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SPG Innovation: Shaping The Future of Plant-Based

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SPG Innovation is a food tech company creating, scaling and marketing new foods. They have food grade research and development facilities and a focus on sustainable nutrition. They help start-ups make prototypes and scale up and enable bigger well-established companies to add innovations to their ranges. They support clients with navigating regulations, including writing novel food dossiers. They also offer grant writing and project management services. The team of food scientists and chefs work on various projects, some funded by Innovate UK and some privately financed.  

The start-up, based in Nottingham, UK, is the brainchild of chemist Dr Sarah Gaunt. She explains: “We want to create food that is healthy for humans and the planet. For example, we’ve recently worked with clients on re-using waste streams, reducing salt, sugars and fats, avoiding mono crops and using locally grown ingredients.” 

Sarah Gaunt works with business partner Rebecca McDowell, who has a background in chemistry, and with their team advises on a whole range of issues of relevance to plant-based food companies. The team are passionate about waste reduction. For example, they have researched into how bean hulls, a by-product of pea processing, can be returned to the food chain. They also use bacteria to ferment bread waste to make a new probiotic yogurt drink.  

In addition to serving the food industry, the founders have started a new plant-based food enterprise of their own. They have formed a separate spin-off company called Rootiful to produce and sell new foods. One product in development is a textured vegetable protein (TVP) that uses by-products from UK-grown ingredients. They also have something ready for market: New-fu, a tofu-like ingredient made from British-grown beans and pulses rather than soy. New-fu comes in three varieties: Tikka Lentil, Siracha Quinoa and BBQ Pea. New-fu was launched at Plant Based World Expo in London in November 2022. Their aim is to sell New-fu via food service and retail.   

Rebecca McDowell explains the idea behind Rootiful: It came about through a collaboration with the University of Leeds and Baker Perkins Ltd. Our market research identified key opportunities in the plant-based food market: firstly, a need to reduce dependency on the overseas imported protein isolates that are used in most plant-based products on the shelves, contributing to air miles and supply chain fragility; secondly, retailer shelves are full of products pretending to be meat, but lack diversity. Rootiful has developed a consumer range that uses local ingredients to create innovative centre-plate options that celebrate vegetables for what they are, rather than mimicking meat.”  

She adds that the New-fu launch at Plant Based World Expo was a catalyst for getting the product market-ready: “Our team pulled out all the stops to make this possible, and we received some amazing feedback from the event that motivated us to progress further.” The team are now sending out samples to retailers and foodservice. They are talking to universities, schools, leisure centres and restaurants about doing trials: “We’re starting to gather momentum. Everyone who’s tasted it was very positive and liked the concept and the price.”   

The company’s long-term goal is to be a leader in the plant-based sector and to shape its future. Sarah Gaunt is motivated by the desire to support the protein shift from meat to plants. “There are problems that we can sort out. We can’t just keep replicating meat, as the market is flooded with replacements to a point where we need new technologies and innovations and some radical thinking about what goes on our plates. We can support that concept generation. As the sector grows, there are also questions around ingredients, such as why are we importing ingredients and not using more locally grown crops? How can we texturise vegetable protein and make it interesting to eat without extrusion? Extrusion takes a lot of energy, needs protein isolates, and only works at scale. How do we reduce the ingredient list and make healthier, less processed products? These are things we’ve been working on. And we’ve got quite a lot of expertise around those issues.” 

Alice Grahame
Alice Grahame is a freelance writer based in London. She’s worked for the BBC, Guardian and various NGOs. She enjoys walking, allotment gardening and trying new plant-based dishes.