Nick Hughes shines a spotlight on a trio of start-ups whose innovative concepts are lining up to become the next big thing in the food sector.
If you want to get a feel for the trends that will shape the food sector in 2020 a good place to start is with its entrepreneurs. Earlier this month in London, Rabobank hosted the latest edition in its FoodBytes series, which invites start-ups at the cutting edge of food sector innovation to pitch sustainable solutions for the supply chain, consumer goods and food technology.
“These companies start by identifying a problem and from there they come up with a solution,” Maarten Ooms, managing director, financial advisory and solutions, told Footprint. “If you are a start-up at the moment there is investment and capital available if you have the right story and the right product.”
From seaweed-based supplements and 3D-printed nutrition stacks to a company transforming the way hygiene checks are carried out, we profile three of the start-ups whose concepts look set to shape the food sector in 2020 and beyond.
Fresh Check aims to revolutionise the way food operators perform hygiene checks by developing what it claims is the first affordable method to test surfaces for bacterial, chemical and food debris.
Users apply the hand-held purple spray to surfaces and equipment where food is produced. If the product detects any kind of contamination it changes to a different colour, signifying that the surface needs cleaning again.
The current market standard for food hygiene tests is an ATP (adenosine triphosphate) swab, but chief technology officer John Simpson says the pocket-sized Fresh Check bottle has the dual advantage of being both more convenient and around a third cheaper in price.
The product is currently being targeted at food-production facilities and commercial kitchens, with Simpson reporting that conversations are taking place with UK food producers and an international fast-food chain. The company is also selling to food auditors, environmental health officers and safety managers.
Although Fresh Check can technically be used in a domestic environment and is safe to apply to food, Simpsons says the sensitivity of the spray, which has been designed for use in a commercial setting, means that the business will approach the consumer market with caution as it doesn’t want to create unnecessary fear of contamination.
The start-up has so far raised £340,000 in seed funding and is looking at developing further products with work already underway on a smart use-by date, which changes colour when food is no longer safe to eat
Seaweed & Co
The brainchild of marine biologist Dr Craig Rose, Seaweed & Co is capitalising on one of the key food trends to have emerged over the past 12 months.
Seaweed, of which there are thousands of different varieties, is identified as an ingredient “on the up” in Waitrose’s recently published food and drink report, with searches for ‘aonori seaweed’ up 127% on waitrose.com.
Seaweed is building a loyal following among consumers for its nutritional properties – it is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and a good source of iodine. It is also an effective flavour-enhancer and salt-replacer, making it suitable for use in food and drink manufacturing.
Seaweed & Co’s current range consists of the Puresea brand of nutritional supplements for food, drink and nutrition applications, and the Weed & Wonderful consumer-facing brand, whose products include seaweed capsules and seaweed-infused cooking oil.
The company uses wild harvested Hebridean Ascophyllum seaweed from the waters that surround the remote islands of the Scottish Outer Hebrides. Rose's suppliers have exclusive harvesting rights from the Crown Estate and Rose, who is nicknamed Doctor Seaweed, says there is potential to harvest tens of thousands of tonnes of seaweed sustainably each year.
The seaweed is dried and milled with each batch DNA-authenticated so consumers can log into the website and see where a particular batch is from.
The products come with a strong provenance and sustainability story. Algae such as seaweed acts as a carbon sink, requires no land to produce, and regrows once it’s been harvested.
Rose is hoping he can replicate what he calls the “kale effect” with seaweed, saying: “People know about seaweed now and they know it’s good.”
3D printing has been mooted as the next disruptive food technology for some years but it’s only recently that brands are beginning to penetrate the UK market.
One such business is Nourished, which is selling personalised 3D-printed nutrition stacks direct to health-conscious consumers via its website.
Customers are invited to complete a lifestyle questionnaire from which an algorithm creates a mix of seven vitamins, minerals, superfoods and active ingredients tailored for the specific health and wellbeing need. The company also provides the option for people to create their own stack from a list of 28 ‘nourishments’ including ginseng, beetroot and folic acid, or choose from a range of lifestyle stacks designed to support objectives such as endurance, heart health and immunity.
Head of brand Caitlin Stanley says the model, whereby subscriber pay £39.99 monthly to receive a daily stack, works out cheaper than buying seven separate supplements. She adds that the brand is also looking at forming commercial partnerships and is currently holding talks with various businesses to offer Nourished to employees as a perk. “We believe this will help to raise morale within the workforce by providing a personalised and premium product, whilst the health benefits of taking Nourished will also hopefully help to reduce sick days,” she says.
A dedicated children’s range is also in development.
The stacks themselves resemble jellied sweets in both taste and appearance and are vegan and sugar-free.
The company says it has built sustainability into its entire model, with each stack packaged in a compostable wrapper and shipped in recyclable cardboard boxes.
Founder and CEO Melissa Snover says she has seen no evidence that consumers are put off by the fact the product is 3D-printed: “People don’t care that it’s a 3D printer that’s made it, they care about the product that comes out at the end.”