Business support systems and cultural diversity : a knowledge transfer partnership with a manufacturer of South Asian spicy foods
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This paper illustrates a successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership [KTP] carried out between Queen Margaret University College and Mrs Unis Spicy Foods, a manufacturer of South Asian Spicy foods based in Edinburgh. The project is believed to be one of the first of its kind to be carried out with a South Asian owned company and the unique cultural influences on project development and management. This paper highlights both the theoretical and practical processes of knowledge transfer and will illustrate the importance of business solutions that can be tailored to the culture within an individual company. Mrs Unis Spicy Foods is a company that manufactures samosas, pakoras, nan and curries which are distributed throughout Scotland. The products sell mainly to corner shops, cash and carries, delicatessens, hospitals and universities. In addition, food for local exhibitions and conferences and Indian party food for the general public are also supplied. The potential market size for Asian foods is difficult to estimate, due to the differing modes of supply. The restaurant trade is currently estimated to be worth over 2 billion per annum in the UK, but this market is currently lacking in growth opportunities. The pre-packaged convenience food sector, however, is seeing strong levels of growth and the increased demand for convenience foods across all sectors is predicted to continue. The increase in the amount of shelf-space now given to convenience foods of ethnic origin in food retailers is clearly visible and the continuing market for the development of new products for this market is acknowledged. The primary aim of the project was to facilitate long-term knowledge transfer of business expertise from the University to the company and to encourage academics to increase their practical business experience. The development of new fusion products that blended South Asian and Scottish cuisine was a part of this project, designed to facilitate company and sales development and the targeting of new market sectors [Seaman et al, 2005]. Much that is already apparent within the literature regarding business culture and the development of appropriate business support systems is born out by the experiences of this team, with the key role played by cultural aspects emphasised by the South Asian culture apparent within the company. In addition, whilst developing and managing projects and production in an environment where English is not the first language is well documented, a business where a variety of languages are spoken, far fewer are written and some employees cannot communicate directly with the business owner is a challenging proposition. In practice, the programme heralded important changes in the structure and development of the company providing a model for the future and raising important questions about change-management and decision making. The importance of this project is threefold: to businesses it illustrates the advantages of engaging in such projects; to academics it illustrates both the importance of the cultural dimension and the potential for success and for those engaged in the development of business support systems it emphasises the importance of the individually tailored response for diverse companies.