Government enterprise pairs gluten-free benefits with eco-friendly methods

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags: Wheat, Gluten-free diet, Coeliac disease

Gluten-free products’ health benefits can be combined with environmental advantages, says an industrial-academia pact looking into boosting sustainability practices whilst improving the products’ nutritional value.

Northumbrian Fine Foods’ (NFF) was able to reduce its manufacturing operations’ energy consumption by 23% by taking on the advice of researchers from Brunel University.

In addition, alternative product formulations that introduced the sugar alternative xylitol amongst other ingredients to its biscuits not only improved nutritional profile but also boosted local businesses with its use of home-grown sources.

“In terms of sustainability, we have improved energy efficiency and reduced food processing waste in the production process. In terms of innovations, we worked on improving nutritional properties of the existing gluten-free products by lowering sugar and fats level and increasing dietary fibre,”​ said lead study author and Brunel’s senior lecturer Dr Valentina Stojceska.

“We have also developed new ‘Free From’ products using novel ingredients that were intended for the UK and EU markets.”

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership

The partnership is part of an initiative launched in 2014 by Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency tasked with driving productivity and growth.

By supporting businesses through funding and guidance, the hope is the potential of new technologies can be realised, achieving commercial success.

Key to this support is the ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership’ (KTP), a UK-wide programme created to improve the competitiveness and productivity of businesses through knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK's knowledge base.

According to the research team, the efficiency improvements to production processes contributed to  an 80% increase in business, with turnover at over €22.7m (£20m) at the end of 2017 – up from around €12.5m (£11m) at the beginning of the project.

Dr Stojceska explained that what started out as an exercise in improving sustainability in the manufacturing process of gluten-free goods, extended into a wider investigations into ‘Free From’ products.

This included ratio adjustments to other ingredients used in order to preserve an adequate nutritional balance.

Along with the switch from fructose to xylitol, fat levels were also taken into consideration with maize and rice flours used as main fat sources in preference to the original ingredients of butter, vegetable margarine and palm oil.

Coeliac seal of approval

Further accreditation for the food’s properties was given by members of Coeliac UK, who offered feedback on sensorial and nutritional properties of the products, and quality of the packaging.

“The company successfully passed an audit undertaken by the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS) and are now fully accredited for coeliac supply to Europe,” ​said Dr Stojceska, who had previously completed three previous Innovate UK KTPs.

The demand for gluten-free bakery products is growing rapidly as a result of growing awareness to the adverse reactions triggered by wheat. This includes wheat allergy, coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.

In this respect, the UK gluten-free market has been significantly increased and currently estimated to be worth of over €0.57bn (£0.5bn).

Source: Journal of Cleaner Production

Published online ahead of print:

“An environmental evaluation of food supply chain using life cycle assessment: A case study on gluten free biscuit products.”

Authors: Valentina Stojceska et al.

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