Innovation trends and opportunities in the UK Food & Drink sector - Food Industry Innovation 2021

Posted on: 06/05/2021
various foodstuffs, ingredients laid out attractively

One of our flagship events, Food Industry Innovation is about getting businesses and researchers together to discuss trends in the sector, key areas for research and innovation and spark powerful connections.

Across two days in March 2021, FII2021 attracted over 300 delegates involved in innovation in the Food & Drink community, including start-ups, academics, and researchers.

FII2021 is organised in partnership with Innovate UK.

This year, Food Industry Innovation 2021 covered:

  • The role of emerging science and innovation in diet.
  • Nutrition research in the UK and its impact on the health of the nation.
  • Opportunities for industry and academia to work together.
  • Insight on technical approaches and innovations in food and nutrition from speakers.
  • Pitches from innovative SMEs and researchers innovating in the sector.
  • Discussion around gaps in knowledge and barriers to innovation.

If you missed it, here is a snapshot of the insight and discussions that were shared over the two days.

Watch the full event recordings here. 


Current trends in UK Food & Drink 

The impact of nutrient deficiency on immune health

Professor Judy Buttriss, Director General of British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) kicked us off by exploring the impact of nutrient deficiency on immune health. Vitamin D was a key area for discussion and topical given the Government’s free supply of 10ug/day supplementation of vitamin D to those shielding due to COVID-19.

Plant based diets and their challenges 

Judy moved on to the public’s confusion as to what a plant-based diet is and how the trend for increased plant-based protein needs to consider the Eat Well advice and potential loss of micronutrients, not naturally occurring in these products. Whilst Professor Buttriss acknowledged that UKRI supported work in this area through schemes such as the BBSRC funded Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), new trends such as personalised diets, better translation and communication of the role of nutrition in the nation’s health would benefit from more support.

Consumer food trends during COVID-19

We also heard about trends from a consumer perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic from Unilever and Campden BRI. Professor Tim Foster summarised the great pre-competitive work funded by UKRI and coordinated by KTN in this area and previous translational funding from Innovate UK.

Hannah Pearse, Head of Nutrition and Scientific Affairs at the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) talked about their latest research on the impacts of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour. It highlighted that 51% of people surveyed eating fruit and vegetables more often during lockdown, an increase in people having more regular mealtimes and people cutting down on meat. Read more about IGD’s research here.

Amelia Jarman, R&D Director at Unilever presented trends and innovation in diet and health from a Unilever perspective. Health and immunity including plant-based innovation featured again as post COVID consumer trends. They also observed changes in eating patterns to higher in-home consumption and good value products for cash strapped consumers.

Amelia shared the innovative areas Unilever is working towards including vegan and plant-based ingredients and animal protein replacements, gut microbiome, micronutrient content, immunity, salt and sugar reduction, and mental wellbeing.

Science and innovation in action 

The positive impact of nutrition on health

In this session we heard about the latest vitamin D work in relation to respiratory infection from Professor Sue Lanham-New, University of Surrey, highlighting the positive impact nutrition can have on health. This impact was further highlighted by Matthew Wilcox from University of Newcastle and spin out Aelius Biotech. Matthew talked about his initial DRINC funded work exploring the role of algae in reducing the caloric intake of fatty foods and how this is being explored further by Greggs.

Innovate UK funding boosting collaborations

Vicki Jones from Mondelez talked about the benefits of Innovate UK funding in bringing innovation to Mondelez, enabling collaboration with project partners to find solutions they would not have managed alone. Vicki highlighted two Innovate UK funded projects working to reduce sodium through new topping salt applications and using spent brewery grain (a waste product from the brewing industry) to create a novel high fibre ingredient.

Vitamin D enriched eggs

This session was completed with an excellent talk from Professor Tom Hill from the University of Newcastle talking about two projects which have led to vitamin D enriched eggs, branded as Happy Eggs. Noble Foods have been working with a team of scientists from Newcastle University to enrich the diets of hens to successfully lay eggs with significantly higher levels of vitamin D than standard eggs.

Trends for the future of UK Food & Drink 

An audience poll highlighted the future needs to explore further the role of diet, nutrition and health.

High R&D priorities areas the sector in the next five years

  • Novel and functional foods
  • Plant based diets
  • Supplements/biofortified foods

Low R&D priorities for the sector

  • Fibre enrichment
  • Salt reduction
  • Fat reduction
  • Sugar reduction

What does the sector need for a vibrant emerging science community in the future? 

Delegates were also asked to rate the UK on a global scale when it comes to academic expertise, industrial capacity, facilities, grant funding and business support, private investment and government direction in the UK.

Academic expertise and industrial capacity both ranked high indicating that the components for a vibrant R&D community and turning research into world leading products are here in the UK. Government leadership and investment ranked low, highlighting what the sector needs more of to make the most of its capabilities.

<i>Graph showing expected changes in R&D activity in the food sector over the next 5 years</i>
Graph showing expected changes in R&D activity in the food sector over the next 5 years


Research and SME pitches

In an interactive session, the audience heard pitches from researchers and SMEs and voted for their favourite.

Pitches from innovative research 

Best innovative research pitch – Voted by the audience: Natural Food Additives from Dunaliella salina by Patricia J Harvey, Greenwich University

Patrica has optimised a process to maximise yield of beta carotene coming from dunelia salina. Dunelia salina, a salt water algae, is a great source of beta carotene with an even mix of isomers. It’s better than carrots and is widely used in the USA and South East Asia. Studies have shown that beta carotene can be effective against a number of diseases and has anti ageing properties. This makes Dunaliella salina an appealing algae to research. Patricia’s innovative process now needs to be scaled up.


Click here to watch the research pitches (1:04 into the Day 1 video) 

  • Carlos Moreno-Garcia – Robert Gordon University – LiberEat
  • Parag Acharya – Greenwich University – Plant Protein Dairy Alternative
  • Baukje de Roos – Aberdeen University – Food Swap Tool
  • Christine Edwards – Glasgow University – Fibres effects on Phenolic absorption
  • Patricia J Harvey – Greenwich University –  Natural Food Additives from Dunaliella salina


Pitches from innovative SMEs

Best innovative SME pitch – Voted by the audience: Bug Recipes by Leo Taylor 

BUG is a startup on a mission to take edible insects mainstream. In 2020 they launched the world’s first insect recipe kit, making it easy to cook sustainable, healthy and delicious insect meals at home.

Edible insects offer a solution to a more sustainable food system, as one of the cleanest, greenest and most efficient protein sources in the world. Insects are already eaten in over 80% of countries by more than 2bn people.

BUG is seeking to raise £300k and speak with retailers to get their innovative insect kits on dinner tables across the country. Find out more about their investment opportunity. 

BUG will be crowdfunding soon. Join their waitlist to keep up to date.  


Click here to watch the SME pitches (1:04 into the Day 2 video) 

  • MiNutra, Eric Hilton
  • Devon Garden, Cesar Torres
  • Bug Recipes, Leo Taylor
  • Immuno Box, Marie Jezequel
  • SPG Innovation, Sarah Gaunt
  • Nutrapharma, Eric Hilton


Click here for AgriFood funding opportunities.

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