Scientists solve problem of industrial waste from sugarcane processing in India

Scientists have discovered how to significantly improve the sustainability of the sugarcane industry by turning a major by-product into a valuable chemical used in food, medicines and cosmetics. In a project carried out in partnership between scientists in the UK, including from the University of York, and Indian and UK companies, researchers found a way to turn bagasse – the fibrous material left after crushing the sugarcane plant – into citric acid. India is the world’s second largest producer of sugar, and the industry is one of the largest rural employers. However the industry generates significant industrial waste in the form of bagasse. This biomass is currently burnt to power the sugar factories, but this process is inefficient and does not use all of the available bagasse. Professor Simon J McQueen Mason from the Department of Biology at the University of York said: “To assess the economic potential of this process, the next step is to attract further investment to carry out processing trials at 100L scale. If that goes well, the Indian sugar company Natems Sugars are very interested in building a factory to run this process, which would be the first of its kind in the world.” Scientists on the project, which received £1.8 million in funding from the Newton Bhabha Fund, discovered that pre-treating the bagasse by warming it and adding a dilute alkaline solution breaks down the fibrous structure of the biomass making it easier to handle and for chemicals to interact with it. The researchers and industry experts then optimised this process, developing a bespoke enzyme cocktail that breaks down the bagasse into a mixture rich in sugars. A fungus called Aspergillus is then added to this sugary mixture. The ability of the fungus to feed on the sugar and turn it into citric acid was extensively studied and optimised during the project by researchers and the whole process was put together and tested at a larger scale using state-of-the-art facilities at the Biorenewables Development Centre. Dr Deborah Rathbone, bioscience innovation team leader, Biorenewables Development Centre, said: “We have shown in this project that we can use the sugars from this waste product to produce citric acid. This versatile chemical has applications in a number of different sectors, such as food, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and so on, because it’s generally regarded as safe and a material that can be eaten.” Dr Ramnath Nandakumar, Managing Director, Natems Sugars, added: “We now want to take the project to the next step in terms of scale up and commercialisation. If this is successful, Natems’ ultimate goal would be to build a factory to run this process which would be the first of this kind, both in the world and in India.”

Koa raises $10m to build Africa’s largest cocoa fruit factory

Swiss-Ghanaian start-up Koa has secured $10 million growth capital to accelerate its disruptive upcycling business around the cocoa fruit. The investments will allow Koa to scale its production capabilities tenfold and thereby allowing the company to cooperate with an additional 10,000 cocoa smallholders in Ghana. Koa has announced the completion of its Series A equity round as well as the closing of additional senior and junior ranking debt for a total of $10 million of financing from both institutional and private investors. “We are excited that we won strong and reputable partners for the further growth of our business. It shows that our way of responsibly doing business and our value proposition are meeting the pulse of the time. With these investments, we will be setting up Africa’s largest cocoa pulp processing plant in West Africa which is the world’s largest cocoa growing region,” Benjamin Kuschnik, co-founder and group finance director of Koa, says. Founded in 2017, Koa is disrupting the cocoa industry through its innovative upcycling of the cocoa fruit. Koa says it is the first company in West Africa to have unlocked a new value chain around the so far discarded cocoa pulp. Working closely with cocoa smallholders, Koa reduces on-farm food waste around the cocoa fruit, generates additional farmer income while at the same time bringing unique new ingredients to the food and beverage industry for applications ranging from chocolate, confectionery, ice cream to drinks. To finance its next expansion plans, Koa has successfully completed its Series A round raising a total of $4.7 million in equity. The investment round was led by Haltra Group, a Luxembourg-based family investment company which is joined by a group of other like-minded family offices all sharing Koa’s conviction to establish a business that creates real impact while being profitable and sustainable on the Triple Bottom Line “People, Planet and Profit.” “As a family investment group focused on managing assets and having a positive impact, we promote the emergence of disruptive and sustainable economic models for future generations. We are delighted to participate in this exciting venture at the edge of Circular Economy and Food Transition, two of our core investment themes, and to contribute to impacting the local communities in Ghana,” Matthieu Baumgartner, co-founder of Haltra, says. The equity round is complemented by a $3.5 million long-term debt facility from impact funds and $2.0 million of shareholder loans. The long-term debt facility is co-led by the IDH Farmfit Fund and the Landscape Resilience Fund coming together in a unique partnership for this investment with the aim of improving smallholders’ incomes and their transition to climate resilient agriculture. “Koa’s innovation makes it possible for farmers to increase their living income significantly by selling their waste product, without having to make additional investment costs at their farms,” Barbara Visser, COO of the IDH Farmfit Fund, says. “Koa furthermore aims to create gender equal employment opportunities in rural communities and targets to reach 40% women farmers, which are in line with core objectives of the IDH Farmfit Fund. We are very pleased that today’s investment will support Koa in responsible value creation in the cocoa supply chain. These kind of disruptive and innovative solutions are key to catalyse the system change that is needed to improve the lives of these cocoa farmers.” Koa is investing the funds from the debt financing into a new production plant in Akim Achiase, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. This will be Koa’s second factory which is already in construction and is planned to start its operations by the end of 2022. “As the food industry is discovering the cocoa fruit, we need to grow in line with the demand from our customers. Once fully operational, the new factory will increase our production capacity by tenfold, while generating 250 new jobs in rural Ghana and allowing us to extend our cocoa fruit upcycling to an additional 10,000 cocoa farmers,” Daniel Otu, production & operations director at Koa, explains.

General Mills to snap up pizza crust company

General Mills has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire TNT Crust, a manufacturer of frozen pizza crusts for regional and national pizza chains, foodservice distributors, and retail outlets. TNT Crust is currently a portfolio company of Peak Rock Capital. “This acquisition advances our Accelerate strategy and builds on our strong position in the fast-growing away-from-home frozen baked goods category,” said Shawn O’Grady, group president of North America foodservice, General Mills. “We have clear competitive advantages in foodservice with our strategic customer partnerships, best-in-class supply chain, and operator-first innovation capabilities. By adding the high-growth TNT Crust business to our frozen baked goods platform, we are adding to our scale in a category that is on trend with consumers and poised for continued rapid growth.” TNT Crust manufactures partially baked, self-rising and better-for-you pizza crusts that are highly complementary to General Mills’ existing frozen baked goods portfolio. The TNT Crust business has leveraged its differentiated products and strong relationships with key foodservice distributors and pizza chain operators to drive double-digit compound annual net sales growth over the past four years, with net sales totaling approximately $100 million in 2021. As part of the acquisition, General Mills will also acquire two manufacturing facilities in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and one manufacturing facility in St. Charles, Missouri. The company intends to fund the acquisition with cash on hand and short-term borrowings. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of fiscal 2023, subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions. Jones Day is serving as legal adviser to General Mills for the transaction. Evercore is advising TNT Crust and Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC is co-advising; Kirkland & Ellis is serving as TNT Crust’s legal adviser.

HEINZ to develop paper-based bottle

Condiment maker HEINZ is teaming up with Pulpex to develop a paper-based, renewable and recyclable bottle made from 100 percent sustainably sourced wood pulp. Innovating its iconic ketchup bottle, HEINZ is the first sauce brand to test the potential of Pulpex’s sustainable paper bottle packaging for its range of famous condiments. For The Kraft Heinz Company this collaboration is the latest step in its journey to reduce its environmental footprint. It progresses the company’s sustainable packaging ambitions, in that it aligns with its goal to make all packaging globally recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. It is also an innovation that will help Kraft Heinz achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. HEINZ and Pulpex are developing a prototype to test how the cutting-edge innovation could be used for HEINZ Tomato Ketchup bottles and other packaging formats in years to come. Pulpex’s current data indicates the carbon footprint of Pulpex bottles is materially less than glass and plastic on a bottle-by-bottle basis. Once used, they are also expected to be widely and readily recyclable in paper waste streams. “Packaging waste is an industrywide challenge that we must all do our part to address,” said Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio. “That is why we are committed to taking steps to explore sustainable packaging solutions across our brands at Kraft Heinz, offering consumers more choices. This new HEINZ bottle is one example of how we are applying creativity and innovation to explore new ways to provide consumers with the products they know and love while also thinking sustainably.” The next step in the process will involve prototype testing to assess performance before testing with consumers and bringing the bottle to market. “We hope to bring this bottle to market and to be the first sauce brand to provide consumers this choice in their purchasing decisions, as many consumers today are looking for more sustainable packaging options,” said Rashida La Lande, EVP & global general counsel and chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer at Kraft Heinz. “We’re eager to continue discovering more sustainable packaging for our beloved and iconic brands.” “We are delighted to work with HEINZ to bring our patented packaging technology to such a famous name in food and are excited about the potential of this collaboration,” said Scott Winston, Pulpex CEO. “We believe that the scope for paper-based packaging is huge, and when global household names like HEINZ embrace this type of innovative technology, it’s good news for everyone – consumers and the planet.”

Campari Group acquires Picon, a leading bitter aperitif brand in France

Campari Group has acquired the Picon brand and related assets from Diageo. Invented in 1837 by Gaétan Picon, Picon is a traditional French bittersweet aperitif with a unique orange flavour. Made from a base of herbs and fresh oranges which are dried, it is currently available in two versions: Amer Picon Club, an orange-based liqueur with a bittersweet flavour to be mixed with wine and cocktails, and Amer Picon Bière, to be mixed with beer. For the fiscal year ended on 30 June 2021, the brand achieved net sales of €21.5 million and CAAP of €12.9 million. The brand generates almost 80% of its sales in France, where it has a leading position in the bitter aperitif category, whilst the remaining sales are mostly generated in the Benelux markets. With the acquisition of the Picon brand, Campari Group aims to further enlarge its brand offering in its core bitter aperitifs category in international markets and increase its critical mass in France and Benelux. With specific reference to France, this transaction aims to reinforce the group’s position in this strategic market, in line with other recent transactions including the acquisitions of French rums Trois Rivières and La Mauny (2019) as well as Champagne Lallier (2020). France became part of Campari Group’s direct distribution network following the acquisition of its local distributor Baron Philippe de Rothschild France Distribution S.A.S. in 2020. It is currently the group’s 4th largest market, accounting for 5.9% of the group’s net sales in full year 2021. The overall consideration paid is approx. €119 million for the Picon brand and related assets. The transaction was funded via available cash.

B&G Foods acquires frozen vegetable manufacturing operations of Growers Express

B&G Foods has acquired the frozen vegetable manufacturing operations of Growers Express. Growers Express manufactures, produces, packages and sells frozen vegetable products, primarily Green Giant® Riced Veggies and Green Giant Veggie Spirals®. The purchased assets include inventory, equipment, a sublease for a portion of a manufacturing facility in Yuma, Arizona, and a lease for a warehouse facility in San Luis, Arizona. Approximately 155 employees will transfer to B&G Foods. “By increasing the variety and volume of Green Giant frozen vegetable products produced at internal manufacturing facilities, we expect to reduce inefficiencies, reduce costs and reduce supply chain risk for certain Green Giant frozen products. We also believe that this acquisition will enhance our innovation efforts for the Green Giant brand and improve our speed to market for new innovation. Growers Express has been an important partner of B&G Foods for a number of years and we thank them for their partnership,” said Casey Keller, president and Chief Executive Officer of B&G Foods. As part of the acquisition, B&G Foods also repurchased the master license agreement for certain Green GiantTM Fresh vegetable products and will assume responsibility for the administration of related sublicense agreements. In a joint statement, Mark Dendle, CEO, and Kirk Wagner, COO of Growers Express said: “We are extremely thankful for all the team members who developed one of the largest riced and spiralized frozen vegetable production facilities globally. Our blue-ribbon team has collaborated with B&G Foods on product innovation and quality since 2016, benefitting from the strategic position of our facilities and delivering to the highest quality and food safety standards.” B&G Foods funded the acquisition and related fees and expenses with cash on hand and revolving loans under its existing credit facility. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Kerry opens largest taste facility in Africa

Kerry, the taste and nutrition company, has officially opened the largest and most advanced taste manufacturing facility on the African continent. The new R650m (€38m) facility is located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and will produce sustainable nutrition solutions that will be consumed across the African continent. The official opening was attended by Deputy Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Nomalungelo Gina; KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, Ravi Pillay; and Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of South Africa, Her Excellency Fionnuala Gilsenan. Located in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, the new 10,000 m2 facility is one of the company’s most environmentally efficient manufacturing sites with numerous sustainability features including low energy usage equipment, solar power generation to reduce consumption from the local grid, waste heat capture and efficient water capture, reuse and reduction. Commenting on the opening, Edmond Scanlon, CEO, Kerry Group, said: “The opening of the facility in Hammarsdale is a significant step forward in helping to realise our vision of creating a world of sustainable nutrition. For 50 years, Kerry has focused on meeting local consumer needs grounded in great taste – one of the most important criteria in any food or beverage. Our suite of world leading technologies combined with our expertise and now this state-of-the-art manufacturing facility ensures that we can continue to work with our customers to produce great tasting, nutritious products that are respectful of our planet.” Speaking at the launch event, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Nomalungelo Gina, said: “The project is recognised as a key strategic investment in the region of Kwa-Zulu Natal and within South Africa’s food manufacturing industry and has been included as part of the South African Presidential investment drive to stimulate sustainable, equitable and inclusive growth as the foundation for socio-economic transformation in the country. We are excited about this investment because it aligns very well with our re-imagined industrial strategy.” Kerry is also expanding its Development and Application Centre in Nairobi, Kenya to further support customers in East Africa and the development of sustainable food processing for the continent. Paul Hewitt, Vice President, Sub Saharan Africa Kerry Group, said: “Kerry has had a presence in South Africa since 2011 and our success has been based on our ability to deliver truly authentic African taste by identifying traditional food and flavours and reimagining it into today’s modern context. “More than understanding consumer taste, we are committed to predicting global and regional trends and innovating with our customers to lead the industry towards the next generation of sustainable African food and nutrition. South Africa is in a unique position to service East, Central as well as West Africa and we look forward to working with food and beverage companies to create products that will be enjoyed across the continent.”

Tesco opens up supply chain to sustainability start-ups

Tesco and WWF have launched a new accelerator programme which pairs pioneering start-ups with Tesco suppliers to fast-track sustainability innovation in the supply chain which can cut the environmental impact of food and support UK food security. Innovation Connections will address a key barrier preventing promising sustainability innovations from being adopted at scale in food supply chains, by identifying suppliers who can help to scale up new ideas and technologies. Applicants have been paired with long-term Tesco suppliers to pitch scale-up projects that apply their ideas in the real world of food supply chains. Winners will work with Tesco’s supplier partners to pilot and scale their innovation and will each receive up to £150,000 in funding support. Ahead of the Innovation Connections finals this month, Tesco is calling on the UK government to do more to unlock innovation in UK food supply chains and support innovations to market readiness, not just at the seed funding stage. Specifically, it is asking the Government to set out timelines and process for updating outdated regulations that hinder the scaling up of late-stage innovations such as insect protein in animal feed or sustainable low-carbon fertilisers, and to create incentives for businesses and consumers who are early adopters of new food system innovations. Ken Murphy, Tesco Group CEO said: “To deliver affordable, healthy and sustainable food for all, the entire food sector must innovate fast. That’s why, as well as driving improvements in our own operations, Tesco is collaborating with innovative suppliers and start-ups. But we also need government support, to help the food industry to scale proven innovations. “The upcoming Food Strategy White Paper is a great opportunity to transform our food system and enhance food security. We hope the paper will set out a process to update outdated regulations that hinder the scaling up of much needed innovations.” Tanya Steele, WWF CEO, said: “More than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are driven by the way we produce and consume food, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible for farms to produce enough nutritious food and sustain farmers’ livelihoods at the same time as protecting and restoring the natural resources they depend on. “We hope the launch of this new accelerator programme with Tesco will bring innovative solutions a step closer and help us achieve our goal of halving the environmental impacts of the average UK shopping basket.” The following Innovation Connections finalists have been selected by Tesco and WWF experts from 70 applications. They will go head-to-head on Friday 6 May to pitch for the chance to see their project rolled out in the Tesco supply chain:
  • AgriSound & AM Fresh (Tesco fruit supplier) – technology that uses bioacoustics to monitor pollinators and pest levels on farm to help farmers protect biodiversity and increase produce yields
  • Aurea & Adrian Scripps (Tesco apple supplier)– full lifecycle crop intelligence for fruit trees that allows farmers to manage health and fruit-load for every tree individually, improving yields while minimising the use of inputs like fertiliser
  • ai & Hilton (Tesco meat and fish supplier) – a monitoring system that uses birdsong as a science-based biodiversity indicator in grassland farming
  • CCm, Andermatt, FCT & Branston (Tesco potato supplier) – a demonstration of low carbon fertilisers to reduce the carbon footprint of potato production
  • FCT & ProduceWorld (Tesco produce supplier) – advanced carbon footprint software for horticultural growers to analyse and reduce their emissions and increase carbon sequestration on farm, whilst also identifying cost savings and efficiencies
  • Future by Insects & Hilton (Tesco meat and fish supplier) – creation of circular fish feed using food waste to grow microalgae to feed fish.
  • Harbro & Muller (Tesco milk processing supplier) – technology to precisely measure nutrient efficiency on dairy farms
  • InsPro & Prepworld (Tesco prepared fruit supplier) – portable bioconversion units that use insects to convert food waste into chicken feed and reduce the use of soy feed in the egg supply chain

UK food and drink exports recovering from challenges of pandemic

Food and drink exports across the UK are recovering from the challenges of the pandemic with manufacturers taking advantage of new trading relationships across the world, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). The FDF’s UK Food and Drink Exports report reveals the latest breakdown of food and drink exports from across the UK during 2021. The report shows that Scotland, Wales, the West Midlands and the North East of England had the strongest export growth, reflecting encouraging recovery from the supply chain problems caused by COVID and that businesses are adapting to the new UK-EU trading relationship. An important sign that the food and drink industry can play a vital role in levelling up the country. Key findings from the report include:
  • Scotland accounts for the largest share of UK food and drink exports, with almost 30% of total exports. This was worth £5.7bn, up 14.6% since 2020.
  • Wales is the only UK nation to exceed pre-COVID export levels. This was driven by strong exports of cereals, up 173% since 2020, and now worth nearly £140m to the economy.
  • The North East saw the largest increase reaching £280m – a 20.4% increase from 2020 – while the West Midlands grew by £810m, a 12.6% rise from two years ago.
The share of exports to non-EU markets is increasing, with a strong growth in London, as companies take advantage of the opportunities to grow exports through the UK Government’s new global trade deals. However, more can be done to improve the implementation of the UK-EU trade agreement, to help companies recover exports in the EU alongside growing market share in other global markets. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not factored into this report, and we’re yet to understand its full impact on our sector’s exports and on the global supply chains on which our sector relies for some ingredients, such as vegetable oils, cereals and white fish. The Food and Drink Federation’s Chief Executive Karen Betts said: “It’s very encouraging to see exports starting to recover across many parts of the UK, with companies starting to pull out of COVID-related disruption and adapting to the UK’s new trading relationships with countries around the world. Every product we export is rooted in our culture and our communities, and it’s great to see that our food and drink is sought out by consumers all over the world. “Our report also shows the vital role that food and drink manufacturing plays in every community across the UK’s four nations, and how central our sector is to prosperity at home as well as in driving exports overseas.” Food and Drink Federation Scotland’s Chief Executive Officer, David Thomson, said: “Scotland continues to punch above its weight – accounting for the largest share of UK food and drink exports – with an impressive 30% of total exports. “It’s heartening to see an increase in Scotland’s food and drink exports as the industry begins to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit. We hope that new opportunities in different markets will further increase sales of Scotland’s food and drink abroad. “We will continue to work with Scottish and UK governments and partners from across the food chain to support the recovery and growth of our vital industry.” The FDF Cymru’s Chief Executive Pete Robertson said: “From cereals to coffee and ham to honey, we are proud that produce from Welsh food and drink companies is now a much sought after good around the world. “With more opportunities to export expected in the near future, Welsh food manufacturers are leading the way in putting the UK on the map while providing vital jobs for local people at the heart of our communities.”

£618k grant secured to help 100-year-old food manufacturer become more sustainable

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Bradford, in the UK, have secured more than £618k to support Leeds-based business Rakusen’s to become more sustainable and meet demand for growth. Academics from Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) and the University of Bradford’s Faculty of Engineering and Informatics will work alongside Rakusen’s to transform production methods to support the business to reduce emissions and energy consumption by 60 per cent. The project will also support the 100-year-old business, that produces flame-baked water crackers and biscuits in the UK, to meet demand for growth in international markets and help it to meet net zero targets while maintaining its heritage. The two-year project, funded by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, aims to transform Rakusen’s using digital technologies and food science to minimise the company’s carbon footprint and maximise capacity without the need to change the existing machinery. The business currently uses legacy equipment which provides limited manufacturing control and restricts the introduction of new product lines. The future of the business requires it to address these challenges and invest in innovation which is sympathetic to its heritage-based offering. Through this project, machine intelligence will capture knowledge and skills, moving to intelligent decision-making to support significant reduction in energy usage, carbon footprint and material waste. The project will also have a positive impact on the workforce by upskilling staff through training and introducing culture change as well as having an impact regionally as most ingredients are supplied locally. Rakusen’s Managing Director, Andrew Simpson said: “The company is excited to be working with two eminent Yorkshire-based academic institutions to modernise our production processes to improve our sustainability whilst maintaining our heritage-based offering.” NCEFE’s vision is to be internationally recognised for excellence in sustainable innovations for the global food system. The Centre has a mission to drive vitality, sustainability and growth in the global food system working with partners through research and innovation, aiming to deliver world-class capability, innovative sustainable food systems, technology-led solutions and sector competitiveness. Professor Martin Howarth, director of NCEFE at Sheffield Hallam, said: “Our research is focussed on improving sustainability and reducing waste in food production. Working with Rakusen’s and their material suppliers, we will use AI techniques to deliver new, highly efficient and low energy processing techniques to improve the consistency and sustainability of Rakusens’ traditional baked products using ingredients from the local region.” Dr Savas Konur, reader in computer science, University of Bradford, said: “We are delighted to work on this highly interdisciplinary project that addresses very specific technological challenges resulting from transforming a traditional food manufacturer to an efficient enterprise fully utilising digital technologies, including big data, industrial Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, as well as food science to minimise its carbon footprint and maximise its capacity without the need to change the existing legacy machinery and lose its ‘heritage’ identity. “The project will address the challenges in energy sustainability, productivity, operational efficiency, capacity constraints and waste in the baking industry and will also contribute to the UK’s net zero targets.”