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Obituary: Bob Marsh

21 February 2011

In a sector increasingly characterised by impossibly tight margins, marginalised suppliers and fast-paced change, the Bioscience KTN deputy director and Food Sector Lead represented an oasis of calm. An FP Express Exclusive.

The first time I met Bob Marsh was June 2006, when he was awarded the Food Processing Personality of the Year Award at the Copthorne Hotel near Gatwick Airport. It was also the first time I met many of the prolific characters in the industry because it was my first day on the job at FP magazine.

The mere fact I met so many important people meant it all became a bit of a blur. But I soon discovered there was more than enough time to get to know Bob - he was one of the industry's truly nice guys and a valuable contact. He knew everyone and, just as important, everyone who was anyone appeared to know him.

As MD of the Food Processing Faraday, a position he'd held since March 2003, Bob had access to many in the food industry as well as a wealth of experience in his own right. He'd previously been MD of RHM Technology (part of the Rank Hovis McDougall Group), chairman of Campden BRI and governor of the British Nutrition Foundation.

But it was the warm friendship between Bob and the then publisher of Food Processing Peter Whitfield which was to prove so important to the magazine and, later, to its associated event, Appetite for Engineering.

The two men were very different people. Where Bob was short, Peter is well over six feet tall. Where Peter works his magic with a larger-than-life personality, Bob was a quieter operator. And where Peter can talk the hindleg off several donkeys, Bob was less loquacious.

Despite that, they had much in common. Both professed - and practised - a real passion for the food industry. Both were thoroughly liked by almost everybody they came across in the course of their work.

And, most important, both were notably effective in the execution of their jobs. If they set their minds to something, they would almost certainly achieve it. (Although Peter is semi-retired, it's still the case when he gets involved with Appetite).

When Peter started working on the concept of Appetite for Engineering in 2006, he bounced the idea off a few trusted partners. Bob was one of them, and despite being busy with his career, he enthusiastically offered his help.

The result was that Appetite for Engineering was inaugurated in late November 2007 with Bob serving as chairman on the first day of the conference. In March 2008, he stepped down as MD of FP Faraday to concentrate on his new job as leader of the Food Sector Team and deputy director of the new Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network.

After our Appetite event in February 2009, a decision was made to form a Steering Group consisting of our partners such as Festo, Bosch Rexroth, Ishida, ABB and, of course, Bob. His insights were crucial and his clout was evident when we adopted his idea for one-to-one consultation meetings. At the April 2010 event, he was back in fine fettle at Appetite, chairing the one-to-ones with his usual sure-handedness.

In September 2010, I found myself sitting next to Bob at a Food & Drink Federation lunch in London, marking the launch of a report for the Institute of Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge. Although we'd spoken many times before, it had always been about business. On this occasion, we had a lengthy conversation about his family and of how important they were to him.

It was the last time we met. He passed away on 28 December 2010.

A year earlier, Bob had attended an Associate Parliamentary Food & Health Forum at the House of Lords, where he delivered a talk on what food will look like in 20 years' time. ''There will be greater diversity of products in the marketplace; a revolution in food storage in the home, and packaging will be developed to deliver flavour and aroma on opening, preparation and cooking while eating,'' he said.

It's a tragedy he didn't live to see his predictions come true.

Peter Whitfield on Bob Marsh:
Bob Marsh brought a lot to, gave one hell of a lot to, and will be missed by everyone that knew him in, the food and beverage industry. We had the great pleasure of working with him on many occasions, particularly when he chaired and participated in the Appetite for Engineering events. He deservedly won the Food Processing Personality of the Year in 2006, and among his many claims to fame was the work he did on developing Quorn. He was truly professional in his dealings with all who crossed his path, whether at government or production line level, and his infectious smile was something all who met him will never forget.

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