Friday, February 23, 2024

Investment in gut-friendly bread tops £4m after latest UK government grant

Having already re-engineered ultra-processed bread to make it actively healthy, SUPERLOAF inventor Melissa Sharp and co-founder Leo Campbell have been awarded £450,000 by Innovate UK (the UK’s national innovation agency) to apply the same approach to formulating other ultra-processed foods (UPFs) such as breakfast cereals, pasta, ready meals, yoghurts and pastries.

SUPERLOAF has uniquely shown that carb-based UPFs can be re-engineered to become a vehicle for positive nutrition, ‘food as medicine’ – combining the economic and format advantages of being produced at scale, while being packed with better nutrition, principally via selected prebiotic plant fibres, bioactive plant compounds and targeted fermentation

Now, in a resounding endorsement of their 6 years’ research and development to date, Innovate UK has awarded Modern Baker, parent company of SUPERLOAF, with its 6th successive grant, bringing total investment support to £4m. The grant has been awarded as part of the Better Food for All: Innovation for improved nutrition funding competition, and will be invested in applying Modern Baker’s breakthrough Alt-Nutrition ingredient more widely; formulating a broader range of staple foods for positive nutrition in the same way they have already reformulated ultra-processed bread.

With obesity and diabetes posing an immense threat to public health in the UK and worldwide, the founders’ ambitions to reframe UPFs as health-positive food represents a unique approach to the chronic nutrition problem across the globe – increasingly linked to the explosion in UPFs, which now represent nearly 60% of the UK’s calorie intake – the highest in Europe.

Modern Baker’s 6 years’ of research has been focused on two key areas: firstly, replicating the nutrient profile found in a fruit, veg and whole grain diet from natural plant sources; and secondly, developing the processes required to integrate it into processed foods.

Sharp, co-founder of SUPERLOAF, explains how the idea came about in poignant circumstances. When aged 36 she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer: “Our vision to take on the western world’s staple food and turn it into what we call an ‘NHS-positive food’ started in a chemo ward.

“During one of my chemo sessions, a refreshments trolley was wheeled in, looking like something out of a 1960s Carry On film, except what was on it was not remotely funny. I was just learning the connection between sugar and cancer and to see in front of me, on a chemo ward of all places, a trolley stacked with chocolate bars, fizzy drinks and snacks you’d generally associate with a petrol station, was an epiphany.

“I remember Leo (partner and co-founder) and I looking at each other, thinking exactly the same, and me saying ‘WTF’. From that moment, neither of us could get that image out of our minds and shortly after that we made a commitment to do everything in our powers to change these foods for better, starting with bread.”

The new grant enables the team behind SUPERLOAF to head back to the lab and continue its 6 years of government-backed research developing staple foods that can be produced on a large scale without the harmful by-products of UPFs, furthering its vision to make a positive impact on one billion diets by 2028.

“Bread was just the beginning,” says Melissa. “We founded Modern Baker which produces SUPERLOAF, and later – with a view to broadening our product range. The first time we were awarded funding by Innovate UK was a major breakthrough, allowing us to work with leading scientists and academics. After five successive grants and 6 years of R&D, SUPERLOAF was born, and – thanks to Marks & Spencer – can now be bought all over the UK.

“Receiving our sixth grant in a row from Innovate UK is tremendously encouraging, and a brilliant validation of Alt-Nutrition staples that benefit digestive and gut health, potentially ushering in a new era of mass-produced foods that are nutritious and have a net positive impact on wellbeing and the planet. Now we’ve cracked bread – by far the hardest staple – we feel there’s no limit to where we can go from here, and we’re incredibly humbled by the support from Innovate UK, which has played a vital role in our journey.”

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