12 April 2016

  |  CBI Updates Team


New Dairy Crest Innovation Centre at Harper Adams University

On-campus centre encourages collaboration, enhances university research and business innovation, supports business-relevant education, and provides opportunities to identify and recruit talented work-ready graduates.

New Dairy Crest Innovation Centre at Harper Adams University

One of a series of case studies of successful business-university collaboration

Dairy Crest, the leading British dairy company known for market-leading brands such as Cathedral City, Clover and Country Life, has acted on what its CEO calls a “light bulb moment” by setting up a £4m innovation centre on the campus of Harper Adams University in Shropshire. 

The university was founded in 1901 with a remit to provide both practical and theoretical education and is the UK’s largest specialist higher education institution in its field with an international reputation for its teaching and applied research.  It has a long history of working closely with businesses across the agri-food chain including farms, food manufacturers such as Dairy Crest and Yeo Valley, major retailers like McDonalds and Marks & Spencer, and manufacturers of equipment for agricultural production including JCB and Michelin.

The new Innovation Centre opened in November 2015 and features cutting-edge facilities and equipment, including micro-analytical technology, development kitchens and packaging labs.  There is also a large pilot plant on site that allows staff to scale up production, with room to expand when new technology comes on line.  The centre, which houses 30 full-time R&D staff, also has thermal efficiency and airtightness requirements at double the level required by building regulations and is illuminated by LED lights throughout.

Dairy Crest aims to deliver 10 per cent of year-on-year growth through new product development.  The partnership will stimulate this through interaction with university staff and students and with a link into leading research in the agri-food sector.  At the same time Dairy Crest will support the university curriculum by providing student placements, staff secondments and guest speakers. 

Every student at Harper Adams, both at Foundation and Honours degree levels, is required to spend a year in employment, so the university has links with some 500 businesses to manage the placement process.  A key feature is that placements are overseen by academic staff, bringing them routinely in contact with issues faces by agri-food businesses. There is strong demand for graduates in the sector, with some companies offering generous scholarships.

Mark Allen, CEO of Dairy Crest, comments:

“We are already working closely with Harper Adams on several research projects and I am certain this will be a long-term partnership which will go from strength to strength.

“Innovation is massively important to us, with 70 per cent of the growth of Cathedral City coming from new product development since 2008, and as a consumer-led business we have to keep innovating.  Why wouldn't we want to have the opportunity to use the facilities and academic strength of Harper Adams?”

David Llewellyn, Vice-Chancellor of Harper Adams University, explains:

“We now have the unique situation where a food company has an embedded R&D facility on campus.  The meeting of minds has been beneficial and we also have an agreement for collaboration between Dairy Crest and the university in academic activities.

“The fact that the initiative is based around sharing expertise in education, as well as in research, is an added bonus in that we hope it will encourage young people looking at their career options to consider the huge and exciting opportunities presented by the food industry.

“The collaboration is also an excellent opportunity for spotting graduate talent and should be used as a model by other agri-food companies.  The industry is crying out for talented young people, and with placements our graduates are work-ready.”