Thousands of trainees are set to benefit from the newly created National Centre for Food Manufacturing at the University of Lincoln.

The £3.5m centre, which was opened by Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose last week, houses a food packaging and processing factory featuring a £1.5m fully-automated production line for ready meals, gas analysis equipment for modified atmosphere packing, plus packaging coding and dating equipment.

"The centre will ensure a steady flow of professionals into the food manufacturing industry, enabling companies such as M&S to benefit from continual innovation," said Sir Stuart.

Dean Val Braybrooks, who oversees the Holbeach campus, added that the university aimed to increase student numbers from 2,000 to nearly 4,000 in the next few years.

"The provision has been shaped and dictated by the employers whose businesses it supports," she said. "This partnership has created arguably the best resource of its kind in the UK. It will help ensure the sector's future in a competitive global market."

The project was funded by Lincolnshire County Council with support from the European Regional Development Fund, Lincolnshire Enterprise, East Midlands Development Agency and the University of Lincoln.