UK cereal industry looks to new markets

Related tags Functional foods Nutrition Wheat Research

Funding to bolster research into new food uses for cereals and
oilseeds is behind a fresh R&D strategy released by the UK
cereals industry this week, a move designed to open up new market
opportunities for the sector.

Living through volatile times - wheat prices have more than doubled in the past few weeks - pressure to formulate a viable response to market conditions is evident for the UK cereals industry.

Published this week by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority​ (HGCA), an industry-funded body, the strategy outlines a series of aims for the industry, which include the potential of functional foods.

"There are currently 100 live projects - food and non-food - underway in the industry with a handful devoted to functional foods,"​ Dr Clive Edwards at the HGCA told

For instance, cereals containing high levels of beta-glucans plus recent work on folates in malting barley is helping to develop niche markets, he added.

The HGCA is funded through a levy paid by its 25,000-odd members - mostly farmers but also industry stakeholders. On behalf of the HGCA, a committee of 16 appraises applications for research funding and decides where to allocate the increasingly diminishing pounds of the pie.

"The budget has been at around £6 million for the past three to four years, but it is under some pressure at the moment and is more likely to be around £4 million in the near future,"​ commented Dr Edwards.

Spearheaded by 1980s Thatcherism, funding for research into the traditional agricultural sector has borne the brunt of dwindling figures for the past 20 years. Most notably in 1986 when the Barnes review slashed around £30 million from the then Ministry of Farm and Fisheries, now known as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), budget.

"More money went into biotechnology. Consequently more traditional agriculture-based institutes, such as Rothamstead Experimental Research Station, had their budgets cut,"​ said Dr Edwards.

This was also the time of food 'mountains' as Europe stood face to face with excess production. No funding went into production research because we were in excess, added Dr Edwards.

Despite, and undoubtedly because of,the funding cuts, part of the HGCA's R&D strategy is to actively seek out joint funding for research with government (Defra, SEERAD) and commercial organisations, particularly through the LINK scheme.

One such LINK scheme - the AFENO project - is currently looking into the virtues of oats, a growing area in the domain of functional foods due to its health promoting properties. In the US the Food and Drug Administration has approved claims that oats aid cholesterol reduction. Oats are also low in gluten, and can therefore be eaten by those with coeliac disease.

Figures on the current functional foods market released last month by market analysts Datamonitor​ confirm the HGCA's strategy to invest in research into functional foods. According to the study, the number of functional food buyers in the UK, currently spending on average £110 (€157) a year each on functional foods, has more than doubled over the past five years and is set to reach 5 million by 2007.

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