducted in the week of 14th September 2017. The project was funded by TIA under a specific proposal written in this regard. The specific Technology Stations involved were Agrifood, Clothing & Textiles, AMTL Adaptronics and Limpopo Agrofood Technology Station.

The delegation met with four Namibian entities viz. Ministry of Trade & Industry, NCRST, Namibian University of Science & Technology (NUST) and the University of Namibia (UNAM) as well as a number of industries and companies for individual discussions. The SA delegation was thus looking to explain what their present activities were, to learn from Namibian counterparts and to plan work with each other toward mutually beneficial outcomes. This was specifically in the fields of food/agro-processing, clothing & textiles and mechanical engineering.

 

The outcomes of this may be summarized as:

  • Specific services, exchange possibilities and other forms of interaction were identified for future implementation between entities;
  • Specific and immediate, low-hanging fruits for quick wins were identified;
  • A working committee was established;
  • A return visit by individual Technology Stations will happen;
  • Management and recording of future interactions under this collaborative will be coordinated by the NCRST.

The entire delegation as well as all hosts considered this a welcome and positive intervention toward industrial and academic exchange for the future.

If you know of any specific companies in Namibia related to the fields of endeavour mentioned above, please let us know. If not on our database, we will attempt to engage.

Larry Dolley

CONVERSATIONAL TOPICS in “THE CONVERSATION” No. 1

The Conversation has proven to be a hit….well, in my own academic and private life….and it has nothing to do with shooting an hallucinogenic substance. This digital platform has provided me with sharp and incisive articles on numerous topics, some having direct impact or input on my day job. It’s something akin to subscribing to Popular Mechanics and Foodstuff SA. I personally hold no brief for either of these publications other than that I find them fascinating. Thinks: by the way, are they really called publications (compared to journal articles) or are they correctly called something else? And, if so, what are they called? Suggestions welcome!

The topic related to the half-heart is one related to academic outputs i.e. what they are, who insists on them and how do they influence or affect academic standing in this country? Incidentally, the Mail & Guardian of 2nd June 2017 also carried an article on the issue. In a nutshell, a narrow definition of the term “academic output” relates to publications in peer reviewed journals i.e. journals which carry standing and are listed on the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) approved list.

This generates funding and stature for the institution and academic concerned. However, as the article points out, this leads to a skewing of the nature of these publications (read it and see for yourself since I cannot re-hash it all here). The bottom line is that some people publish for publication sake viz. to push their own academic standing, keep the institution happy and to feed further research.

But what about other forms of output such as artefacts, products, gizmos, whatchamacallits and other forms of IP? Yes, institutions did not initially recognize this in terms of policy and especially in terms of actual appreciation of this!! Y’know….it almost seems like: “Oh yes, that’s what you do! Great!! Keep it up guys”. Kerry Faul in the M&G titled her article as follows: “Publish or perish”, or “innovate to thrive” – a symbiotic relationship.

Like afterthoughts or step-children (mmmm!!! not good play on words considering the state of our nation regarding the treatment of, and caring for, kids!). For myself as an aging academician and for us as ATS, I did not get the joy of seeing our score added to the chart. Or am I too obsessive and too sensitive about this? This is pretty subjective stuff at this point!

I suppose I could have console myself with the fact that, if you speak to some of our clients whose lives we have touched, they appreciate our interaction more than a publication regarding the cost of kneecaps in a kneecap-less world in a low impact journal! We touch their lives and make a difference. The latter was written with crossed fingers behind my back since we also disappoint some of our clients – no risk of pain, no possibility of gain.

However, the CPUT Policy on Ad Hominem Promotion recognizes that it is more than just “publish or perish”. This means there is recognition but, at the end of the day, this recognition needs to be accompanied by acknowledgement of the value.

I am pleased to say that I’ll go with this and keep on doing the best we can in the background!

Larry

EXCITING SENSORY ANALYSIS DEVELOPMENTS

As projects are completed and as new work is taken on, we are often confronted with new technical challenges, some big, some small. This is what makes working with the Station exciting and refreshing. There is always a degree of same old, same old…..but, there are always new challenges to keep us alive and young The most recent outcomes from these challenges is the initiation of our Sensory Analytical Facility.

Our Sensory Facility has been used once or twice (or more) to conduct short interventions for industry. However, in recent weeks we had to plan for and assist with executing a major sensory analysis event. This was done with and for the University of Pretoria who were responding to a client who had approached them. UP in turn employed a well-known sensory analytical company to act as the executing agent.

CPUT was the chosen venue for the event due to our facility being more than up to the task. A few hundred participating members of the public (including CPUT staff) were the panellists for the process. They in turn received a “sweetener” for participating and all went off very well.

The facts that we had upgraded the air-conditioning and fresh air supply to the venue added to the suitability of the venue. Our in-house wi-fi link also assisted with electronic data collection while our spacious preparation area allowed for sample preparation and delivery according to plan.

CPUT is thus open for business in two w exciting ways for companies needing to conduct sensory analysis:
1. You can rent the facility to conduct analyses using a consultant of your choice;
2. We can conduct such sensory analysis for you by agreement as to your needs.

We are also preparing two sensory short courses for offering in 2018. These courses will be registered on the CPUT short course system and will earn you a formal CPUT certificate!!

Please make this known to industries with which you work. We welcome any enquiries in this regard. If interested, please e-mail michaelsh@cput.ac.za for more information.

Running a Technology Station is a balancing act!

Of course you have seen pictures of those intrepid tight-rope walkers! Well, a Station Manager in the Technology Innovation Agency stable of stations has a very similar job to do i.e. balancing a number of sometimes opposing forces BUT while juggling quite a number of balls in the air as well. Much more difficult, hey? This concept of balance is an interesting analogy in terms of making a Station productive as well as successful. And, before you query it: No, this is not self-praise or braggadocio but rather an, albeit subjective, description of the nuts and bolts of Station life. This will help in terms of understanding how the Station operates, especially for those who see us as a sequestered cash cow or a spoilt brat of a unit 🙂

Let’s look at some of the factors in this management process:

  • TIA operational grant – we receive a fixed grant for Opex. Over the years our expenses (including our salary bill for a fixed staff of 8 persons) has slowly grown to match our annual grant. This means we have had to trim our operations to ensure that we remain “solvent, keeping in mind that we operate on a “not for profit basis”. If our opex overshadows our grant (which often happens to me at the ATM), we would be heading for trouble.
  • Costs for services – these costs are divided into two broad categories viz. “full cost” and “discounted/subsidised cost”. Full cost is based on properly costing a service (using a Cost Accountant?) and this is used to charge all large companies. SMMES, as defined by the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit (which in turn is based on that of the Department of Trade & Industry), may be charged a discounted rate based on a formula (this implies a “loss” for ATS). This discount does not last indefinitely but does end after a number of interventions with a client.
  • Discounts/Subsidies – As alluded to above, the discount only lasts for up to 5 interventions with a client. As also mentioned, this then becomes a “loss” to ATS but it is an acknowledged part of our expenditure (rather than income) since this is part of our mandate i.e. assist SMMEs with lower costs up to a point. ATS keeps track of this “loss” to ensure the balance sheet is always understood to have this loss (or potential income) and to put a quantity to it. It is very seldom (and actually discouraged) that 100% discount is allowed.
  • Balanced scorecard targets – this is an agreed set of targets expressed numerically in terms of our annual Service Level Agreement which forms part of the business plan. This contract is signed by TIA and CPUT management to acknowledge that failure to meet these target’s means either a reduction of the Opex grant or even a cessation thereof. Now, one thing you do not do to a Tech Station is touch it on its Opex!!! It is thus critical that the targets are met (more on this later).
  • TIA Monitoring & Evaluation – On a quarterly basis the Stations report to TIA on performance against the targets together with an unaudited financial statement. This includes evidence of performance which TIAs auditors then verify and moderate. Together with this TIA further conducts two M&E exercises per year by means of personal visits to Stations against a set agenda. This agenda interrogates a wide range of performance objectives, data and requirements outside the Service Level Agreement itself. This report is also used to gauge the health of the Station against the annual grant.
  • Advisory Board & Management Committee – These are two bodies that the Grant Agreement with TIA stipulates. The first is just that: an advisory body made up of industry and other external interested parties and meets twice a year. The Management Committee is an internal Committee which meets quarterly to approve any reports to TIA including the annual report, audited financial statement and other items needing discussion and decisions.
  • Reporting – The types of reports required by TIA have been mentioned in previous bullets and are compulsory and critical to assessing Station health. However, beside this, there has been an increase in the demand by the funder to provide more and more information for audit purposes, this in itself creating a lot more “work” in order to maintain compliance with changing requirements.

Now, after just showing you the bare bones of the management and reporting system, this is where the proverbial hits the fan. Keep in mind that the Station is a fully fledged Unit of CPUT funded by TIA and is not a TIA unit in itself only. This means that we operate under the CPUT brand and comply with all its policies and procedures. These in itself change over time and create its own pressures on capacity in the Station. An example is an increasing compliance requirement with financial processes which are being tightened continuously. This is a common frustration for the whole University community. However, we do understand this in terms of ethical use of funds and ensuring unqualified audits for the institution and for the Station itself.

And therefore the balancing act: in a rushed world where clients want things yesterday, TIA wanting us to meet deadlines and reporting requirements, CPUT wanting its own internal compliance, including ensuring that we run in the black and ultimately that we meet our TIA targets. We are happy to say that we balance and juggle simultaneously without having fallen yet. And if truth be told, we do not intend to fall but to grow the Station and its services as well as its outputs. We do need you to wish us luck though and also to understand the pressures we face when trying to serve the industry and academia simultaneously:-)

Larry Dolley

“Researcher” versus “Senior Technologist” – what are these animalcules?

First of all, what are animalcules? This was the term used by Anton van Leeewenhoek (1632 – 17223) to describe what he saw under his crude lenses of the day. In much the same way, I wish to examine the two job titles in a little more detail in academic context. This context relates to job titles in a University of Technology which has a unit such as the Agrifood Technology Station. This is an interesting situation which had a arisen during decisions on making a new appointment in either of the three Stations at CPUT, the other two being the TS in Clothing & Textiles and the AMTL Adaptronics TS.

For the uninitiated, the Technology Stations are DST funded vehicles to service the technology innovation and other needs in the SMME sector per the industry serviced by each Station. The question had arisen: Do the Stations require a Researcher or do they require a Technologist? You may at this point want to aver that a rose is a rose no matter by which name you call it! But, hold that thought right there.

A little more context: CPUT as an institution does use the word “Researcher” and has appointed persons with this job title. On the other hand, “Technologist” is less used and not necessarily a preferred term. In both instances, there is no fixed job description for the titles and they are used flexibly based on the need by the appropriate unit or department. And to muddy the waters even further, the term “Technician” is widely used at CPUT. This will be touched on later as well. However, in my mind, the first term is generally reminiscent of academic research of a nature that involves long-term studies leading to the publication of peer reviewed outputs in appropriate journals. This, as much academics know that it is not always true, is further reminiscent of research conducted in the chase for outputs and subsidy. This may be perceived, and sometimes in fact is, with less concern for the application of the knowledge or where the outputs are on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL)1 as an indicator of closeness to commercialization (see footnote to this blog). The TRL is probably something closer to the outputs of a Technologist. And that is where the difference between the two essentially ends i.e. purely a contextual and perceptual one. What does the public see when we use either of those two terms? And what would we like them to see?

Let’s look at formal definitions for these two terms and then also mix in the Technician. All three have slightly varying definitions but generally are defined closely over a range of references. In the interests of brevity, and hopefully objectively, I chose as follows:

  • A Researcher is someone who conducts research i.e. an organized and systematic investigation into something. Scientists are often described as researchers. This is also loosely translated as the person who sees a big picture, sometimes in an abstractor theoretical form and who then designs hypotheses which is tested in the laboratory.
  • A Technologist is deemed to be the person who takes the outcomes from the big picture above and applies it in the practical domain, this requiring a lot of intimate detail and knowledge regarding the research area as well.
  • A Technician is a person whose job relates to the practical use of machines or science in industry, medicine, etc. (someone who has mastered the basic techniques or skills in the field of expertise).

There is also much acknowledgement of the fact that the two titles need each other and, in a few cases, one person could be described by both names. More importantly for me though is the distinctive character of the Technologist i.e. the hands-on, practical, applications approach rather high up on the TRL (close to commercialization). This is one of the key outputs of a University of Technology and it is also one of the key mandates of Technology Stations. This is explained by the diagram below which shows where we are in the innovation value chain (represented by the TIA block):

Innovation Chasm

At the end of the day though, a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. But, if you are in the Rose Garden in Durbanville, you would very often need to know your Genus from your Species!

Larry Dolley

1A simple description of Technology Readiness Levels

1 Basic Technology research Basic science. Not application-focussed. Principles are observed and reported on.
2 Concept formulation Some practical applications identified materials or processes required and confirmed. Technology and hypothesis formulated. Research plans and protocols are developed, peer reviewed and approved.
3 Analytical and experimental critical function or research proof of concept established Laboratory measurements validate analytical predictions of separate technology elements. Hypothesis tested.
4 Validation in laboratory environment Test results confirm design and meet technical performance. Hypothesis refined. Formulations tested.
5 Laboratory scale validation in relevant environment Validation under relevant operational conditions, mimicked in the laboratory.
6 Integrated prototype system verified in relevant environment Prototype demonstration in the operational environment. E.g. Phase 1 trials
7 Integrated pilot system demonstrated in operational environment Integrated full scale pilot systems demonstrated in an operational environment or site.
8 Actual system completed and validated through test and demonstration Actual product completed and qualified through certification, tests and demonstrations.
9 Proven system and ready for full commercial deployment Product proven ready through successful operations in operating environment.

 

 

 

What is an equitable salary for a Food Technology graduate?

A recent advert had come to my notice from a company in Cape Town wishing to employ a Food Technology graduate with the scope of the job seemingly way beyond the somewhat meagre salary range on offer and the requirement of 5 years of experience required. In this case, to rub salt into the wound, the post is a short-term contract. This is not the first time I have seen such from companies although, in my experience, it is not the norm. It may be that other job seekers have more experience with salaries versus job descriptions versus your 3-year (or higher) qualification. The question then remains: so what is a “standard” starting salary for a new graduate in the food industry generally? Some context is required before trying to give any hard figures.

  1. The first is that the labour market is a “free” system in which salaries are determined by the market as well as by the company concerned. The “market” relates to what the going rates are generally in industry and also the state of the economy (very broad issues). In terms of the company, one would expect that bigger companies are more able to pay equitable salaries than smaller ones, but this is a rule of thumb and also not necessarily the norm. There is no way that your alma mater can intervene in this since it is not our domain and we thus have very little (if any) business there.
  2. Secondly, it is a matter of choice whether you apply for the job or not. These are matters of personal economics, personal trust in the potential employer and the degree of desperation of some graduates to at least get a job in the first instance.
  3. Thirdly, there is also the supposed fact that salaries are generally better in Gauteng than down in sleepy old Cape Town and humid Durban (to name two industrial hubs out of quite a few). There is some truth in this but possibly not the whole truth i.e. multi-nationals and larger South African corporates would usually have a standard matrix in which salaries are determined. Again, I exclude medium to smaller companies from this statement.
  4. However, it may be that some employers use the above oft quoted “fact” (C) to lower their salary offers based on the premise that potential candidates will accept it at face value i.e. salaries are lower down here, irrespective of (A) above. This also has elements of artificially reducing salary expectations.

I suppose one could then also bring many other factors into the pot but let’s leave that for the purposes of this discussion. At this point it also becomes evident that the answer to the question in the title is not one that is easily answered except in very broad strokes. One indirect answer is that the salary attached to the original advert mentioned above is more reasonably suited to a 4-year qualification with 2 years’ experience i.e. the post and conditions offered is unreasonable and not in line with our general observation and experience.

Finally, and more importantly, this particular instance of low salary and high job demands (paragraph 1) is not the norm and should not be used to make judgements of the industry generally and the career path that is Food Technology (or related qualifications) in particular.

And the next question then arises: Who can push this agenda locally or nationally? Is it SAAFoST? Or Unions? How else do you increase your value to industry? This will be for another blog. But, while you are on the web, look at http://www.ift.org/CareerCenter/Salary-Survey.aspx for ideas.

Larry Dolley
Station Manager

 See our sister blog: www.cput.ac.za/blogs/foodtech

How to make dried fish do an about turn!

In a recent project conducted on request by a client, we needed to dry fish using a rather simple traditional method in terms of the ingredients used for the drying process. The project deliverable itself i.e. a validated and optimised version of a traditional drying process, was to be used for allowing subsistence fishermen to add value to very low value catch. In a similar vein the method would also be employed by fisher folk with small quotas using the smaller harbours around the coast. The intended market is the local, and growing, immigrant population as well as a continental export market where a palate for such dried fish species exists. Local consumption also targets the training of local palates in order to enlarge the market for this high-value protein source.

There are many artisanal methods for drying fish, from the very simple (on slabs or hanging) to the more complex (solar and/or electrically heated dryers) with appropriate packing and storage facilities. The drying process validated in this study itself involves filleting and stacking fish while treating each layer with salt and ascorbic acid in a very specific optimised ratio. Originally, this was done by artisanal fisher folk stacking the fish on a pallet, wrapping it in plastic netting and allowing it to dry for one week, after which it is inverted and allowed to dry for a further three weeks prior to moving to the intended market. One problem attached to this is the fact that this very often is done in remote areas or in situations where access to mechanical assistance and/or electricity is not available. The turning process involved is thus a manual one involving appropriate muscle power depending on the mass being dried.

The Agrifood Technology Station, with the contracted assistance of the Product Development Station at the Central University of Technology, designed and built a prototype fish-drying frame and bin that allowed for the drying of approximately 100kg of fish. The unique point of the design was that, based on the frame structure, it could be more easily rolled over to invert the mass of fish to allow for the second phase of drying. At this point the frame can be removed and a new drying process started with fresh fish. The photograph below shows the design element referred to in the frame:

Rotomould box

A plastic roto-moulded box, to contain the drying fish, is then placed in the frame:

Bin in rotomould box

It is envisaged that the material for building the frame, presently galvanised steel, could be replaced by plastic (lighter) and could thus also allow for bigger volumes/masses of fish to be dried in this manner. Furthermore, a mechanical press could be introduced into the design to further compact the drying fish as it loses water. The client, who contractually has first rights to manufacture such units under licence from CPUT, intends rolling out this drying process and its framed bins, in both local coastal communities as well as to inland freshwater fishing communities. It is envisaged that this would lead to employment opportunities for such communities and also to value adding to sometimes poor catch species with little or no street value.

The CPUT intellectual property for this resides under the name Luckyfish Bin.

Larry Dolley
Station Manager
See our sister blog: www.cput.ac.za/blogs/foodtech

What is the role of professional bodies in the life of a graduate in the field of Food Science & Technology?

A recent discussion point on a Food Technology group on Facebook regarding salaries led to the question being asked as in the title above. In particular, since the blog referred specifically to the issues of equitable salaries ion the food industry, and the disenchantment of some graduates with some offers seen by some companies as being way below expectations as well as the industry norm, the question of SAAFoSTs role arose in this regard. I decided that this required a possible answer and also a wider debate on the general role of professional and learned bodies in the lives of graduates. In addition and possibly more importantly, how could graduates contribute to improving their own positions in industry through such bodies?

To contextualise the discussion, let’s first define what is meant by:
A. Professional Body: these are usually bodies which are subscription based and to which professionals in a field belong. This body which also has the ability to accredit qualifications by such members (usually by accreditation through the tertiary institution concerned). An example is the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) to which professional engineers belong. This makes them Professional Engineers.
B. Learned Societies and Associations: these are usually learned bodies of like-minded people and companies with similar aims and goals and are subscription based. These bodies are used to organize formal academic and other gatherings where information is shared and services offered via the body to the professionals concerned in their specific fields. Examples are the South African Society for Microbiology and the South African Association for Food Science & Technology (SAAFoST) – www.saafost.org.za. This body also has a Professional Code of Conduct.
C. Legislated bodies: These are bodies formed based on laws that require them and also which, in some cases, require certain companies and individuals to be registered with such bodies in order for them to operate commercially. One such example is the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) – www.sacnasp.org.za. The latter body registers persons with tertiary qualifications in number fields in the natural sciences, including food science & technology. Membership is subscription based and allows one to use this on your business card as Professional Natural Scientist (with a registration number). Membership also carries the demand of adhering to a Professional Code of Conduct, to which SAAFoST also subscribes.

As a Food Technologist, you do not have a professional body solely dedicated to your field with a professional membership stand such as ECSA. You do however have access to (C) above, where you may be registered as a “Technologist” which gives you some standing in the field. As you go higher up the qualifications ladder and as you gather experience, you could eventually be registered as a Professional Natural Scientist. The head of Food Science & Technology at CPUT holds that status in Food Science & Technology while I hold status as a Professional Biological Scientist (400019/97). This holds us to a cod of professional conduct, allows us to sign of various reports and certificates of analysis and also allows us to charge for our private services against a recommended set of fees. Companies are recently more inclined to look for this registration when doing job interviews and designing adverts for positions. It is something to keep in mind for future self-development.

In terms of SAAFoST, membership again is voluntary and does not grant any professional status but it does have a fairly closed membership in terms of the food and related industries (ECSA and SACNASP have very broad fields in terms of membership i.e. engineering and the natural sciences. It gives you an insight into the general field based on its activities and dissemination of information to its members.

Now, I am not here to sell any specific organisation to you, but because the question was asked in the discussion thread on Facebook: how can SAAFoST help with making companies more aware of, and campaign for, better recognition of qualifications and its related salaries, I am using them as the target. More generally, the question becomes: what does, and what can, SAAFoST (or any other body) do for me? The question can actually be reversed to ask: How can you help SAAAFoST (or any other body) to give members better value for money, including that related to salaries?

I have been a Professional Member for many years, very active in the earlier years but now a quite member snoozing on the backbenches. In all these years, a limited number of students had become involved in organising and assisting at tertiary institution level, at local branch level and also at national level in the services provided by SAAFoST. In so doing, they had the opportunity to push their own agendas (which were all positive issues). Sadly, very few such members had emerged from what were Peninsula Technikon and Cape Technikon….. and now CPUT. None, if any, participated at national level. Much like a political party, your vote and your active participation is required to steer your organization to meeting your needs.

So, in terms of the salary issue, if you feel SAAFoST needs to make some form of “contribution” to the national norm or determine what the norm is (not into your bank account), then get involved. If there is another channel for your energies and involvement, go for it. The least that can be done is to pose the question to your branch Chairperson or the national President for consideration (even if you are not a member). It would require an answer and some logical explanation of why they cannot assist or how they could do so.

As mentioned in a previous blog, the Institute of Food Technologists (www.ift.org) has a salary survey nationally every two years for the last 40 years. Maybe this is an issue with which SAAFoST would be able to assist.

Come on, let’s do it!!!

Larry Dolley
Station Manager

See our sister blog: www.cput.ac.za/blogs/foodtech

Titbits About Food Trends 2015

I would suppose that any person worth his or her salt in the food industry would have an opinion about food trends for 2015 and that, using a random group of people and their own perceptions and preferences, you could get quite a wide response regaridng products, ingredients and processes. I attended Chocotec 2014 in Cologne in early December and was struck by a presentation, specifically on chocolate, but based on ten trends developed or identified by Innova Market Insights. I thus do not present this as my own work, but rather a South African extension of the insights from IMS. My comments are added to a very short summary of each trend.

1. From a “clean” label to a “clear” label. We all understand clean as being a product and label without all the “nasties” such as preservatives, GMOs, BPA (depending on which side of the food fence you sit, these may not really be an issue to you). “Clear” however is a trend which could also be seen as market edge i.e. a label which tells you a lot more than the average person would need in order to reassure more discerning consumers. An example of this is something such as indicating, like with high-brow wines of origin, where a specific ingredient actually comes from or a lot more about conditions under which the product is made e.g. Fair Trade in a nutshell, the latter being one sentence or more on a label. Label size constraints do play a role here but innovative thinking marketers could really change a product’s impact on a discerning consumer.

2. Convenience for foodies. This is again an area for a clever marketer or for companies interested in developing new ingredients or revitalizing older ones. This is based on the growing interest in food programmes on television and other media which is driving a move to consumers taking a keen interest in cooking. Obviously, being wired the way we are, we would still want some convenience in the way we express our interest and habits when preparing food from scratch at home. This will require upgraded or new ingredients to add some “quick” to “slow food” Or spruce up existing ingredients by looking at the market edge by selling it from a different angle. This goes for raw and fresh produce as well as all the other bits and bobs that go into a good, fresh, home-cooked meal.

3. Marketing to millenials. As much as a third of the world’s population is in the 15 – 35 year bracket. So, even if people are living longer, thus increasing that segment of the world population, there is a significant segment in millenials who have a totally different take on life and its quality. They do not stick to Klim powdered milk because it was what they consumed when babies (read any other product than Klim). They are much more able to make the leap to new products in siilar categories. They are much more daring and need a “kick” or a “hit” to satisfy what sometimes could be jaded appetites in a fast changing world. I think this does already drive marketers and producers in a push-pull relationship and is a reminder to the entrenched brands and products not become too comfy in that zone of dominance.

4. Snacks rise to the occasion. This one is counter-intuitive in that it predicts a rise on consumption of snacks as opposed to (2) above which predicts an increase in home cooking using convenient ingredients. However, the nub here is that the snacks referred to are healthy ones and indlude preparation snacks at home. This also ties in to the millenials and their consumption patterns. So there is an overlap of at least 3 of the 10 trends identified i.e. three birds can be cooked with one stove in a product or, put differently, three (and probably more) trends can be accommodated in one product.

5. Good fats, good carbs. In South Africa, Tim Noakes has stirred the “diet” pot considerably in terms of subscription to the Banting diet. However, this trend relates to natural sources of these ingredients based in whichever vehicle it arrives e.g. butter or omega fats and natural sugars rather than other sweeteners, be they non-nutritive or not. Most companies are already on the bandwagon of touting their products or improving their products with such. I doubt however that this has been fully exploited yet and, if so, it gives space for product revision, or extension in some cases, to accommodate the further projected demand for such in foods.

6. More in store for protein.  This could again be looked at from the point of view of the Banting diet but it does have many more nuances. New proteins are being researched and employed as ingredients or components of complex ingredients. Soy protein is “old hat” while pea protein may be considered as a “younger hat”….they have peaked. However, these have still not been fully exploited and, more importantly as my colleague (Prof. Jideani) would preach: we are not fully exploiting indigenous seeds and cereals in terms of protein, fibre and other components. So, in terms of quantity, nutritional value and costs, there is much to be done as part of meeting this predicted trend. And then the yucky but perfectly safe alternative source from insects.

7. Fresh look at frozen. Frozen is frozen is frozen. Yes, this may be true but what you freeze and how you freeze it is key to the nutritional and organoleptic value of products. There is a thought that this sleeping “giant” is awakening e.g. chocolate enrobed frozen products. And not to be missed out on is the element of fresh being equivalent to frozen depending on the product involved.

8. Private labels. IMS says the success of discount retailers has lead to a significant rise in private labels and product launches in this sector has increased on every continent since 2009. Cargill says that private labels are a brand on their own and not playing catch-up anymore. Is there an opportunity for Food Technology at CPUT to develop its own private label attached to products? I am sure you would have seen at PnP and Woolworths the number of private labels popping up. The alcohol-free malted beverage by the name of Breva is one such…..however, an aquaintance did want to know on a lighter note what the point of this beverage was:-)

9. New routes for fruit. There is a growing demand for products containing “real fruit”. Attached to this is the demand for natural flavours and colours. This need has not been fully exploited locally, again in terms of indigenous ingredients and raw materials. Just a few minutes ago a client walked into my office with a juice produced from an indiigenous fruit which grows wild and has not been used for production. The colour was stunning…..he did not tell me the name of the fruit though:-(

10. Rich, chewy and crunchy. There is an expected response to terms such as crunchy, gooey, velvety and other adjectives related to texture. Front of pack text and cut-through products to show such are expected to receive more attention to consumers, partly due to the mouth-feel and also due to, in some cases expectations attached to healthier products. Crunch munch eat your lunch!

The Agrifood Technology Station and the Department of Food Technology will keep these in mind in terms of training as well as advising clients.

 

Can we use existing published data and studies to analyze the local and inernational innovation chasm?

Is it possible to conduct an academic and practical analysis of elements of the food innovation chasm as it exists in South Africa towards identifying products, processes and stakeholders for the design of an implementation plan towards utilizing existing, under-utilized or un-utilized solutions in new scenarios?

In terms of a number of national policy-based statements a well as rhetoric in the public domain, the term “innovation chasm” has cropped up regularly. This is true for the Department of Science & Technology (DST) via the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the now Department of Higher Education and Training and also the Provincial Government Western Cape (PGWC) as well as numerous other state, public/private and private organizations.

In the second draft of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (February 2011) of the DTI, this particular issue of the chasm is addressed. On page 76 three levels of intervention are suggested regarding commercialization, one of which is exactly something which this proposal addresses viz.:
Consolidation of existing commercial opportunities from research work previously carried out but which has not been fully commercialised and with respect to technologies that can be acquired in order to upscale production capabilities in defined sectors where opportunities exist.
These references or statements to the “innovation chasm” have different connotations, including those related to very broad issues and also, at the other end of the spectrum, very narrow ones e.g. international, continental, national and local. This is further narrowed per economic and industry sector. This is so for the food industry.

For the purposes of this post, the term “innovation chasm” will be deemed to include the following general concepts:
a. The gap between  the fields of academic study versus the needs of the industry itself;
b. The existing body of knowledge with respect to these fields that had not yet been  applied;
c. The existing body of un-expressed needs and potential solutions vested in experts in the field.

This project, if realised, would aim to deal with the concepts outlined above by:
d.  Researching the literature and the industry for innovation gaps;
e.  Matching unused solutions to existing problems as well as not-yet-identified gaps;
f.  Identifying not-yet-explored problems and solutions relevant to this exercise.

A potential scope fo works for such a project would include the following:
1. ATS to agree with other service providers on the scope of the contract, projected work and costs related to this.
2. Sign an appropriately worded contract with all service providers involved, including primary and/or secondary funding agency.
3. ATS to coordinate all further activities, including construction of a project plan.
4. Identify appropriate academics, students, retired experts in the food industry (local and international), entrepreneurs, consultants willing to contribute and companies willing to add value to the project.
5. Construct an interview template for each category of person identified above in order to elicit information such as the following, keeping in mind that this relates to advanced technologies or ideas:
5.1  Related patents, especially unused patents, patents open to adjustment and re-patenting;
5.2  Potentially new products or product extensions;
5.3  Potential process adjustments or process development required;
5.4  Researchable problems, both science-related and otherwise;
5.5  Fields of study requiring investigation (short- and long-term);
5.6  Scientific literature in the public domain that has not yet been applied in a practical context;
5.7  Business models linked to commercialization of any of the above.
6. Identify and employ:
6.1  Appropriate expert interviewers relevant to a field or category of persons to conduct such interviews.
6.2  Appropriate patent-savvy experts to search patent databases.
6.3  Appropriate academics to search the scientific literature, especially journals and, more importantly, technical bulletins and conference proceedings to identify new opportunities.
7. Process the data and compile recommendations regarding bridging segments in the innovation chasm.
8. Moderate recommendations via an independent expert panel.
9. Construct an implementation plan based on recommendations (on the assumption of a      conducive set of circumstances for success).
10. Construct final report and sign off project.

Key perofmance indicators for such a project would possibly be:
A. Scope of work constructed and put into Gantt chart format.
B. Agreements reached and contracts signed with service providers.
C. Project plan produced by ATS.
D. A list of target individuals/organizations and entities produced based on authenticated/traceable procedures  and processes.
E. Questionnaire templates/guidelines constructed and agreed to with ATS.
F. Service providers appointed to conduct field-work.
G. Report produced by ATS encapsulating and summarizing data forthcoming from the exercise.
H. Final report produced after moderation process completed.
I.  Project evaluation report produced by funders/ATS.
J. Decision made on how to execute or implement elements of the report.

Anybody want to join us on such a journey???