The search for the most exciting developments in the East Midlands food and drink sector has begun with the announcement of the launch of the 2011 Food and Drink iNet (Innovation Network) Innovation Awards.

Being held for the fourth year, the awards recognise and reward the use of innovation in the food and drink sector in the region as a way of boosting development, profitability or growth.

They will turn the spotlight on outstanding inventions or products, exceptional creativity, and innovative working practices in the industry across the East Midlands.

Last year’s category winners included a company that modified salt crystals to create a more intense flavour from less salt and thus allow a reduction in salt used in manufacturing, a firm that developed a range of fruit-based salsas, a brewery that created a centrifuge process more commonly used in the wine industry to manufacture fresh beer in a bottle, which is neither filtered nor pasteurised, and a food and drink distributor that developed the UK’s first overnight temperature controlled parcel delivery network aimed at small, niche producers.

The Food and Drink iNet Innovation Champion – chosen from all the category winners – was fish and chip shop Fairfield Plaice in Buxton, Derbyshire, which won the award for the way in which it had introduced the latest environmentally friendly techniques to a traditional business. Its efforts included installing a dramatically more efficient frying range, using recyclable packaging and buying fish from sustainable sources and chips from a firm that uses recycled waste water.

Success at the Food and Drink iNet Innovation Awards has helped the firm to grow, said owner Carl Heery.

“After winning at the Innovation Awards in 2010 we went on to also win a fish and chip industry award in January,” he said. “The awards all generated publicity for us and show people we are doing our bit for the environment. People come in and say ‘we have seen you in the paper’.

“A lot of industries are struggling because of the recession but we are significantly up on this time last year and the awards have played a factor in that.”

Now the hunt has begun for this year’s worthy winners across Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

Food and Drink iNet director Richard Worrall said: “Over the past few years we have seen some very exciting developments in the food and drink sector that have been put forward for our annual innovation awards. They represent the vibrant nature of the industry that we have in the region, and I am sure this year’s entries will be just as interesting.

“I am delighted to announce that the Food and Drink iNet Innovation Awards will be held again this year. They have become an important date on the sector’s calendar and an excellent opportunity to recognise and reward the innovative work that’s being carried out in the East Midlands.

“I would urge eligible firms and organisations to put themselves forward, and they too could receive similar benefits to those gained by last year’s champion Fairfield Plaice.”

The Food and Drink iNet Innovation Awards have three categories open to firms, organisations and individuals working across the food and drink sector. Entries are now being invited for Most Innovative Food and Drink Business, Most Innovative Business Supplying into the Food and Drink Sector and Most Innovative Research Project.

The Food and Drink iNet Innovation Champion 2011 will be chosen from the winner of the three categories.

The Innovation Awards will culminate in an award ceremony in November, where the winners will be crowned in front of their industry peers.

Forms will be available to download from the iNet section of the Food and Drink Forum website

Funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Food and Drink iNet co-ordinates innovation support for businesses, universities and individuals working in the food and drink sector in the East Midlands. One of four iNets, it has developed an effective network to encourage the collaboration of academic expertise and knowledge, and local food and drink business innovation needs.

It aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes.

The Food and Drink iNet is managed by a consortium, led by The Food and Drink Forum and including Food Processing Faraday, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Lincoln, and the University of Nottingham. It is based at Southglade Food Park, Nottingham, with advisors covering the East Midlands region.

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