UMass Amherst Food Science Department Links Research and Industry Interests

AMHERST, Mass. - The department of food science at the University of Massachusetts and the food industry have established a new and unique partnership that benefits both UMass and the companies that participate.

It enables industry to gain access to state-of-the-art university research, while helping the University to carry out its mission of providing a high-quality education for its students, playing a role in economic development, and building support for future research.

The Strategic Research Alliance, as it is known, is an outgrowth of strategic planning by the faculty of the food science department, as well as the recently successful food science capital campaign, says Fergus Clydesdale, department chair. The partnership actually formalizes many of the department’s long-standing relationships with members of the food industry. When the alliance was initially announced last December, says Clydesdale, the expectation was for 20 companies to join over a two-year period. But this number was achieved within six months, he says.

Clydesdale attributes the high rate of participation not only to the department’s outstanding reputation for research and education but also to what companies gain by joining the alliance, namely access to University faculty and research.

"Food companies," says Clydesdale, "like so many other large corporations these days, have cut back significantly on basic research. We have a top-notch faculty doing research that has wide-ranging applications in industry. The alliance allows companies to tap into this expertise and to be on the cutting-edge of interdisciplinary research into the development of new products and trends in food science and technology."

A recent front-page story in the Wall Street Journal in which the alliance was mentioned described the nation’s food companies as "going stale," and "starving for new ideas." The alliance, says Clydesdale, offers industry "a continuous stimulus for new ideas" and a means of aligning University research with industry’s needs.

For a $5,000 annual membership fee, companies are invited to the department’s annual research briefings; receive information and updates on new technologies, research innovations, and regulatory bulletins; receive reprints of faculty research articles; and gain access to food science faculty and graduate students. Also,alliance members’ requests for funded research projects are given priority consideration.

"As for the University," Clydesdale says, "the alliance benefits students directly because it allows us to maintain top-quality programs and to monitor and obtain the latest and best technology and equipment for use by students. It provides interaction with industry, which eventually translates into jobs for our graduates.

"In addition," says Clydesdale, "the alliance provides the University with a means of fulfilling its land-grant mission. It enables UMass to use its research to meet not only industry’s current demands, but the future’s demand for technology-transfer. By assisting industry, the University helps to create jobs and contribute to economic development. And ultimately, of course, it plays an important role in keeping the food we eat safe, nutritious, and of the best quality possible."