£800k government grant for new UK agritech consortium transforming broccoli waste into sustainable protein

UPP, the company specializing in harvesting technology and broccoli protein, has led a consortium of AgriFoodTech researchers and engineers, including the James Hutton Institute and Agri-EPI Centre.

Together, they have secured a joint grant from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The newly established SusProt Project aims to address the issue of unutilized broccoli biomass (stem and stalk), which accounts for approximately 80% of the harvest. The project’s objective is to convert this previously wasted side stream into affordable, environmentally friendly, and highly nutritious protein.

A recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) revealed that the food system is responsible for 26% of global CO2 emissions. The study concluded that transitioning to alternative, plant-based proteins is one of the most effective measures to combat the climate crisis. Additionally, the United Nations has emphasized that food loss and waste contribute to nearly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction of waste at the farm level, as targeted by the SusProt Project, is considered the most impactful approach to addressing food insecurity and mitigating strain on land and water resources.

According to DEFRA statistics, over 600,000 tonnes of broccoli plant mass are currently wasted in the UK alone. This includes not only the stem, stalk, and leaves but also broccoli heads that fail to meet stringent supermarket requirements. Despite being categorized as ‘waste,’ this side stream possesses the same nutritional value as the broccoli found in supermarkets. By harvesting it for valuable proteins and ingredients, it offers a more sustainable alternative to pea or soy protein.

The consortium led by UPP comprises esteemed organizations such as the James Hutton Institute, renowned as the AgriTech equivalent of MIT, bringing expertise in crop valorization, phytochemistry, food, and nutrition. The Agri-EPI Centre, specializing in precision agriculture, will conduct a comprehensive life cycle analysis to evaluate the environmental and economic sustainability of the product at each stage of development. This analysis will inform necessary adaptations to maximize water and energy usage efficiency, minimize emissions, and provide an evidence base for the project’s environmental benefits.

The project is scheduled to conclude in December of next year and will also explore the potential for expansion to other unused primary crops. The SusProt consortium has partnered with leading food companies, namely Samworth Brothers, Innocent Drinks, and Lees of Scotland. These companies will test and assess the proteins and other extracts for incorporation into their products.

David Whitewood, co-founder, and CEO of UPP expressed his delight at winning the grant and collaborating with the top AgriFoodTech teams in the UK to realize the project’s objectives. He highlighted the growing global demand for plant proteins driven by consumers’ desire for healthier and sustainable food options. Whitewood emphasized that the broccoli ‘waste’ is equally nutritious and healthy as the broccoli heads purchased at supermarkets. The project aims to eliminate the wastefulness associated with broccoli production.

Professor Derek Stewart, Director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute, emphasized the importance of protein as an essential nutrient in our diet. Considering the impact of climate change on our quality of life, Stewart stressed the need to reassess protein sources and production methods. Through this consortium, the project seeks to achieve a significant breakthrough in protein production.

Robin Slatter, Scouting and R&D lead for Innocent Drinks, shared his enthusiasm regarding the potential use of broccoli protein in their future product ranges. He mentioned their constant pursuit of innovative ways to encourage people to consume more fruits and vegetables while prioritizing environmental sustainability. Slatter expressed excitement about the project’s exploration of utilizing otherwise wasted broccoli stems to create a healthy and nutritious product that benefits both individuals and the planet.

This grant follows an initial £500,000 investment from Elbow Beach Capital in UPP in January 2023. The company aims to secure an additional £3 million through a seed investment round, anticipated to conclude in early 2024. UPP plans to generate its first revenues in 2024 and expects to reach over £50 million in revenue across its three pilot markets by 2027.

Professor Derek Stewart will assume the role of Scientific Advisor and join the advisory board of UPP, effective immediately. He will join Andy Summerfield, Investment Director of Elbow Beach Capital, in providing guidance and expertise to the company.

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