Challenges and solutions for plant based and alternative proteins - Food Industry Innovation 2020

Posted on: 18/03/2020

Last month we held two Food Industry Innovation events, bringing together start-ups, SMEs and larger organisations to showcase Innovate UK funded projects, hear from a range of experts and provide networking opportunities.

On 25th February, we welcomed delegates to our Food Innovation event on plant based and alternative proteins, held at Mondelez, Bournville in Birmingham.

Plant based and alternative proteins is currently the fastest growing area of food manufacturing and offers great innovation opportunities. These opportunities are typically driven by the nimble SMEs, who when successful are acquired by the large players, providing the masses with access to new products. Our Food Industry Innovation 2020 event was all about Innovate UK funding for SMEs, KTN connecting SMEs that offer solutions to large companies and the opportunity for all attendees to hear about the big industry challenges to scale.


Issues and considerations around protein alternatives

Prof Ian Noble – Senior RDQ Director, Mondelez International and Head of Bournville Technology Centre (also Chair of the KTN Food Sector Group) was our keynote speaker on the day. Prof Ian Noble set the scene by talking about the issues and considerations that arise when simple substitution of protein is not possible. These include:

  • Impact on bone health when substituting milk – There could be the need to increase supplementation.
  • Some substitutes lack the functionality gained from original ingredients (e.g. egg) so straight swaps are not always possible.
  • “Anti-nutrients” in alternative proteins – phytate for example.
  • Issues around Soya (GM and deforestation).
  • The supply chains for alternative proteins are currently unable to fulfil the needs of industry.
  • The use of alternative proteins is also a technical challenge and the production of vegan mayonnaise was made possible by processing.
  • Texture and taste are key to the consumer and there’s a need meet customers’ expectations


Solutions proposed by SMEs

One key element of the event was for KTN to connect SMEs that offer solutions to large companies. Two companies presented solutions on the day.

Entocycle, a London-based insect farming company talked about producing insect protein. They have proven that this can be done anywhere as they currently do so under London Bridge. Being in a city is an advantage when using food waste as a feedstock, as they are doing.

One of their many challenges is to compete against commodity prices for fish meal in the commercial fish feed industry. To do so, they need to ensure their operations are very efficient. Data driven solutions and robotic arms are vital innovations they already use in their system.

Their next step is to optimise the frass which is already proving to have potential as a biofertilizer. This will add even more value to this circular economy business that can really impact Net Zero.

Nandi Proteins are ahead of the game in using plants to produce functional ingredients to reduce levels of fat, additives and gluten in processed foods. Their current focus areas, supported by IUK, are collagen derived fat replacers, whey derived bakery ingredients and plant derived gluten replacers. Although they are driven by functionality, they often still get challenged by potential end users who are only interested in dry weight and protein content. This highlights the lack of understanding around substitution, with consumer enjoyment at its heart.


Panel discussion

Chair: Ian Noble – KTN Food Sector Group Chair

Members: Kathryn Miller (IUK), Jim Laird (3FBio), Alex Pudney (Algenuity) and Adam Harris (Mondelez)

The panel spent some time expressing their views on this sector. Here is an overview of what was discussed.

  • Consumer acceptability was discussed heavily and educating the consumer was raised.
  • The use of alternative proteins is also a technical challenge and the production of vegan mayonnaise was made possible by processing. This highlighted that alternative protein substituted foods are often only possible with ultra processing.
  • Texture and taste are key to the consumer and the challenges it raises

A live poll of the audience also gave a flavour of the issues.


SMEs showcasing their innovations

Through a competition, KTN awarded several innovative SMEs the opportunity to showcase their businesses on the day, with a table top stand.


What people said about the event

“The KTN Industry Innovation even held at Bournville has proven a fantastic, and importantly for a start-up, cost effective way to increase awareness of our product and generate quality conversations with new customers. The expert panel did a fantastic job in sharing the challenges facing the plant based protein industry in the coming months. The event comprised a well thought out agenda, balancing education, cross industry debate and networking. The follow up has been equally good with the team at KTN subsequently helping us connect with additional attendees and get further value. I can unreservedly recommend the event.”

Angus Keech, CCO, Algenuity – making algae work.


“I had a great day, met lots of new people and got some intriguing leads”

Senior RDQ Director, Mondelez International and Head of Bournville Technology Centre


Next steps – Agri-Food Tech Investment Showcase

If you’re an agri-food tech company looking for investment, apply to be part of our upcoming showcase. If you’re selected, you’ll receive pitch training and mentorship and the opportunity to pitch in front of selected investors interested in the sector.

Click here for more information.

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