Thank you to all who read our posts in 2014

The WordPress.com stats monkeys have kindly prepared another annual report for this blog. It shows we had 4,500 views in 2014, more than double our views in 2013. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read, share and, in some cases, comment.

Please click here to see the complete 2014 report.

Please click here to see the 2013 report.

Although we focused on local food and drink in 2014, we also wrote about East Anglia’s thriving digital technology, engineering and bio-science communities. We look forward to bringing you more stories like this in 2015. If you are organising any special events for these sectors, please let me know.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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Thank you for reading

I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+. Meanwhile, we wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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Huw Sayer's blogs in 2014
Happy New Year

#NFDF2014 trip to Crisp Malting: talking about Norfolk barley, best malt, fine whisky and craft beer.

NFDF coloured logosDriving out from Norwich on a beautiful July day, I turned off the A1067 just before Pensthorpe Park and found myself looking down on a quintessentially English scene. Rolling away below me were the woods, fields and hedgerows surrounding the pretty village of Great Ryburgh, which lies by the upper reaches of River Wensum (and just over four miles from its source between Colkirk and Whissonsett). This landscape hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years (although the mill has gone) – and the crop is essentially the same: mainly wheat and barley.

Barley – specifically malting barley – was the reason I’d made the journey; however I wasn’t there to find out how malt is made. Instead, I wanted to find out what role Crisp Malting Group Ltd plays in the food and drink sector, which is such an important part of our economy. As well as being the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (accounting for some 7% of the UK economy, including £18.9bn in exports), food and drink makes up some 15% of Norfolk and Suffolk’s economy and employs 13% of the workforce, many of them in highly skilled jobs demanding good STEM qualifications.

Crisp Malting Distribution Map

From Great Ryburgh to the world of fine whisky and craft beer – with love.

Norfolk firm supplying customers around the world

If you are a malt whisky or craft beer connoisseur you might have heard of Crisp Malting, the largest independently owned maltster in the country. It makes high quality malt and supplies whole grain and crushed cereals for the food and drink industry. Customers range from the finest distillers and largest brewers in the world to numerous craft breweries across the UK, including around 30 in Norfolk (such as Woodfordes, Panther, Fat Cat, Humpty Dumpty Norfolk Brewhouse, and Redwell Brewery).

The firm has five production sites: two in Scotland and three in East Anglia, including its largest in Great Ryburgh (which is also home to its head office and main research laboratory). “East Anglia is arguably the best farming region in the world for malting barley,” says Crisp’s Managing Director Euan Macpherson. “Light soils, low rainfall, and plenty of sunshine provide ideal growing conditions, while the fog that rolls in off the North Sea subtly enhances the quality of the grain.”

Working with growers, merchants and buyers

The interesting aspect of Crisp’s business from an industry supply chain point of view is the way it works with suppliers and buyers. This includes advising farmers on the different varieties of barley to grow based on the needs of its specialist customers, as well as the costs involved and any quality issues. “A few years ago we set up the ABC Growers Group with two local grain merchants – Adams & Howling and H Banhams (which owns 50% of the famous Maris Otter brand),” explains Bob King, Crisp’s Commercial Director. “ABC works with over 220 growers in Norfolk and Suffolk to develop long term supplies of specific malting barley strains. We now have rolling three-year contracts for around 100,000 tonnes – and some have been in place for the best part of 15 years.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/markescapes/

Iconic Norfolk lighthouse – and almost as iconic Norfolk barley – photo by Mark Spurgeon

“This approach is good for growers because it gives them greater certainty about the demand for their crop, as well as potential yields and returns on investment. The grain merchants, who are experts in constructing and pricing such contracts, benefit because it keeps them involved in the process and helps them develop their specialist market knowledge. Meanwhile we ensure we can source a high quality crop that meets our customers’ changing needs for different styles of malt.”

For example, Crisp produces a unique variety of malt called Clear Choice. “This comes from a low yield variety of barley,” explains Steve Le Poidevin, Sales Director, “which no one would have grown without a secure contract. However, we know it is ideal for producing malt that makes a great tasting, haze free beer, with a long shelf life. Because our customers appreciate these real benefits, we have the confidence to place long term orders with our growers.”

Crisp runs tours of its malting facilities and its customers’ breweries to give the ABC farmers a better understanding of the maltster’s and brewer’s needs. “Traditionally this never happened,” says Steve, “but about two-thirds of the ABC farmers have now visited one of our sites. This gives our technical director David Griggs an opportunity to discuss the various malting methods, including traditional ‘floor malting’, and how particular types of barley and malt suit specific styles of beer or whisky.”

#Agritech – Research and development

As well as a team of highly skilled crop and food scientists, Crisp has extensive technical capabilities in its Great Ryburgh laboratory. These include a micro-malting facility for testing small batches of new grain varieties and the ability to analyse up to 30 product attributes. It also works with various industry specialists to improve existing varieties of barley and to develop new ones.

Partners in this process include growers and The Morley Agricultural Foundation, which specialises in conducting field trials of arable crops for seed specialists, including researchers at the John Innes Institute (JIC). “Both Crisp and JIC have recently worked together on a conservation variety of barley called Chevalier, which was the first identified malting barley,” says Euan. “JIC is interested in it because it has certain characteristics that could be useful in breeding modern varieties; while we are interested because we have identified a market for small quantities of ‘heritage’ malts.”

This attention to detail and specialist knowledge helps explain why Crisp is the leading supplier of malt to the craft beer sector in the UK. The firm also supplies malt to about 70% of the micro-breweries in Japan (where there has been a surge of interest in craft beers). In addition, Crisp provides its customers with complete product traceability, which is particularly important for brewers and distillers who value provenance as well as quality.

Thank you Euan, Bob and Steve for your time and for a fascinating conversation.

GrowAndCook-logo

Interesting link with Heygate Farms

In an earlier blog I talked about Heygate Farms’ Grow & Cook Awards. Heygate Farms are probably best known for growing the Norfolk Peer and Norfolk Keeper brands of potato. However, the group is also a major supplier of spring barley and rye to Crisp, who malt both. Some of the malted rye is sent on to Crisp’s sister company EDME in Essex, who process it before sending some of it back to Heygates for use in its flour.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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 About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or two).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading,

Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

Fabulous #food #science research with @IFRScience in Norwich – finding out more for #NFDF2014.

If you read my earlier #NFDF2014 post about the Norwich Research Park, you will know Norfolk is home to an internationally respected cluster of bioscience institutes. One of these is the Institute of Food Research (IFR), which specialises in exploring the relationship between food and health. This includes researching the importance of gut bacteria to good health, preventing food related illnesses and developing healthier, more sustainable foods (including ways to reduce and reuse food waste).

IFR on Norwich Research Park

IFR on Norwich Research Park

In early June, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tim Brocklehurst to find out a bit more about IFR’s research, including its work with commercial businesses. Tim started by explaining the basic difference between the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the IFR. “JIC’s focus in on how to grow more crops (pre-farm gate products). Whereas the IFR is looking at how we convert primary production into safe, nutritious, food (post-farm gate products) for the consumer.”

“So while JIC is concerned with, say, increasing wheat yields, we want to know if it is the right wheat for people’s health needs and how we can improve it. This might mean looking at how to change the level of long-chain sugar molecules (amylopectin and amylose) in wheat, which can influence diabetes, or exploring the way gut bacteria breaks down wheat starch and the effect this has on a person’s calorie intake. We are also interested in the way gut bacteria signals to the brain that we are full – the ‘satiety’ response.”

You are what you eat – possibly

The role of gut bacteria (or gut flora, if you prefer) in human health is pretty amazing – as are the number of different bacteria in our stomach. As some scientists like to point out, from the bacteria’s point of view we are just a giant bacteria hotel. There are more bacteria cells in our body (some 10 to the power of 13) than there are mammalian cells – and there are over 3,000 different species of bacteria in our gut. These micro-organisms control how we process food, absorb calories and vitamins, and even how we feel.

Image of gut bacteria - somewhat enlarged - courtesy of IFR.

Image of gut bacteria – somewhat enlarged – courtesy of IFR.

“There is increasing evidence of a link between the state of our gut flora and health problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis),” says Tim, “as well as our mood swings. And there is some evidence that re-balancing the flora (using faecal transplants) might help reduce the symptoms of some of these ailments. However, this is a hugely complex area – we have to be careful about how we interpret the evidence and related claims, which is why we need to conduct more research to gather sufficient data.”

Growing capabilities

That is one of the many reasons why a proposed new Centre for Food and Health (CFH) will be so important not just for the Norwich Research Park but for food science in this country.

“The CFH will effectively be an ‘IFR Plus’,” explains Tim, “integrating our expertise with the skills of colleagues at JIC, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), and the University Hospital. The presence of TGAC is particularly important because its high-speed gene sequencing capabilities enable us to conduct meta-genomic analysis on a scale we could only have dreamt of 10 years ago. We can now ask very detailed questions about what happens at the genetic level and the way diet might affect the genetic expression of proteins.”

Such genetic analysis may in time lead to the development of personalised nutrition, as well as personalised treatment for a range of diet related ailments. This is very exciting for the scientists but also creates significant business opportunities, which is why IFR is heading up a bid for European Union funding to set up a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) specialising in food innovation. “The idea is to start with the scientific research and then partner with the business community to create new products, new jobs and economic growth to fund further research.”

From Farmer to Pharma

According to a recent independent report, every £1 invested the IFR already returns over £8 to the UK economy through the commercialisation of its research and its support for businesses. It does this through a number of routes, including the Food and Health Network, which Tim heads up. “The Network is our knowledge exchange for colleagues in the food, drink and health related industries.”

The IFR has also set up IFR Extra to work with companies on new product development, product enhancement and product safety. IFR Extra is also looking at ways to lower manufacturing costs by saving energy and water and reducing food waste, including working with partners on The Biorefinery Centre (also located on the Research Park) to convert waste into fuel.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

“This is a very exciting time to be a food scientist,” says Tim. “Not only is food the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but also globally we face huge challenges in producing enough safe and healthy food to feed a rapidly growing population, and doing so sustainably. This means there are numerous opportunities in both research and business to make a real difference to public health.

“Whether you want to do primary research to inform public policy (on say the level of sugar in food), work on improving foods or develop new medical treatments, this is the field to be in. The Norwich Research Park is already one of Europe’s largest single-site concentrations of research in Food, Health and Environmental Sciences – and it is set to grow rapidly over the next few years. So if you are a keen student or graduate, you should definitely look at the opportunities to work here.”

Thank you for your time Tim and a fascinating morning’s discussion.

Dates for your diary

If you want to find out more about the work of the IFR or the other bioscience institutes at the Norwich Research Park, please follow the links in this blog. Also, if you work in the food industry or the agri-food chain, you should take a look at the Total Food 2014 event, which takes place 11-13 November in the John Innes Conference Centre.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them. If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write