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Providing agrifood SMEs with tailored business support can help them to innovate the food system

Insights that represent the voices of thousands of agrifood SMEs in the UK, Ireland and Iceland reveal the unmet needs of SMEs and how the agrifood industry can maximise business support and impact.

11 Apr 2022
EIT Food North-West

Agrifood SMEs experience unmet needs such as limited access to scale up facilities and technological proficiency, a new report from EIT Food reveals. EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.  

The hub of EIT Food covering the UK, Ireland and Iceland gathered qualitative insights from 100 agrifood SMEs and support organisations that represent a large number of small businesses, to understand the unmet needs of SMEs. In a challenging food sector, the results identify what support is needed to help businesses to scale and to innovate. SMEs from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland often lack specialised SME business support, due to the particular challenges of developing innovative new products and services in the relatively niche agrifood sector.

Download the SME Report

Small agrifood businesses have specific challenges to overcome  

The report found that SMEs in the agrifood space tend to be mission-led, purpose-driven businesses motivated by changing the system. While it is positive that SMEs focus on more than profit alone, it can create significant challenges for them, as they want to introduce new products and services into the market. For example, using new technologies and business models that need adoption from industry networks, along with government policy shifts and citizen participation, can be an obstacle for SMEs.

In addition, at a business level, SMEs are confronted with the common challenges of how to access customers, markets and technical expertise, to be able to move along the technology readiness scale from bench to commercial product. This progression requires physical technical facilities, funding and business process expertise which can be yet another obstacle for small businesses.  

Aside from access to resources to develop their products and markets, SMEs require investment. However, SME-investor relationships can be challenging. This is because investors tend to prioritise return on investment, and innovative developments in agrifood can take longer to reach profit because of the technical challenges and the need to gain regulatory approval. 

Other unmet needs of agrifood SMEs include:

  • Support for understanding the funding landscape
  • Support for navigating complex regulations
  • Support for market validation, particularly for niche and unique products
  • Lack of time and resources to engage in strategic development and business planning.
  • Support for innovative agrifood SMEs should help them to scale and grow.

While a great deal of support is already available for SMEs to grow their businesses, tailored services for agrifood businesses is not extensive.

The report recommends a range of activities that would operate across the UK, Ireland and Iceland. These activities would specifically target the agrifood sector, complementing existing services and providing specialist support that will help innovative and ambitious agrifood businesses to scale and grow.

Recommendations of how the agrifood industry, including EIT Food, can support agrifood SMEs include:

  • Extend existing networks to include innovative agrifood SMEs and specialist service providers
  • Leverage extended networks and broker introductions to provide access to technology, facilities, and funders
  • Provide access to high quality resources and tools for professional development (technical and business); focused on innovation, operational process, and scale-up skills
  • Provide specialist training on business innovation and strategy for food SMEs.

Jayne Brookman, Director EIT Food North West, said:

“There are particular challenges around providing tailored support for small ‘farm to fork’ businesses. Most innovation support agencies have to support a wide range of sectors.  Our aim is to help to create easier access to new technologies and markets and tailored business support to enable these agrifood businesses to attract investors and develop sustainable, scalable businesses. EIT Food North West Regional Office can play its part by connecting SMEs to the international networks and the available agrifood business expertise that these businesses have told us they want.”

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Notes to Editors

EIT Food targets mission-driven agrifood SMEs

EIT Food North West region targets companies with innovations and technologies designed for improving the sustainability of agriculture and aquaculture, as well as those developing food products focused on targeted nutrition, alternative proteins, or circular food systems.

SMEs in the report share EIT Food’s vision of a transformed, equitable and trustworthy food system and are likely to be mission-led, purpose-driven businesses motivated to provide healthy and sustainable food for all.

About EIT Food

EIT Food is the world’s largest and most dynamic food innovation community. We accelerate innovation to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all. 

Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, we invest in projects, organisations and individuals that share our goals for a healthy and sustainable food system. We unlock innovation potential in businesses and universities, and create and scale agrifood startups to bring new technologies and products to market. We equip entrepreneurs and professionals with the skills needed to transform the food system and put consumers at the heart of our work, helping build trust by reconnecting them to the origins of their food.

We are one of eight innovation communities established by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT), an independent EU body set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe. 

Find out more at www.eitfood.eu or follow us via social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedInYouTube and Instagram.

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