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Open innovation and the formation of university–industry links in the food manufacturing and technology sector: Evidence from the UK

Andrew Johnston (Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 15 January 2020

Issue publication date: 5 January 2021




Despite typically being regarded as “low tech”, the food manufacturing and technology sector is increasingly turning to open innovation practices involving collaboration with universities in order to innovate. Given the broad range of activities undertaken by this sector and the fact that it utilises analytical, synthetic and symbolic knowledge for innovation, it makes an interesting case study on the factors that influence the formation of university–industry (U–I) links. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


Using data from 249 collaborative projects that occurred between UK universities and food manufacturing and technology firms, the analysis utilises a logistic regression model based on a “synthetic counterfactual approach” to modelling the probability a collaborative link will be established with one university and not others.


The results suggest that organisational proximity, conceptualised through the presence of prior ties between actors, has the largest influence on the formation of U–I links. In addition, spatial and technological proximities between actors also have a positive influence on link formation. This result suggests that the specificity of knowledge of the food sector is important in the formation of these U–I links.

Research limitations/implications

The results suggest that the open innovation practices of food manufacturing and technology firms are like other sectors, even though their innovation practices are considered to be different. However, the limitations of the paper mean that these findings may be specific to firms in the food manufacturing and technology sector in the UK.


The food sector is under-represented in empirical studies on university collaboration; this paper addresses this and provides new insights into the formation of these links.



This research was undertaken in collaboration with the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) at Sheffield Hallam University. The author wishes to thank them for their support for this project. The author would also like to thank the Editor, Dr Carlo Giglio, for his comments on earlier drafts, along with the two anonymous referees whose comments have allowed the paper to be strengthened considerably.


Johnston, A. (2021), "Open innovation and the formation of university–industry links in the food manufacturing and technology sector: Evidence from the UK", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 89-107.



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