Funding awarded for sustainable food trials in Kent and Medway 

Over £320,000 has been awarded by Growing Kent & Medway to enable 13 businesses to work with leading local research specialists to advance sustainable innovation in our food systems.

The Business Innovation Vouchers will fund a range of projects that will be undertaken with research specialists at the University of Kent, the University of Greenwich and NIAB in East Malling.

The diverse projects will include looking at new techniques to create high-quality, non-alcoholic wine from Kent vineyards, and analysing different UK hop varieties, which could boost the number of hops grown in Kent. 

The competition was open to businesses across the horticulture and plant-based food and drink industries. Applicants had to propose an innovative idea to help make their products, processes or production more sustainable.

Other winning projects include developing a method for testing the health claims of mushroom-based health products, alternative sustainable materials for fresh produce packaging, and new methods to control pests and diseases in Kent-based fruit farms.

Dr Nikki Harrison, director of Growing Kent & Medway, said: “The projects we have funded demonstrate innovative thinking to tackle some of the main challenges facing our UK food systems. 

“Our voucher scheme gives businesses across the UK access to the cutting-edge research facilities we have here in Kent and Medway. The specialists at these institutions are leading the way in helping to make our food systems more sustainable – from innovations in plant-based foods to sustainable packaging and increasing the carbon we can store in our fields.

“Kent is at the forefront of innovation in sustainable food systems and we’re excited to be connecting businesses across the UK to these centres.”

Jerome Harlington, CEO of HWB Group, who successfully applied for funding, said: “We applied for a Business Innovation Voucher to harness cutting-edge research and development capabilities and to realise our vision of creating the UK’s first premium, locally sourced, alcohol-free wine. 

“We aim to pioneer a new market segment with a product that reflects the rich heritage and exceptional quality of UK viticulture.

“We felt that Kent reflects among the best produce the UK has to offer, and working with the research team, NIAB is the perfect base to carry out this ground-breaking project.

“Undertaking this research in Kent, using local produce, is vital as it allows us to maintain the authenticity of the region’s flavour profile while contributing to the local economy and harnessing sustainable agricultural practices. Our goal for this collaboration is to set a new standard in alcohol-free wine.”

The vouchers awarded to each of the 13 businesses ranged from £15,000 to £30,000. The projects will last up to 12 months and could be used in collaboration with NIAB, the University of Kent or the University of Greenwich. Applications closed in January 2024.

You can read the full list of successful projects here.

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