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The Welsh government is to plough £21m into a new food and drink innovation project that will fund research into global food trends and reducing food waste.

Project Helix, announced today at the Welsh government’s TasteWales exhibition in Newport, would strengthen the Welsh food and drink sector, help create 370 new jobs, and also safeguard a further 2,000 over the next five years, ministers said.

The plan has been developed by industry partnership Food Innovation Wales and is funded through the EU’s Rural Development Programme. It will primarily target and assist small to medium-sized Welsh producers and manufacturers in rural Wales and the Valleys.

The initiative will offer support into how to fast-track innovation, improve efficiencies and bolster skills in key areas such as food technology. It will also offer assistance into reducing waste during food processing, information on global trends, and how to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing the industry after Brexit.

“We’ve set ambitious targets for the food and drink industry to achieve growth of 30% by 2020 and I am pleased to say we are firmly on course to meet that target,” said cabinet secretary for environment and rural affairs Lesley Griffiths.

“Project Helix is the next step on the journey to ensure our food and drink industry is globally recognised for quality, creativity and skills,” she added.

The launch of Project Helix would help Wales “to be innovative right across the board, from improving nutritional standards and new product development in response to health and wellbeing challenges to retail and market trends”, said Professor David Lloyd of Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Food Industry Centre - which is also part of the Food Innovation Wales partnership.

“Our aim is to put Wales on the global food and drink map, and to do that Helix will provide high levels of support such as identifying businesspeople who want to invest or advising food manufacturers on technical standards and regulations.”

The two-day TasteWales event saw more than 100 Welsh producers showcase the best of the Welsh food and drink industry to more than 150 UK and international buyers.

“There are challenging times ahead as we navigate towards a future outside of the EU, particularly given almost 90% of our food and drink exports go to the EU,” said economy secretary Ken Skates.

“In light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, it is now more important than ever we promote the very best the food and drink industry has to offer and continue to make an impact in global markets,” he added.

“Today’s event is part of our response to overcoming future challenges and provides an exciting opportunity for Welsh producers to strike new deals with some impressive and influential buyers.”