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Business Innovation Voucher Winning Projects 2024

Business Innovation Voucher Winning Projects 2024

Our Business Innovation Vouchers offer businesses the chance to work with leading research organisations in Kent and Medway to help overcome challenges in the horticulture and plant-based food and drink sector. 

Our second round of funding closed in January 2024, and we awarded over £320,000 to 13 businesses to work with researchers to advance sustainable innovation in our food systems. 

The vouchers will fund a range of projects across the supply chain, including:

  • Sustainable materials and packaging
  • Sustainable farming systems 
  • Sourcing sustainable ingredients
  • innovative food and drink production techniques 
  • Functional foods 

Meet the winning projects: 

Sustainable materials and packaging

Reducing the environmental impact of commercial seaweed cultivation

Nutri-San is working with the Zanzibar Government on a large-scale commercial project extracting carrageenan, a natural additive used by the food industry that comes from red seaweed.

The seaweed will be grown on cables made from polypropylene plastic, suspended in marine waters. The cables are exposed to sun, salt, and agitation. These combined stresses limit the ecologically safe lifetime of the cables, which then need to be discarded. They can’t currently be recycled.

The University of Kent has an extensive library of yeast species. This project will explore the development of a yeast strain which can form a biofilm on the cable. The yeast secretes enzymes to break down and destroy polypropylene plastic as it sheds. This could be a game-changing biotechnology for removing plastics across industries.

About Nutri-San

Nutri-San is an innovative seaweed technology company offering long-term solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. The company specialises in safe and sustainable solutions for the global animal feed and livestock farming industries, producing 100% natural seaweed blend supplements which improve animal health, reduce the need for synthetic additives, and deliver environmental benefits. Nutri-San’s business lines also include refined carrageenan manufacture, seaweed horticultural bio-stimulants and seaweed cultivation for carbon capture.

Research partner: University of Kent
Voucher value: £29,800

Testing the efficacy of chitosan-infused antimicrobial fresh fruit packaging

Fresh produce spoilage caused by fungal and bacterial growth can lead to significant amounts of food waste.  The packaging used for fresh produce has great potential to help reduce food waste.

The University of Greenwich’s Produce Quality Centre provides expertise and facilities to test packaging innovations to ensure they meet the needs of the industry. This project will test a novel packaging concept based on paper pulp infused with chitosan. Chitosan is a natural substance with built-in antimicrobial capability. Its antimicrobial properties work like a shield against spoilage-causing microorganisms. The hope is the new packaging technology will mean fruit stays fresher for longer, naturally resisting the bad microorganisms that cause them to spoil.

The packaging is biodegradable. It will also be adaptable to different fruit shapes and sizes, providing a customised solution for growers, packers and retailers.

About Veraco Ltd
Vecaro is a global hygiene innovation brand. They develop antimicrobial products for a range of sectors, from hospitals and healthcare to hospitality and retail. They are now looking to apply their expertise in antimicrobials to the fresh food packaging market.

Research partner: University of Greenwich
Voucher value: £27,000

Sustainable Farming Systems

Development of a measure, report and verification protocol for enhanced rock weathering to improve soil fertility

Small rock particles, (known as fines) a by-product from quarrying, can help to remove carbon from our atmosphere. They react with water to form carbonates which are then washed into our rivers and seas where the carbon is stored. This process can be sped up and made more efficient by increasing surface area. One way to do this is to spread the rocks over fields and farmland.

Small-scale studies have shown adding these rock fines to farmland can increase crop yields by 12%-16% as they release essential micro and macronutrients, improving soil health.

This project will explore the impact of different particle sizes, rock types and application rates to maximise how much carbon can be stored. They will also measure the improvements to soil health.

The University of Kent has the analytical capabilities to measure the impacts of these experimental variables. The project will have access to their Living lab – an on-farm research facility. 

The data could lead to new commercial collaborations between quarry owners and farmers, with the additional environmental benefit of removing more carbon from our atmosphere and healthier soils.

About UK Carbon Code of Conduct
The UK Carbon Code of Conduct aims to form a central set of standards. It takes a holistic land management approach to drive investment into nature-based solutions that contribute to the reversal of climate change and biodiversity collapse.

Research partner: University of Kent
Voucher value: £29,600

Enhancing Soil Health Through Innovative Microbiome Manipulation

Black Soldier Fly Larvae can convert organic material, such as food waste, into valuable resources like animal feed and natural fertilisers. This project will look at how soil health could be improved by manipulating the gut microbiome of the Black Soldier Fly Larvae by changing their diet.

This could improve the larvae’s ability to process waste produce, creating the right nutrients to enrich the soil. The University of Kent’s cutting-edge genetic sequencing techniques will be applied to help us understand how different diets and environments from different on-farm waste streams can impact the gut microbiome of black soldier fly larvae. In turn, how the natural fertiliser they produce can improve the nutrient availability and microbial diversity in soil.

About Inspro UK

Inspro UK create high-value, sustainable animal feed and fertiliser from insects for arable and livestock farmers, food producers and retailers.

Research partner: University of Kent
Voucher value: £ 29,900

Augmentoria to boost natural biological control

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is a major pest of UK soft fruit crops. One promising option that could help control SWD is the use of natural parasitoids; tiny insects that lay eggs inside the fly and, when they emerge, kill their host. The main native parasitoids can reduce numbers of SWD surviving to adults by around 20%. However, UK growers have been unable to exploit native parasitoids due to low population levels.

Augmentoria can be used to boost parasitoids populations. Unfortunately, there are no commercially available augmentoria for SWD parasitoids.

Scientists at NIAB have been working on control options for SWD for over a decade. Using their expertise, this project will develop robust and practical augmentoria that can be used in outdoor UK field conditions. The project will evaluate if this approach is effective at controlling SWD.

About British Berry Growers

British Berry Growers is an industry body, representing 95% of all British-grown berries. They represent the interests of large and small growers and work to grow year-round demand for fresh berries.

Research partner: NIAB

Voucher value: £28,000

Integration of novel products into apple scab management

A major concern for the apple industry in the UK is the diminishing availability of pesticides to control disease. Products are withdrawn due to concerns for the environment, human health, and consumer pressure.

Apple scab is a fungal disease that causes unsightly lesions on the surface of fruit which makes them unmarketable. There are fewer products available for growers to control this. Previous work carried out by NIAB in controlled glasshouse conditions identified new effective products that are less environmentally problematic and have different modes of action than traditional fungicides. These products would also be suitable for organic growing systems.

This project will test these products in NIAB’s commercial orchard setting to see if they can control the disease. They will also investigate how they can be used alongside traditional control products as part of a crop management programme. The industry, who are supporting this project through their Growers’ Association, will be able to use the results from these trials to inform their on-farm practices.

About British Apples and Pears

British Apples & Pears is a grower-funded, not-for-profit organisation that represents all commercial apple and pear growers of dessert and culinary fruit in the UK.

Research partner: NIAB

Voucher value: £15,300

Sourcing sustainable ingredients

Harnessing UK hops for sustainable non-alcoholic beer production

Currently, Wantsum Brewery predominantly imports high-flavour profile hops grown in the United States and New Zealand. Importing hops is not only costly for the brewer but costly for the environment, too.
This project is seeking to develop a new, sustainable, non-alcoholic beer using UK-grown hops. This would offer conscientious drinkers the opportunity to enjoy a beer containing a high-quality real ale flavour profile, without the alcohol. It would also reduce the beer’s carbon footprint by using locally grown hops.

The University of Kent will analyse the chemical profiles of the hops and enable comparisons between UK and imported hops, and alcoholic vs non-alcoholic beers. This data will also be complemented with data from taste panels.

About Wantsum Brewery Ltd.

Wantsum Brewery is an independent craft brewery based in Canterbury. They produce nine beers year-round, with many seasonal and special ales sold across the South East.

Research partner: University of Kent
Voucher value: £29,600

Enhancing the Uptake of UK Hops by National Breweries through Comprehensive Hop Sensory and Chemical Assessments

This project will work closely with a Kent-based hop breeder and academics at the University of Kent to conduct a thorough sensory and chemical evaluation of UK hop varieties to increase their use in brewing. The research team will delve into the unique aroma, flavour, and chemical composition of UK hops. This will give breweries valuable information, helping them to select and use the right hops for their needs.

Through expert sensory evaluations and advanced chemical analyses, the project aims to showcase the quality and versatility of UK hops. Ultimately, this initiative strives to promote sustainability, support local growers, and celebrate the rich heritage of British hops in the brewing industry.

About Ramsgate Brewery

Ramsgate Brewery has specialised in the use of English hops since it was established in 2002. They brew a range of cask ales, with a popular shop and taproom. They have developed a research and development capacity to test experimental hop varieties.

Research partner: University of Kent

Voucher value: £26,500


Innovative Food and Drink Production Techniques

PROJECT PiP: Crafted in Kent - raising the bar for Alcohol-Free wine

This project aims to create the first UK-based alcohol-free wine. They will explore innovative fermentation and de-alcoholisation techniques using locally sourced produce from Kent.

Collaborating with the Wine Innovation Centre at NIAB will give HWB access to the expertise and cutting-edge equipment available within the facility. The aim is to create alcohol-free wines that preserve the character of the fruit and the health properties within the fruit, responding to the rising demand for premium alcohol-free wine. The project will nurture partnerships with local farmers to champion regional viticulture and celebrate the unique terroir of Kent.

About HWB Group

HWB Group was originally founded as Harlington Wine in 2005 as a specialist UK import wine broker. It has introduced over fifty boutique and niche wine producers from across the world to the UK market.

Research partner: NIAB
Voucher value: £25,700

Development of stable and clean label mochi ice cream recipes capable of withstanding temperature fluctuation

The quality of frozen food can be impacted by significant fluctuations in the temperature they are stored at. When frozen produce is distributed through the supply chain, it is difficult to guarantee it is kept at a consistent temperature. Preservatives and artificial ingredients can help to offset those fluctuations.

Mochi Bros currently produce clean-label mochi ice cream, with only natural ingredients, meaning the products are susceptible to texture degradation due to large temperature fluctuations. Using the technical expertise at the Medway Food Innovation Centre, this project will look at reformulating the product using novel ingredients to find an innovative solution to safeguard against temperature changes in the supply chain.

About Mochi Bros

Mochi Bros produce plant-based mochi gelato sandwiches. They are produced with no additives, preservatives or artificial ingredients.

Research partner: University of Greenwich
Voucher value: £15,000

Enhancing Tigernut Mylkshake Stability, Quality, and Customer Wellbeing through Innovative Processing

The use of tiger nuts as an ingredient in milk-alternative products is growing. The product is known for being gluten-free and rich in monounsaturated fats, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. However, its natural composition can lead to separation issues in the milk product, which affects shelf-life and quality.

Root Mylk produce ‘Tigernut Mylkshake’ and is looking to overcome the issue of product separation. Partnering with the Medway Food Innovation Centre, they will investigate whether High-Pressure Homogenization (HPH) technology or natural emulsifiers can solve this issue. HPH is an innovative method that can homogenize and stabilise tiger nut milk while preserving its taste and health benefits. The hope is to extend their shelf-life and ensure customers receive a consistent, high-quality product that supports their well-being.

About Root Mylk

Established in 2023, Root Mylk intertwines African culinary traditions with a commitment to natural and healthful ingredients. The brand produces unique African-inspired beverages that celebrate the rich culinary heritage of Africa. Root Mylk’s innovative product line includes the Tigernut Mylkshake, which showcases the brand’s dedication to bringing authentic flavours and health-conscious choices to the global market.

Research partner: University of Greenwich

Voucher value: £14,500

Berry Fresh Initiative: Evaluating the Impact of Decontamination on the Sensory Properties of Strawberry

Dry fogging with Hypochlorous Acid (Electrolysed Water), traditionally a decontamination method prevalent in healthcare settings, presents a promising avenue for adaptation in the agricultural sector. This technology could be translated to fresh produce growing environments, offering an alternative method to reduce disease and pest during the growing season. It could also improve the quality of produce and extend shelf-life post-harvest.

This project will give Aridom Sanex access to the strawberry-growing expertise and research facilities in the GreenTech Hub at NIAB. The project will optimise the decontamination process for its application in strawberries to ensure the decontamination effects are achieved, whilst not compromising on plant or fruit quality. It will also test to ensure food safety standards are met.

Aridom Sanex

Aridom Sanex offers a diverse range of products tailored for commercial and industrial applications, including automated fogging devices, eco-friendly biocidal products, water purification systems, and voltage optimisers. Their use of Hypochlorous Acid in decontamination processes highlights their commitment to providing versatile and effective solutions across various sectors.

Research partner: NIAB
Voucher value: £29,300


Functional Foods

Understanding the true medicinal value of mushrooms

There has been a surge in popularity and interest in the use of medicinal mushrooms, with many supplements and powders now available. With no standardised testing methods, the industry faces a challenge with unsubstantiated health claims and inaccurate product testing methods.

Current tests for key compounds like beta-glucans 1-3, 1-6 and triterpenes lack precision and enable companies to make exaggerated assertions about the products’ benefits.

This project pairs a company looking to elevate the integrity of their products, with a research team with a track record in developing diagnostic tests. Together, the collaboration aims to revolutionise the testing protocols for these key compounds and set new industry standards. The aim is to improve the integrity of product labelling across the medicinal mushroom industry, instilling confidence in consumers, healers and herbalists.

About Margate Mushrooms

Margate Mushrooms is a micro-business providing their community with nutritious mushroom-based foods. The mushrooms are grown in the heart of Margate, and the company is a branch of Margate Independent Foodbank.

Research partner: University of Greenwich
Voucher value: £20,100

Photo: HWB Group CEO, Jerome Harlington, with Belinda Kemp, NIAB Viticulture and Oenology