Consumers are becoming more adventurous concerning food; the desire for new experiences translates into demand for exotic and/or boutique products. Yet, over 99 % of food companies are small- or microbusinesses unable to conduct research or share the knowledge needed for innovation. The EU-funded TRADEIT (TRADEIT: Traditional food: Entrepreneurship, innovation and technology transfer) project ran a coordination and support action for the sector. TRADEIT operated in parallel with a second EU-funded project, TRAFOON. Both projects addressed commercialisation challenges facing the sector. Project partners supported collaboration and networking, knowledge sharing and innovation intended to increase competitiveness of SMEs in the dairy, meat and bakery sectors. The team also developed a strategic research and innovation agenda. TRADEIT successfully piloted a regional hubs advisor sub-network model. Its success validated the project’s approach to decentralising the support infrastructure, intended to provide SMEs with access to innovation and research expertise. The model helped the project capitalise on previous investment in European hub-hosting infrastructures and research activities. The team thus effectively facilitated the flow of knowledge, technologies and innovation among European SMEs, researchers and technology developers. When the project started, the network consisted of 44 organisations. As of October 2016, the network included 385 SMEs and 516 knowledge providers. The network also achieved a reach of 14 000 SMEs and 100 000 researchers. The team organised numerous activities for demonstrating stakeholder engagement and knowledge transfer. The list included over 60 training sessions, involving 866 SMEs and more than 700 participants, at a total of 6 brokerage events. Themes included food safety, meat processing, bakery and dairy technologies, allergen management, labelling and packaging technologies, and design of sustainable processing plants, plus various marketing topics. Such events accelerated SME engagement in innovation and access to FP7 projects. As such, the project achieved greater integration of researchers and SMEs, improving SME ability to identify and capitalise on opportunities. SMEs consequently reported gains in marketing capability, revenues, and product innovation. Many SMEs were thus able to access previously untapped European markets. TRADEIT’s network support activities greatly improved European food SMEs’ access to new ideas and technologies, resulting in increased profitability.
SMEs, food sector, TRADEIT, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology transfer