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Manufacturer of Quorn, Marlow Foods, and the UK's University of Teesside collaborate to support sustainable meat alternative production

February 21, 2024

A research partnership with Teesside University has helped one of the world’s leading producers of meat alternatives diversify its business and incorporate new skills within its workforce. Marlow Foods, which manufactures Quorn meat-substitute products, undertook a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the UK University to drive the sustainability and quality of its protein.

The successful collaboration was then transferred as part of the R&D projects in the new business unit in the company, Marlow Ingredients, which will supply other food manufacturers with the high-quality mycoprotein which is used across Quorn products.

In addition, the KTP has also resulted in the permanent establishment of a mass spectrometry analytical laboratory at its base at Billingham in the Tees Valley, which will help the company embed new skills vital to ensuring that its products remain at the forefront of quality and supporting their continuous improvement.

The KTP used Mass Spectrometry, an analytical method which can analyze compounds at a molecular level, to understand the behavior of mycoprotein, the main ingredient in all Quorn products.

In particular, it helped the development of mycoprotein fermentation process, as well as making the production more sustainable and cost effective.

KTPs aim to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology, and skills within the UK knowledge base. This KTP project was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through Innovate UK.

Quorn is a meat substitute produced in Billingham by fermenting a nutritious microorganism in the fungus family called Fusarium venenatum. This is, in turn, developed into more than 100 different Quorn products such as pies, sausages and mince, which are sold primarily in Europe and the USA, and available in 18 countries.

Dr Nanda Ayu Puspita, who has a PhD in Biochemistry, was the KTP Associate based at Quorn’s pilot plant in Billingham, supported by the facilities and expertise at Teesside University’s National Horizons Centre, a £22.3 million (US$28.2 million) national center of excellence for the bioscience sector.

“It is impossible to see what happens to the protein when it is in the fermenter," she said. “However, by using mass spectrometry we can get a better understanding of how the organism is behaving and what we can do to refine and control the production environment to get a better overall product.

“As well as resulting in a better-quality product, it also helps lower costs and reduces our environmental impact.”

“This was a very complicated project involving a number a of different disciplines including biology, chemistry and engineering," added Professor Gary Montague, from Teesside University’s School of Health & Life Sciences. “It has been a major success and is a testament to the collaborative and innovative manner in which the KTP was carried out.”

“The dataset which was produced by Nanda’s research has given us a much greater insight into our proteomic fermentation," stated Mark Taylor, Senior Fermentation Scientist at Marlow Ingredients. “In addition, bringing Nanda into the business has allowed us to utilise her mass spectrometry skills in a range of different areas and add value to a number of other projects.

“We’ve also now established Marlow Ingredients which will enable us to do things differently as a business and will support us in our strategic ambition to produce 8 billion servings of healthy, tasty and nutritious Quorn products every year by 2030.”

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