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UPP leads consortium to unlock a healthy, sustainable plant protein source from the broccoli we already grow

June 19, 2023

UPP, the harvesting technology and broccoli protein innovator, has led a consortium of agrifood-tech researchers and engineers, including the James Hutton Institute and Agri-EPI Centre, in winning a joint grant from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The new SusProt Project will focus on utilizing the 80% of unharvested broccoli biomass (stem and stalk) to create low-cost, low-impact, highly nutritious protein from this previously wasted side stream.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently estimated that the food system currently accounts for 26% of global CO2 emissions and concluded that switching to alternative, plant-based proteins is one of the most impactful ways to combat the climate crisis. The United Nations has also argued that food loss and waste accounts for nearly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that reducing waste close to the farm, as targeted by this project, is the most effective way of addressing food insecurity and alleviating street on land and water.

If, by 2035, 11% of all protein consumed globally were substituted for plant-based alternatives, BCG analysis concludes that more than 1 gigaton of CO2e would be saved, the equivalent to decarbonizing 95% of the aviation industry. The SusProt project is therefore targeting two of the biggest challenges in agriculture – reducing wastage and decarbonizing protein supply.

DEFRA figures suggest that in the UK alone, more than 600,000 tons of broccoli plant mass is currently wasted, this includes not only the stem, stalk and leaves, but also broccoli heads that do not meet strict supermarket specifications. This ‘waste’ sidestream is just as nutritious as the broccoli in the supermarket and can be harvested for valuable proteins and ingredients as a more sustainable alternative to pea or soya protein.

The UPP led consortium includes the world-renowned James Hutton Institute, often referred to as the 'MIT of agritech', which brings expertise in crop valorisation, phyto-chemistry, food and nutrition. Precision agriculture specialists, Agri-EPI Centre will provide life cycle analysis, measuring exactly how environmentally and economically sustainable the product is at each stage of its development, informing the best adaptations to maximize – e.g. water and energy-use and minimize emissions – and will provide an evidence base to the environmental benefits.

The project will end in December next year and will also evaluate the potential to extend to other unused primary crops. The SusProt consortium is working with leading food companies Samworth Brothers, Innocent Drinks and Lees of Scotland, who will test and evaluate the proteins and other extracts for use in their products.

“We’re delighted to have won this grant and to be working with some of the UK’s best agrifood-tech teams to deliver this project," said David Whitewood, Co-founder & CEO, UPP. "The global demand for plant proteins is growing significantly, driven by a strong consumer demand for healthier nutrition and sustainable food. Broccoli ‘waste’ is just as nutritious and healthy as the broccoli heads we buy at the supermarket, this project aims to ensure that broccoli is no longer ‘growing to waste’.”

“There is compelling evidence that eating brassicas like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of the major degenerative disease," added Professor Derek Stewart, Director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute. "With healthy plant proteins easily within reach, we should ask ourselves why we are not eating more and why are we leaving so much biomass to rot in the field. Fortifying food with clean protein and ingredients from crop waste is an easy win for farmers, food producers and end users, and this project should help deliver that win.”

Commenting on Innocent’s potential use of broccoli protein in future project ranges, Robin Slatter, Scouting & R&D lead for Innocent Drinks, said: “We are always searching for new ways to make it easy for people to eat more fruit and veg while looking after the planet. We are excited to see, through this project, how broccoli stem, which otherwise would be wasted, can be used to create a healthy and nutritious product that is better for people and better for the planet."

This award follows a £500,000 (US$639,000) initial investment from Elbow Beach Capital in UPP in January 2023. The company aims to raise an additional £3 million (US$3.8 million) though a seed investment round expected to close in early 2024. UPP aims to be generating first revenues in 2024, growing to more than £50 million (US$64 million) in revenue in its three pilot markets in 2027.

Professor Derek Stewart will join the advisory board of UPP as Scientific Advisor with immediate effect joining Andy Summerfield, Investment Director of Elbow Beach Capital.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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