Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Bradford have secured more than £618,000 to support Leeds-based business Rakusen’s to become more sustainable and meet demand for growth.

Academics from Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) and the University of Bradford’s Faculty of Engineering and Informatics will work alongside Rakusen’s to transform production methods to support the business to reduce emissions and energy consumption by 60%.

The project will also support the 100-year-old business, which produces flame-baked water crackers and biscuits in the UK, to meet demand for growth in international markets and help it to meet net zero targets while maintaining its heritage.

The two-year project, funded by Innovate UK part of UK Research and Innovation, aims to transform Rakusen’s using digital technologies and food science to minimise the company’s carbon footprint and maximise capacity without the need to change the existing machinery.

Improving sustainability while maintaining heritage

The business currently uses legacy equipment which provides limited manufacturing control and restricts the introduction of new product lines. The future of the business requires it to address these challenges and invest in innovation, which is sympathetic to its heritage-based offering.

Through this project, machine intelligence will capture knowledge and skills, moving to intelligent decision-making to support significant reduction in energy usage, carbon footprint and material waste.

The project will also have a positive impact on the workforce by upskilling staff through training and introducing culture change as well as having an impact regionally as most ingredients are supplied locally.

Rakusen’s Managing Director, Andrew Simpson said: “The company is excited to be working with two eminent Yorkshire-based academic institutions to modernise our production processes to improve our sustainability whilst maintaining our heritage-based offering.”

NCEFE’s vision is to be internationally recognised for excellence in sustainable innovations for the global food system.

The Centre has a mission to drive vitality, sustainability and growth in the global food system working with our partners through research and innovation, aiming to deliver world-class capability, innovative sustainable food system, technology-led solutions and sector competitiveness.

Professor Martin Howarth, Director of NCEFE at Sheffield Hallam, said: “Our research is focussed on improving sustainability and reducing waste in food production. Working with Rakusen’s and their material suppliers, we will use AI techniques to deliver new, highly efficient and low energy processing techniques to improve the consistency and sustainability of Rakusens’ traditional baked products using ingredients from the local region.”

Dr Savas Konur, Reader in Computer Science at University of Bradford said: “We are delighted to work on this highly interdisciplinary project that addresses very specific technological challenges resulting from transforming a traditional food manufacturer to an efficient enterprise fully utilising digital technologies, including big data, industrial Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, as well as food science to minimise its carbon footprint and maximise its capacity without the need to change the existing legacy machinery and lose its ‘heritage’ identity. The project will address the challenges in energy sustainability, productivity, operational efficiency, capacity constraints and waste in the baking industry and will also contribute to the UK’s net zero targets.”