UK agritech specialist upp has secured £500,000 from impact investor Elbow Beach Capital. The funding will be used to pilot upp’s unique technology for producing upcycled broccoli protein.
The UK is a major broccoli producer, but currently the crop must be hand-harvested by seasonal workers. With these increasingly scarce due to factors such as Brexit and the pandemic, many farmers are struggling. Additionally, 80% of the broccoli plant — including the stem, leaves, and root — is currently wasted, despite being food-grade. Upp has set out to solve both of these issues.
“Upp is about making the most of the crops we already grow”
The company has developed a new type of harvesting equipment that uses cameras and machine learning to detect when a plant is ready, even if it is partially obscured. A tractor-towed tool, which can replace seven workers, then harvests the plant and separates the head.
The broccoli heads are sold, while the remainder of the plant is upcycled into a highly sustainable protein with a lower impact than pea or soy. Upp is planning three pilots in the UK, Spain, and California, with the hope of beginning commercial production at the end of 2024. The company believes the broccoli protein market could be worth over £35 billion by 2030.
Transforming veg byproducts
As concerns about the environmental impact of the food system increase, more companies are working to use byproducts that would otherwise be wasted.
In 2021, cabbage grower Naylor Farms announced it would build a facility to transform trimmings and leaves leftover from coleslaw production into functional plant-based proteins. Israel’s Anina offers plant-based ready meals made with upcycled vegetables — including the packaging — while Canada’s Wholly Veggie makes a range of products from upcycled cauliflower.
“Upp is all about making the most of the crops that we already grow,” said David Whitewood, CEO of upp. “Upcycled broccoli is much more than a more environmentally friendly alternative to pea protein, it is packed with health-promoting nutrients, fibre, and is entirely natural. In a future market of bioreactor and lab-grown alt-proteins, plant-based foods with good provenance will attract a premium like organic grass-fed beef does today.”