Potato grower starts upcycling unwanted spuds to pioneer ‘high grade’ plant protein alternative

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Maryviolet
Image: Getty/Maryviolet

Related tags Upcycling Potato Food waste Traceability

UK supplier Branston is working on a project to convert unwanted potatoes into ‘clean-label functional protein’ for use in meat analogues.

The company has started work on a new £6m first-of-its kind facility, which will be used to extract high grade plant protein from unwanted potatoes at Branston's site in Lincolnshire.

The project aims to improve potato crop utilisation and reduce food waste and is a collaboration with B-hive Innovations, a separate agri-tech business formed by Branston that conducts R&D activities aiming to deliver innovative solutions for the fresh produce industry. 

According to the Branston, the new factory will see the introduction of bespoke technologies and capabilities to meet the growing demand for UK grown plant-based ingredients.

Converting unwanted potatoes into on-trend ingredient

The facility will convert low-value potatoes – or ones that do not meet retail specifications (size, skin defects) they would be sold for animal feed -- into a ‘clean-label functional protein’, which can be used in vegetarian and vegan foods.

Under certain growing, storage and handling conditions, potatoes can develop internal defects that affect their quality. This leads to significant reductions in crop value throughout the supply chain, increases food waste and reduces consumer confidence in the product. 

A previous B-hive Innovations project developed and testing a sensor technology prototype with the potential to monitor and detect the early presence of internal defects in potatoes in real time. 

Complete amino acid profile with high gelling and binding functionality

Branston said the protein made at its new facility will be used as an ingredient in vegan/vegetarian offerings that are ready to cook and will allow for a highly nutritious end-product. It said the potato protein will boast a complete amino acid profile with high gelling and binding functionality.

Richard Fell, managing director of the Branston’s Prepared Foods division, told FoodNavigator the company had observed an increase in plant-based diets, with a movement away from soya towards alternative plant-based proteins.

He said: “Most people are aware of potato starch and fibre in potatoes, but they don’t consider the highly nutritious protein fraction.”​ He added the potato’s nutritional qualities are kept intact after the extraction process. “We have a gentle extraction process that is designed not to de-nature the protein and deliver the highest quality possible.”

Innovation meets traceability and provenance

He added that B-hive Innovations has been honing this technology ‘for a number of years’, working with a group of academic and industry partners and supported by Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency.

“They have developed a process to gently extract and isolate high-grade proteins from potatoes. This means we have the potential to meet the growing requirements from food manufacturers for 100% plant-based protein that is free from allergens and is fully traceable from our UK grown crops,” ​he said.  

The grower – which handles around 350,000 tonnes of potatoes a year Lincoln, Scotland and the South West – did not say how much potato protein it was planning to produce. “Even though this is a developing segment, we are confident that we are building a facility to meet the demands of the market,” ​we were told.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, potatoes were once a staple of many diets as meat, dairy and sugar products became scarce in the immediate post-war period. It says today potatoes are still an affordable, sustainable and nutritious part of the UK diet, although consumption is falling.

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