Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Food SMEs learn to communicate

Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector have been left behind in the race to identify and meet consumer demand. A recent initiative has highlighted the support needed for these businesses to innovate.
Food SMEs learn to communicate
Fast-changing trends and preferences in the food and drink sector, such as demand for healthier and safer food, are prompting EU policymakers to upgrade production in line with new realities. This comes at a time when ethical issues, social responsibility, animal welfare and sustainable production are increasingly on the minds of consumers as well. All these factors play an important role in making the European food and beverage production sector more competitive and a global player in the market.

Another obstacle to modernisation of the food sector is the relative inflexibility of traditional food producers, particularly SMEs, when it comes to innovation in comparison to larger, more aggressive companies. In response, the EU-funded project 'SMEs networking European food safety stakeholders' (SMES-NET) aimed to counter the reticence of SMEs to adapt to the new realities, helping them innovate substantially.

The project linked innovation behaviour to input factors such as capacity, research capabilities, human resources and size of firm. It looked at workforce skills as a major determinant for innovation, focusing on product design, manufacturing processes and packaging.

SMES-NET underlined the importance of food safety, health, sustainable production and food chain management as significant considerations, as well as best practice guides, training and frequency of seminars and conferences. It also found that lack of funding and bureaucracy were the main barriers to research and development in SMEs. In addition, the project identified sources of innovation beyond internal research and development, such as technology transfer bodies, trade associations and technical literature on the topic.

Lastly, SMES-NET recommended establishing a mix of 'soft' and 'targeted' policies to strengthen innovation in the food and beverage sector, including advanced technology transfer, competence centres and networking initiatives.

These findings and related actions will undoubtedly be useful for SMEs in staying ahead of the game and pre-empting customer needs in the sector, ensuring its viability and long-term sustainability.

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