Having worked both for a food product development magazine and in R&D with food manufacturers, I’ve noticed areas where there is great discrepancy between the world of trade media and food industry reality.

For one, I believe the academic world is not well represented by trade publications covering product development. R&D is, in the end, a scientific endeavor, with its practitioners holding degrees, many times advanced, in food science and related fields. Such R&D professionals often remain tied to universities and linked to professors. Paul Lachance, Ted Labuza, Howard Moskowitz and many other professors are part of food science “lore” and integral to a food science culture linking industry, government and academia...but not necessarily trade publications.

I bring this up, because I recently attended a reunion at my own alma mater, the University of Minnesota’s Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition. Gary Reineccius, Ph.D., department head (and my own flavor chemistry professor), presented a harsh financial outlook that many, if not all, food science departments face.

“In the next three to four years, our college anticipates losing approximately 20% of its faculty, due to reduced state support,” Reineccius says. “However, unlike business revenues, as the economy improves, we do not expect state support to recover.” Besides state funding, the USDA, long a source of grant money, has rated food-science related projects as non-priority.

University food science departments will need to more aggressively seek industry support. For example, locally-based General Mills already endows two chairs (i.e., supports two professor positions) in Reineccius’ department.

Professors must change, become entrepreneurial and earn part of their incomes from outside sources, such as grants and external teaching. “Faculty likely will be able to pursue an area of research, only if they are able to obtain support for it,” says Reineccius. “They must add [more immediate] value to the industry.”

While many would argue “it is about time academia joins the real world,” there is a downside. Universities have traditionally been able to attract talented, but underpaid, professors with the promise they could work in their areas of interest.

Other revenue strategies may include joint ventures between universities and increased online course enrollment. As its financial structure changes, so too will the nature of the academic world.

Food science departments give much to industrial R&D, from an educated staff to advancements in technology. They in turn deserve to be supported. pf