APPLES every day could keep obesity at bay according to future foods pioneer Pennotec, whose science of turning waste fruit into replacements for sugar and fat has just secured £350,000 of Government investment. The technology firm, which has received support from the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme, is leading the way by developing fat-mimicking products from apple pomace, the solid leftovers from juicing, cider production and discarded whole fruit.
Currently sent for composting or animal feed, the pomace's beneficial fibres potentially have a far higher mass-market value when added in powder or paste-form to popular foods, explains Pennotec's founder and managing director Dr Jonathan Hughes. He sees it as particularly relevant as the battle against childhood obesity intensifies. More than 25 per cent of adults and almost one third of children in the UK are now rated as obese or overweight. In Wales, where is based, it is even higher, at 40 per cent for youngsters, putting them all at risk of developing heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
"Apple pomace is a natural wonder, a nutritious bulking ingredient with microfibres that can be used to replace certain high-calorie elements such as fat, while also enhancing the fibre content in popular school menu items such as cakes, savoury dishes, gravy and sauces,” says Hughes. “The key aim of this project is to make food and drink healthier and cheaper without sacrificing flavour, texture or taste. It has to do that, or it won't have a chance commercially, and at the same time it addresses the global issue of food waste. “The established technology for obtaining commercial value from food waste is biogas production, but this decomposes everything, whatever the value. Our technology uses processes that preserve the value."
Customers currently in the chain for Pennotec's MilaCel innovation include food manufacturers, retailers, school caterers and home cooks. Hughes, an industrial biotechnologist with extensive marketing experience, said: “The response has been enthusiastic. "It seems the door is more open now to alternatives because organisations realise science-based, sustainable food innovation is critical as our planet's resources dwindle. Yet we throw away what we produce and disposal fees grow.”
Pennotec's team, based in its own lab, includes six scientists and the company's turnover, which has grown 500 per cent in the last two years, now stands at £400,000. The core business focuses on early stage research discovering benefits from by-product and food waste. In another of its projects, it has begun manufacturing and selling natural water purification products derived from prawn and crab shells.
University partnerships, especially in Wales and Scotland where there is strong support for the rural bioeconomy, are part of the mix. The funding for pomace came from the Welsh Government's food and drink division and Innovate UK's Small Business Research Initiative, while collaboration has involved Dr Adam Charlton and Bangor University's BioComposites Centre and Coleg Menai's Food Technology Centre. The support marks a turning point says Hughes: “Because it allows us to move our technology from the lab and into food manufacturing. “Our goal is to become a producer. For that we will soon be looking for angel investment and expertise. Everyone is waking up to the need to unlock value from waste.”
Further information on the Business Wales .