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Why Produce World sponsored Nottingham food science summer school

About this article

Guy Thallon is Group Sustainability and Research Manager at Produce World Group, who sponsored several places at the Nottingham summer school for the first time in 2014. Here, Guy tells IGD Nutrition and Scientific Affairs Manager, Hannah Pearse, why they believe in the initiative and why he thinks more companies should get involved.

What kind of business is Produce World Group?

Produce World Group is one of the largest fresh produce businesses in the UK. We source produce from our own farms, as well as joint-venture partnerships and dedicated grower groups. We supply a variety of root vegetables, potatoes, brassicas, alliums, and organic produce to leading retailers, foodservice and manufacturing customers.

Why did you decide to sponsor places at the Nottingham University summer school?

As part of our business priorities we have been working to promote careers in agriculture and food 
sciences. Nottingham University runs both food science and plant and crop summer schools so it was 
a natural fit for us to get involved and sponsor our first students.

The format is a great way of championing the food industry and promoting the career opportunities 
that are available, especially in areas where we have a skills shortage. We have had a relationship 
with Nottingham University for several years through research and educational crossovers but this 
has developed further as we have shared our business strategy and long-term sustainability plans 
with them. 

When I visited the Nottingham summer school, it was great to hear from the students first-hand 
about what they had learned over the three days. They expressed real surprise at the scale of the 
industry and the diversity of roles within it.

Guy Thallon photograph

What questions did the students ask? 

There were lots of questions around the supply chain. I think many of them hadn’t thought about how fruit and vegetables get onto the supermarket shelves. So when they hear about the supply chain from growing to harvest to washing, packing and storage the students were surprised at the effort and complexity involved.

Is it difficult getting good scientists into your organisation?

We do find it hard to recruit enough people with good food science skills for technical manager roles, 
for example. Food scientists need to have the appropriate technical knowledge in areas such as food 
safety but must also possess effective problem solving skills as we look to alternative technologies 
and solutions to continuously improve. At Produce World we do train up mangers internally but as 
we continue to grow at pace this isn’t always an option.

Why do you think there are fewer students opting to study food science compared with other science subjects?

I think food from a production perspective is not well-covered in the curriculum and, therefore, there 
is not the awareness of the scale of the industry and all the jobs and skills required to produce our 
food and drink. Additionally, as food and drink is so readily available all year round, people don’t 
stop to think about the processes food goes through before it gets to the supermarket shelf.

What do you think is the best thing about the summer school?

One of the best aspects of the summer school is that the students get to meet people from the food 
industry and visit food production sites. That way they can see different jobs and the rewarding 
career that many have in the industry.

What are the benefits for companies sponsoring summer school places?

The summer schools are a fantastic way to develop new or existing relationships with universities.
They are an opportunity to inspire students and showcase the great work and opportunities the food 
industry can offer.

As the relationships develop other collaborative working opportunities may arise. For example, 
Produce World supports wider university initiatives, undergraduate and masters research projects, as 
well as larger-scale grant applications.

Why should more companies get involved?

As this skills gap is an industry wide problem, these summer schools are a great way of addressing 
this need together.

The curriculum is relatively light on food production content so this is an opportunity for budding 
young scientists to find out more about the career paths available to them in the food and drink 
industry. The more companies that support the initiative, the more the summer schools can grow and 
inspire talented scientists to join the food industry.

If you would like to sponsor places at any of the food science summer schools or would like to find out more then contact Prerna Carroll at IGD.

Alternatively, if you would like to contact the universities direct then please see contact details below.

  • Newcastle University: katie.Hardy@newcastle.ac.uk
  • Nottingham University: Judith.Wayte@nottingham.ac.uk
  • Reading University: H.M.Ferris@reading.ac.uk
  • Leeds University: j.bowes@leeds.ac.uk
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