Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Enhancing food industry innovation and network performance

Do you still believe there is a one-fits-all network? An EU project explored the best fit between innovation networks and the diverse needs and characteristics of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the food industry to improve the industry's innovation capacity.
Enhancing food industry innovation and network performance
SMEs have often had difficulties instituting a strategic network for innovation, a network of formal and informal ties. Strategic network learning remains critical for driving innovation and the food industry's success is an important part of the EU's competitiveness and economic growth. The NETGROW project worked to improve management of strategic network behaviour among food SMEs through research at both the local company and network level.

One of the main conclusions of the research was that no network could fit all SMEs due to their varied innovation and network needs as well as characteristics. Network managers need to focus their network’s offer in line with the individual SMEs' needs and characteristics. Another conclusion was that measuring network performance requires a more comprehensive and tailored approach then what is currently in practice. Both network and firm levels need to be considered in performance evaluation as the factors of success can vary according to the level. For example, network diversity may positively influence an individual food SME's or firm's performance but not that of the overall network, yet the network might have reached its objective.

All the research results were combined with other relevant field research, such as innovation management and communication theory, to create the NetGrow Network Learning Toolbox. The Toolbox is based on thorough research with more than 960 European food SMEs involved, and is now available for download and use through the project's website. It is likely to succeed due to the high involvement of all relevant stakeholders. Additionally, around 85 scientific papers were produced along with books and reports, including the final 'Food Industry Report'. All are accessible through the website.

This project increased the availability of knowledge and tools for encouraging sustainable, competitive and adaptive European SME networks capable of assessing needs and promoting interests. Hopefully these tools and the consequential rise in innovation will contribute to the more sustainable economic growth and furthered employment of food SMEs. These tools will also allow policymakers to refine their strategies in the food industry and other networks, improving overall EU competitiveness and innovation. After the project’s lifetime, findings and the toolbox will be updated and promoted under private initiatives including an international conference planned for 2015.

Related information

Keywords

Food industry, innovation, strategic network,competitiveness, food SMEs
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