The Quadram Institute at Norwich Research Park is a recognised world-leader when it comes to research into food, microbiology and the gut microbiome. Its commercial arm, QIB Extra Ltd., works with industry partners in the food, diet and health sectors to make available its expertise and services to help them develop their products with the profits being reinvested in further research.

Formed 15 years ago, QIB Extra is a 100% owned subsidiary of Quadram Institute Bioscience based at Norwich Research Park and acts as an interface with industry to facilitate and manage commercial partnerships with industry. Companies are able to use the Institute’s expertise to research a specific aspect of their products or solve a research problem they have identified in return for a fee.

QIB Extra’s team are skilled at aligning the research expertise of the Quadram Institute with a company’s specific scientific challenge. It provides ISO9001 standard services to give corporate partners the confidence in both the professionalism of the interaction and the research results.

QIB Extra is completely self-funded. The profits it earns from the services it provides are reinvested into further research at the Quadram Institute. It’s a win:win approach that generates several hundred thousands of pounds every year.

Commercial partners from the food, diet and health sectors can pay for consultancy from the Quadram Institute’s experts or for a specific research project to be run.

Alan Brailsford, Head of Operations at QIB Extra, said: “The reputation Norwich Research Park has established as a centre for world-leading research in agribiotech, food biotech and genomics, means companies are very keen to work with us. They recognise that our scientists are at the cutting-edge of research and have the most advanced skills, facilities and technology to provide them with the data and discoveries they need to make their products or services more secure and sustainable.”

Three major sectors where QIB Extra is particularly active in running partnership research for companies are for challenge-testing food, nutritional information food labelling and evaluating the level of bioactive compounds in foods.

Challenge-testing is a process whereby researchers introduce bacteria to a food to see if and how long it takes to grow thus making it unsafe to eat. For food manufacturers looking to extend the shelf-life of their products, they need scientific evidence to prove they stay safe to eat, which is where QIB Extra’s researchers’ expertise helps.

One of the most serious threats to food safety is botulinum toxin. The researchers use their expert skills, equipment and facilities to test how the bacteria that produce botulinum toxin grow on a variety of foods under different conditions and then report back to the manufacturers so that they can optimise their processes. Extending the safe shelf-life of food has positive impacts on a number of aspects of food production including improving sustainability, reducing waste and cutting production costs.

Challenge-testing has become increasingly important as demand for things like vegan or minimally-processed food rises. Because these food types are still quite new, there is a real need to test them to evaluate their safety during storage.

Another reason for challenge-testing is manufacturers looking to reduce the amount of preservatives (such as nitrates) in their foods. There are very few places in the UK where this sort of testing can take place and QIB Extra is one of them thanks to its wide range of research services in microbiology and food safety.

Food labelling is a big issue for consumers, retailers and food manufacturers alike, and it is a complicated business. However, researchers at the Quadram Institute have the expertise in this field which can be accessed through QIB Extra’s Nutritional Information Solutions service. It enables smaller food companies to get the expert support they need with the labelling on their food packaging to meet the legal requirements.

The Quadram Institute also hosts the Food and Nutrition National Bioscience Research Infrastructure, which maintains the UK’s data on food composition, holding all the nutritional information of foods and ingredients most commonly consumed in the UK. Companies can pay a fee to QIB Extra and access the scientists’ expertise to run calculations based on a given recipe and produce the right labels for regulatory compliance.

Bioactive analysis is the third major area where QIB Extra excels. This involves identifying and measuring the specific amounts of different compounds in foods that research has linked to healthy properties. This intelligence helps farmers and food manufacturers work together to produce foods that offer potentially greater health benefits. Sometimes that could be when they are trying to breed plants that are rich in certain compounds; sometimes it is where they are trying to develop growing conditions that enrich these compounds. QIB Extra provides access to experts in the analysis of these compounds in common vegetables like broccoli, cabbages, potatoes as well as bioactive-rich fruits.

Alan said: “We see a massive potential for us to work even more closely with the agricultural and food industries to develop plants and food that are healthier, more sustainable and have longer shelf-lives. With the growing pressure on food security and food quality, our work really does make a difference. The added benefit is that the profits we earn from our work can be reinvested to develop even more valuable research so it really is a win:win scenario.”

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, the science park management organisation of Norwich Research Park, said: “We are very fortunate to have four world-leading research institutes on our campus and it’s so rewarding to see how QIB Extra is translating great science into commercially valuable services for the food and agriculture industries that, ultimately, will be of benefit to consumers both in the UK and around the world.

“There are so many opportunities at Norwich Research Park for new business ideas to emerge from the science taking place here. Through our business development teams and campus-wide enterprise activity, Anglia Innovation Partnership is supporting and encouraging this collaborative work between research and industry and is looking for new opportunities for spin-out and start-up companies.”

To learn more about research and innovation at Norwich Research Park, visit the website.