From a sugar substitute to a prebiotic sparkling drink: Meet the next ‘healthier’ challenger brands

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/SDI Productions
GettyImages/SDI Productions

Related tags Challenger brands

Seven new ‘healthier’ food and drink start-ups have been selected into the Good Food Programme in the UK.

The Good Food Programme (GFP), an initiative between challenger brand builder Mission Ventures and healthy advocacy Impact on Urban Health, was founded to support healthier food and drink brands win over the masses.

A major issue is affordability. In the UK, GFP estimates that households on lower incomes are spending £250m more than affluent households on unhealthy food and drink, suggesting that healthier products tend to carry more expensive price tags.

Mission Ventures and Impact on Urban Health believe that challenger brands – considered more agile than their established household-name counterparts – have the ability to make healthier food options more accessible, particularly for families on lower incomes.

Putting its money where its mouth is, GFP has announced it is betting on seven new ‘healthier’ start-ups – from a diverse mix of categories including ready meals, meat alternatives and sparkling drinks – to make a difference.

Each brand will receive £15,000 (€17,400) equity-free funding, as well as two years of business support, ranging from marketing and brand strategy through to supply chain and retailer listings.

So, which seven brands have made it into GFP’s latest cohort?

Vegbloc: Looking beyond meat mimicry with alternative proteins

Vegbloc wants to provide consumers with a meat replacement, without actively imitating any specific meat. Amid a sea of plant-based meat mimicry in the UK, Vegbloc is bucking the trend.

The brainchild of Jason Gibb (founder of start-up festival Bread & Jam) and Simon Day (founder of The Cultured Collective), Vegbloc is not made from the classic soy and pea proteins. Rather, its ingredients list includes quinoa, red lentils, split peas, flax seed, onion, chia seed, gram flour, rosemary, sweet potato, mushroom, garlic, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, salt, mushroom powder, coriander and black pepper.

“Vegbloc delivers a good variety of nutritious whole foods that people otherwise find difficult to include in their day-to-day diet,” ​Day told FoodNavigator in a recent interview​.

The company describes its approach as a ‘paradigm shift’ in plant-based nutrition and sets itself apart by looking beyond meat mimicry. “Once you have shed the straitjacket of mimicry, you can drop highly processed and undesirable ingredients and you are free to create really nutritious products with their own delicious taste and texture.”

SweetAble: Substituting sugar and fat with root vegetables and polyols

One ingredients supplier has been included in GFP’s latest cohort: SweetAble makes a paste that it claims allows for significant reductions in calories, sugar, fat, and egg in the final product.

The process, which has a patent currently pending, blends root vegetables and polyols – which are small-chain carbohydrates. SweetAble believes that its homogenous, stable paste offers a ‘clean label’ way of reducing calories by more than 30% and turn front-of-pack traffic light labels from red to green.

Importantly for food makers, the paste helps to maintain bulk and moisture in products, and in some applications can even contribute towards declared vegetable content. GFP describes SweetAble as a ‘trailblazer’ in health-conscious food manufacturing.

less sugar AndreyPopov
SweetAble's paste can help food makers reduce sugar content in their products. GettyImages/AndreyPopov

Funki: Prebiotic sparkling beverage working to fill the fibre gap

In the UK, it is estimated that more than 90% of adults don’t eat enough fibre. Prebiotic sparkling beverage brand Funki wants to do its part in filling the fibre gap with a beverage containing half the recommended daily intake of fibre for adults.

Providing a good source of Nutriose dietary fibre, Funki wants to offer consumers an alternative for high-sugar carbonated drinks.

The beverage brand recently received a £200k grant from Innovate UK’s ‘Better Food for All’ and is considered the UK’s first fibre-blend beverage specifically formulated to have high digestibility and proven beneficial impacts to the microbiome.

The Savourists: Sustainable snacking, powered by plants

Although taste is the ‘number one priority’ for snacking brand The Savourists, ‘health is non-negotiable’. The brand ensures that its range offers high fibre, high protein, and low sugar options.

Describing itself as a non HFSS brand driving innovation in the snacks category, The Savourists uses savoury ingredients such as roasted lentils in combination with ancient grains including quinoa, puffed amaranth and sunflower seeds.

The brand’s mission is to make ‘genuinely’ healthy snacks that ‘taste a little naughty’. “With a flavour first approach, we want to put the jiggle back into snacking.”

Root Kitchen: Filling the gap between processed and unaffordable ready meals

Root Kitchen wants to make plant-based eating tastier and more convenient with frozen ready meals. The meals are prepared by chefs and made with locally sourced ingredients, with the aim of offering an affordable alternative to ‘mass-produced and often low-quality’ supermarket options.

The company claims to address the gap between processed and affordable meals, offering consumers a ‘nutritious’ choice that ‘caters to both values and palates’.

How does the Root Kitchen model work? Consumers select six to ten meals from its menu, which currently includes plant-based version of tikka masala and moussaka. The Root Kitchen team freezes its food within an hour of cooking.

The ‘bundle’ is then delivered (via a carbon-neutral service), with consumers able to select the frequency and date. Both subscription and one-time delivery models are available. The frozen meals can then be heated for consumption, or stored in the freezer for up to 15 months.

Origin Kitchen: Serving up healthy indulgence with cashews

Origin Kitchen was born out of a desire to make healthy food ‘exciting’. The company leverages plant-based ingredients to make both savoury and sweet offerings, from dips to desserts.

The company’s cashew nut-based desserts contain less sugar with conventional alternatives, and are also high in fibre and protein. According to GFP, the venture was selected because it offers a 'substantial opportunity' as a nutritious alternative to indulgent desserts, typically processed and high in sugar content. Meanwhile Origin Kitchen products are made from whole plant-based ingredients with minimal processing and are non-HFSS.

Oddbox: Tackling wonky food waste

A lot of fruit and vegetables destined for the supermarket never make it there. They’re either too big, too small, too wonky, or there’s just too many of them. Welcome Oddbox, a start-up that collects this out-of-spec produce and delivers it direct-to-consumer via a subscription model.

According to Oddbox co-founder and CEO Emilie Vanpoperinghe, Oddbox helps growers use their waste more effectively. “When it comes to what would happen to fruit and veg without Oddbox, the results – as with anything food waste-related, weren’t black and white,” ​she told FoodNavigator in a recent interview​.

“Growers never want to waste crops they’ve put hard work into, so they’ll always try to find a home of them… 100% of the growers we surveyed said we’re playing an effective role in fighting food waste…”

As part of the GFP, Oddbox will receive support in taking its mission even further and continue to create healthier products that families love.

Oddbox ensures out-of-spec produce goes to a good home. GettyImages/TATIANA DOLGOVA

According to Louis Bedwell, managing director of Mission Ventures, the selected start-ups are ‘real industry innovators’ that help solve ‘core problems’ for the food industry through their products. “With our targeted brand building support, and links to investors and retailers, we’ll help these brands to disrupt the market and create healthier shopping baskets for consumers.”

Although each brand is ‘entirely different’ to one another, they each want to bring healthier accessible and tasty alternatives for all consumers – and not just households or higher incomes, said Alisha Mulhall, portfolio manager at Impact on Urban Health.

“By supporting ventures like these, we can bring much-needed change to the places where families buy and eat their food.”

The seven brands join GFP’s existing cohort, including Three Robins, Nana’s Manners and Soul Soup Co, which joined the programme in December last year.

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