Leatherhead 100 years

This year we celebrate our centenary: 100 years of leading innovation, insight, regulatory expertise and support for the food and beverage industry.

Today we cover 150 territories, speak over 20 languages, answer in excess of 4000 helpline queries every year and have more than 1200 organisations as members.

We’ve come a long way but what hasn’t changed is our passion and commitment to scientific insight and credibility, service and innovation. It’s this approach which makes us the trusted and credible partner for many of the world’s leading food and beverage companies.

Our history is one we are proud of and we’re excited to share a little of our heritage and development with you here.

Where it all started

During World War One the UK Government created a committee that recommended some organisations, to be called Research Associations (RAs), be set up as a partnership between industry and government with the costs being shared on an equal basis. The results of any research were to be equally available to all member companies.

One of the first industries to take advantage of these recommendations was the confectionery industry, and the British Association for Research for the Cocoa, Chocolate, Sugar, Confectionery and Jam Trades was set up in 1919 – this was the beginnings of what later became Leatherhead Food Research. In a property rented from Barts hospital, overlooking Holloway prison, a carefully selected team started in the business of food research.

The first challenges

The sponsoring industries had real problems. Chocolate got bloom, jam went mouldy, and sweets were unpredictable in texture. The team of scientists and researchers were soon able to provide some indications as to how to overcome these - and other similar - problems.

In 1925 the rest of the food industry recognised the value of the work being done and set up the Food Manufacturers' Research Association to work on their behalf.

The range of investigations was extended to cope with the needs of the new sponsors, which included fat loss on cooking sausages, white spot in sausages, the control of bacon curing, and the thorny problem of quercetin in pickled onions.

Our work saw us as pioneers in pushing back the frontiers of knowledge of the behaviour of food during manufacture and storage.

The post-war years

During the Second World War the staff of the RAs were taken under Government control and were concerned with feeding the nation.

After the war, in 1946, the Councils of the two RAs merged with a new organisation named the British Food Manufacturing Industries Research Association – known as BFMIRA.

The post-war Labour Government was encouraging science in industry and promoted the idea of Science Parks where laboratories could share common facilities and reduce costs. One of these parks was at Randalls Park Farm, Leatherhead, where BFMIRA acquired some land.

The 1950s saw a significant and influential expansion in our level, impact and insight into food research. 

The 1960s and beyond

During the 1960s the purpose of Leatherhead Food Research shifted again with the premise that we needed to offer a service and tackle difficult research programmes which even the large companies did not want to – or were unable to do - themselves.

Topics that were a focus for debate, interest and challenge through the 1960s and 1970s included the application of microwave energy in food manufacture, food quality and the future of food preservation. We led the way in getting food irradiation approved as a credible preservation method.

Elements such as texture and the sense of taste were becoming more influential in the approach to innovation in food.

Our interest in legislation also saw a new area of development for Leatherhead as we extended our expertise beyond the UK into European and other overseas legislation. This was the start of a department that what would become widely regarded as the food and beverage leading centre for global regulatory advice.

A world-leading reputation

Our expertise has evolved for the last 100 years and ensures we remain at the cutting edge of food and beverage science: the frontiers we helped broach early in our history have been adopted as general knowledge throughout the industry.

It’s what we’re still passionate about today as we provide practical solutions that cover all stages of a product’s life cycle from consumer insight, ingredient innovation and sensory testing to food safety consultancy and global regulatory advice.

And whilst our membership remains a cross-section of the industry, our work is now centred on supplementing the capabilities of our clients, helping them to innovate, access new markets and realise global opportunities.

For more information or to talk about how we could help you, please get in touch.