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Common Interest Groups: Helping smaller businesses to succeed through partnership

Scottish Craft Brewers

The food and drink supply chain is dominated by small and micro businesses. In Scotland more than 95% of businesses in the sector employ less than 12 people. Many of these smaller companies have a common desire to grow and succeed but this can be is hampered by their size. They often lack the human, technical and financial resources of larger companies to invest in New Product Development (NPD) or to optimise their market position and business processes. Although companies may be competing in the same commercial areas there are often generic development that all can benefit from without compromising their individual values. By working collectively to address generic issues, challenges and opportunities smaller companies can benefit by accessing activities and projects that far exceed those that they could achieve alone. SEFARI partners have been working with key partner organisations including the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership, Interface, SAOS and Food and Drink Federation Scotland to help develop Common Interest Groups (CIGs). CIGs offer a unique opportunity for smaller companies from within a subsector or across a supply chain to explore common issues and to apply outcomes to individual business activities. The driver for this body of research innovation is SEFARI’s delivery of Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Programme (SRP) and the research that the SRP underpins within and across our partners.


Work in Progress


Smaller companies have the potential to be highly innovative in product and manufacturing development and in business process, but typically lack the scale and resources to effectively apply this. Historically many smaller companies have also seen themselves competing directly with, rather than always fully capitalising on their own operation in, their own the position in the market.  Together these factors have often hampered growth. The Scotland Food and Drink Partnership Ambition2030 Strategy identifies Collaboration as one of three key drivers, together with Skills and Innovation, for growth in the sector.  A programme that supports pre-competitive collaboration within smaller companies and which through this amplifies the breadth of expertise and knowledge available to participating companies should help overcome these barriers. Members of the Scotland Food and Drink partnership have been working to develop a number of collaborative groups (Common Interest Groups or CIGs) that bring together groups of businesses in different areas of the agri food supply chain. Some of these are focussed on specific sub-sectors, others focus on challenges or opportunities. Fifteen CIGs have now been established, each with different objectives. Underpinning research undertaken in SEFARI partner organisations is crucial in supporting many of these CIGs and is contributing to the competiveness of smaller companies in the sector.


Common Interest Groups are an ideal platform to support collaborative innovation in smaller companies across the agri-food supply chain leading to accelerated growth at a company and sector level. By identifying common issues, threats and opportunities groups of companies can access and share information or participate in research at a scale that would be unthinkable for most small companies. Each participant can apply the outcomes of the activity to their own business activity without compromising their individual competitive position. This project is an example how the wide ranging underpinning knowledge and experience within the SRP and within SEFARI is being integrated with the activities of enterprise agencies to support economic growth. SEFARI inputs are helping primary producers increase productivity and improve sustainability.

SEFARI institutes have been a key delivery partner in making the Common Interest Group model successful Make Innovation Happen.  Working with Scotland Food and Drink Partnership members such as SAOS, Interface and FDFS, the SEFARI Gateway Sector Leads have used their detailed knowledge of the research being undertaken across SEFARI member organisations to identify relevant multidisciplinary research from across the SRP and also wider Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Portfolio that can support individual CIGs and have developed mechanisms to translate this. Typically, interaction has started with industry focussed workshops and fore-sighting sessions. In many cases this has led to more in depth interactions, including commissioned activity with the group. Some examples of these interactions include:

Scottish Oilseed Rape Producers:  SEFARI partner organisations helped facilitate the initial meetings between 7 small producer companies and through this helped the group identify common issues and objectives. Subsequent support has included work to fingerprint and differentiate Scottish produced oil from competitors which has helped the group define USPs (unique selling points). SEFARI has also provided support on agronomy (study of soils and crops) and trait selection for optimum performance.

Scottish Venison Partnership : Research undertaken by SEFARI partner organisations proved information on optimal nutrition and husbandry in farmed stock and also has helped Partnership understand the disease threats to wild and farmed venison and this has informed their strategies for maintaining the strong health and welfare credentials of Scottish venison.

Angus Growers Ltd; SEFARI partners have worked with this consortium of soft fruit growers to use genetic information for informed natural breeding and selection of soft fruit varieties for improved taste, texture, sensory properties, yield and disease resistance.  This is also helping growers to extend their season and reduce waste.

Scottish Craft Brewers: SEFARI partners have been working with this new grouping of small and micro breweries to support informed selection of barley and other grains for brewing to maintain the unique sensory signatures of craft beers. This includes expert advice on variety selection, agronomy regimes to optimise brewing traits.  Scottish Craft Brewers are now engaged with the proposed Scottish Barley Hub and are exploring the potential for Scottish produced hops as a result of this initial engagement.


Our involvement as a provider of research and intellectual support for Common Interest Groups is helping smaller companies access diverse and extensive expertise available across SEFARI partner organisations and the SRP. It is giving companies evidence based solutions driven by multidisciplinary research across the SRP partners to help in business planning and development and helping new or emerging sectors to compete.  It is developing new ways to communicate with an industry community which is typically difficult to reach and for which there are additional barriers to innovation uptake.  

Project Partners

Rowett Institute


The James Hutton Institute

Moredun Institute


Scotland Food and Drink

Interface Food and Drink

Food and Drink Federation Scotland

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