“From farm to capsule”: UK innovator repurposes surplus veg into nutraceutical powders
Lincoln-based Nutrapharma plans to incorporate the concentrated powders in supplements that offer “farm to capsule traceability” and an ethical alternative to “imported supplements with questionable ingredients”.
Dr Eric Hilton, chief executive of Nutrapharma, came up with the idea of producing nutrient-rich powders from surplus produce after becoming increasingly concerned about the large amount of waste that is generated by the food industry.
Farm and food production waste is a large cost for farmers and primary food processors. A 2018 report by the Joint Research Centre for the EU Commission reported that EU farmers produce 956 million tonnes of dry matter per year, of which only 54% is used for food.
“Finding commercial uses for discarded side streams has the potential to improve resource efficiency and create new high value products. Yet when I looked into this, I found that nothing was being done about it,” Dr Hilton told NutraIngredients.
Being based in Lincolnshire, Dr Hilton said he is acutely aware of the potential to use vegetable waste as the county produces 30% of English fresh vegetables. It is the centre of the national production for Brassica crops, whose nutrient-rich stems and leaves are often discarded.
Taking matters into his own hands, Dr Hilton established a pilot study with some Scottish farmers aimed at repurposing surplus fruit and vegetables. Using a novel drying process with milling techniques, Nutrapharma was able to develop a palatable powdered concentrate with a high nutritional value.
Plant protein potential
“We carried out some preliminary analysis and have been amazed by the results – some of the samples have a higher protein content than commercially available whey proteins,” said Dr Hilton.
With demand for plant-based protein on the rise, Nutrapharma believes there is a huge opportunity to develop sports nutrition and dietary supplements with provenance and an ethical dimension.
“With a lot of imported supplements and powders, the quality control is poor and the ingredients are questionable. Wouldn’t it be great if we could reduce reliance on overseas imports with a ‘farm to shake’ or ‘farm to capsule’ alternative with a better ethical story?” asked Dr Hilton.
SPRINT grant for analysis
The next step in the commercialisation of this concept is to carry out full analysis of the powders. To this end, Nutrapharma has been awarded a grant from the UK SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) business programme, which provides access to university expertise and facilities.
The Open University (OU) will provide Nutrapharma with laboratory facilities and expertise in laboratory assay development and novel analytical methods. Nutrapharma will benefit from the OU’s portfolio of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), comprehensive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCXGC-MS) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) systems.
“SPRINT will give us the opportunity to validate our ideas with expert research and facilities from the OU team,” said Dr Hilton.
Nutrapharma has a mini-manufacturing suite at its Lincoln HQ and has partnerships in place for scaled-up manufacturing of powders and capsules, but says the challenge is to make the process cost effective.
“We use a novel drying process with milling to produce the powders. These techniques are not revolutionary but they do enable us to perform the drying without cryogenic freezing and milling, which are expensive and energy-intensive,” he said.
Dr Hilton said he was confident of Nutrapharma having a market-ready product by April.
A hotbed of innovation
Nutrapharma’s R&D led model has already yielded several innovations. Working with the University of Lincoln’s School of Chemistry, the company has developed cocrystals that enable curcumin to be delivered in a more bioavailable format.
“We are currently tableting it, which is unheard of for curcumin,” said Dr Hilton.
In another project, Nutrapharma has developed Mi-Nutra – a patented medical device that measures an individual’s vitamin and mineral status and provides a personalised dosage.
“Our business model is research, innovate and supply. It is not about reinventing the wheel, but making it better,” said Dr Hilton.