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Norwich Research Park start-ups developing healthier foods

22 November 2023

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Find out how start-ups Ediform and Ankose, based at Norwich Research Park, are working towards a more sustainable and healthy future for food production and supply.

The marriage of ground-breaking research, entrepreneurial skills and financial support has led to Norwich Research Park becoming one of East of England’s hot spots for nurturing new spin-out and start-up companies.

Here, discover two new enterprises looking to help people to eat healthier.

3D printed nutrient-loaded food

Ediform is a newly established company at Norwich Research Park. Currently in its research and development (R&D) stage, its aim is to create 3D printed food that can be fortified with specific nutrients, proteins, vitamins and flavour to deliver healthy food to places where people need it, such as hospitals, care homes, deprived areas and locations of the world suffering from floods or drought.

The idea for this business emerged from UEA research under the stewardship of Sheng Qi, professor of Pharmaceutical Material Science and Technology and associate dean for Innovation (Faculty of Science). Working with entrepreneur John Farley, managing director of iBoxit based at Norwich Research Park, Ediform was created to bring this valuable 3D printing technology to market.

John was able to help researchers pinpoint the core sectors that would most benefit from Ediform’s products and to work out precisely how to manufacture them to meet the needs of consumers. The manufacturing process creates a paste from potatoes that can then be shaped, textured and flavoured.

When the paste is printed, it holds its form well so that it does not fall apart. It is soft, which means that the nutrients it contains are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. The result is that the 3D printed food is easy to eat and digest.

Hospitals are one of the places that John thinks will benefit most from Ediform food. It can provide healthy sustenance to patients to hasten their recovery and enable them to be discharged from hospital more quickly. This will help to relieve the issue of ‘bed-blocking’, whereby patients remain in hospital occupying much-needed beds, simply because they are not eating well enough to get the nutrients and energy they need to go home.

Another breakthrough benefit could be in helping people with dementia to eat a healthy diet. Research has shown that dementia patients are more likely to be attracted to food on a blue plate, and because the 3D printed Ediform food can be created in different colours, it can be produced as blue food to encourage them to eat it.

This is similar to the use of shapes to encourage children to eat certain foods. We are all familiar with spaghetti letters or cereals in interesting shapes. Ediform will be able to print out healthy food in shapes children love to eat.

The Ediform food can be loaded with specific doses of ingredients, such as nutrients and vitamins, as well as taste. This ensures that a high nutrition, high protein diet can be achieved that will help sustain life in areas of flood, drought or other parts of the world in crisis where food is in short supply.

For John and the team, their priority is to refine their design and manufacturing process and work with customers in key sectors to undertake trials. They hope to be up and running in 2024 with a small team and to secure seed funding to grow the business.

A new approach to supplying social supermarkets

The news is currently full of stories about people being forced to use food banks and social supermarkets, as the rate of inflation bites into people’s budgets. But Norwich Research Park entrepreneur John Farley is looking to make it easier and cheaper for people to be able to buy reasonably priced, quality food.

Working with PhD students at UEA who conducted research as part of a project on social supermarkets, John decided to explore ideas to see if a credible business idea could be developed.

Currently, social supermarkets are dependent on short shelf-life products, offcuts and low quality food to stock for its customers, who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. However, what these customers need is good quality, affordable food that will provide them with the proteins, vitamins and nutrients they need to live a healthier life.

To achieve that, John set up the company Ankose to act as an intermediary, creating a new supply chain dedicated to sourcing better value, higher quality, more sustainable food for social supermarkets. It will focus on a core range of goods including milk and dairy products, bread, eggs, fruit, vegetables and meat, as well as personal care products and household items.

Working with the charity Feeding Britain, Ankose plans to supply 500 social supermarkets and 75 hubs across the UK, which equates to helping 150,000 people each week. But it is not a charity itself. It aims to operate at a commercial level where it is sustainable for all parties including suppliers, social supermarkets, their customers and Ankose as a business.

Ankose is planning to run a pilot scheme for three months starting early next year, supplying seven locations in the UK including one in Norfolk and, if that is successful, it will extend its coverage to more locations.

The company will negotiate with smaller suppliers to get their products at the cheapest viable price and then supply to its network of social supermarkets and hubs. It is speaking to smaller, regional growers and suppliers who do not have large overheads compared with national firms, which means they are able to offer goods at a lower price and still operate profitably.

John said: “We have a great opportunity here in Norwich to create new 21st century businesses that are rooted in the breakthrough research happening at Norwich Research Park. I have been fortunate in my relationships with UEA to have found areas of research that we believe can translate into genuine and credible businesses that at their heart also deliver genuine benefits for the good of society.

“Being able to spin-out business ideas and develop them on campus is a real advantage. The support we get from Anglia Innovation Partnership in helping us with things like a virtual tenancy, access to pre-seed and seed funding and introduction to future investors and networks is highly valued. And the beauty is: if we are successful there is plenty of room to grow here, with land to build on and a great potential pipeline of employees from the university and the research institutes.”

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park, said: “There is a huge potential for brilliant business ideas to emerge from the research community at Norwich Research Park, which is why we established our campus-wide Enterprise Strategy in 2022 to support and encourage people with great ideas to validate them and develop successful and innovative businesses.

“It is the unique combination of expert advisers on campus with top-class facilities, access to funding and importantly the ease of collaboration that means we can nurture and fast-track ideas so that they become viable start-up or spin-out companies.

“John is proving that we have the right environment here for businesses to start and grow, so anyone thinking of starting or expanding a business should seriously think about joining the growing Norwich Research Park community.”

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