University food innovation focuses on nutritional confectionery, bean dip and vegan-friendly quiche

The Ecotrophelia competition showcases product development in higher education. The five contest finalists explain to Food Spark what their products are and why they could change the world.

29 May 2019
image credit: Getty Images

Favalicious!, University of Reading

What is it: The Favalicious! Rainbow Dip and Beetroot Breadstick Snack Pot is a nutritious savoury snack designed for children. The product is composed of three colourful and tasty fava bean dips, which are accompanied by crunchy beetroot breadsticks that also contain fava bean flour.

Made using additive-free, natural ingredients, it comes in a biodegradable hand-held pot, which makes it perfect for eating on the go.

Where the idea came from: Our market research emphasised the lack of vegan products suitable for children on the market, so we are filling that gap!

We wanted a way to introduce fava beans into children’s diets, both as a way of increasing the use of the legumes in the future and to provide a nutritious, colourful and eco-friendly snack.

Grown in European countries, the fava bean is a nitrogen-fixing crop, reducing the need for fertilisers and, as a result, reducing fertiliser greenhouse gas emissions. It also supports insect pollinators and biodiversity.

Why it’s an attractive product: Fava beans consumed in the UK have much lower food miles than chickpeas, an ingredient commonly used in products similar to our Favalicious!. Additionally, growth in the fava bean market can help support struggling farmers, as it will allow them to more easily meet greening requirements and increase profits.

As well as their eco-friendly properties, the beans are also full of nutrients that are important for the health of growing children. They are a natural source of fibre and a rich source of protein, making the plant-based diet more accessible to youngsters.

The Favalicious! rainbow snack pot contains 30% of a child's recommended protein intake per day; it is also low in sugar and a source of fibre. Encouraging healthy eating among children is vital to establish good routines and reduce the risk of cardiometabolic disease in later life. The bright colours, functional packaging and use of brand mascots will appeal to both parents and youngsters.

Venergy, University of Reading

What is it: Lemon and lime flavoured vegan energy sweets. They are designed to maximise energy intake in endurance athletes while providing sustainable alternatives to ingredients and packaging in the sports nutrition industry.

Where the idea came from: Sports nutrition is a growing sector of the UK food industry, with a predicted growth of 8.1% from 2017-2022. The global market is expected to reach £45.3bn by 2020 (Mintel, 2018). Due to the growth and demand of the industry, there’s a great opportunity for exploring new product development and strategies to make the industry more sustainable.

In-depth research into the sports nutrition industry identified two main problems with regard to sustainability. Firstly, the use of unsustainable ingredients, i.e. heavily processed ingredients and unsustainable sources. Secondly, the use of non-recyclable packaging, which accumulates after every sports event and training session. According to the BBC, in 2017 the London marathon produced 7 tonnes of non-recyclable waste.

This research inspired the team to develop the first vegan energy sweet in the UK market and come up with innovative solutions to both ingredients and packaging. Venergy’s values are to innovate, sustain and perform.

Why it’s an attractive product: Currently, there are no vegan energy sweets on the market in the UK and minimal products globally. Venergy will provide a solution for athletes, the principal target being vegan sportspeople. However, its additional sustainability selling points and carefully balanced sugar levels will make it attractive to any eco-conscious and health-conscious endurance athlete.

Carrageenan from Irish moss is used as a gelling agent in the sweets. It can be grown locally and sustainably and also provides the base for the biodegradable seaweed packaging the sweets are packaged in.

Maltodextrin (extracted from waste potato peel), fructose and glucose have been carefully balanced to maximise energy absorption and sustain performance, as well as eliminate any unwanted side effects athletes get from consuming the wrong energy products while training.

One sachet contains 4x5g sweets, which are to be consumed every half an hour during a training session or competition. They are priced at £1 a sachet – one of the cheapest options currently in the sports nutrition market.

Keesh, University of Reading

What is it: Keesh is a vegan, gluten-free, reduced-fat quiche-like product, consisting of a sweet potato base packed with roasted vegetables in a chickpea flour filling.

Where the idea came from: Quiche is a family favourite. A traditional quiche typically contains high saturated fat and animal-based ingredients, such as cheese, eggs, cream and – as with the well-known quiche Lorraine – bacon, making it unattractive to the modern consumer with concerns for human health, environmental sustainability and animal welfare. We’ve put a twist on the classic to meet the current market demands by using low-fat, plant-based alternatives, while maintaining the desired quality attributes of a traditional quiche product.

We reduce food waste by collecting wonky vegetables from farmers, which are naturally in season. At the turn of the season, we will bring out a new seasonal recipe. We aim for a zero-waste policy, which includes reusing the discarded peelings and scraps to make the vegetable stock, reusing the water extracted from the sweet potatoes in the chickpea mix, as well as ensuring all packaging is sustainable.

Why it’s an attractive product: Keesh creations have been prepared to optimise ease of consumption. They are refrigerated products, baked and ready-to-eat, though they can be warmed through and enjoyed hot.

The brand is designed to be an attractive option for the vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, health-conscious, environmentally friendly consumer – or for those who just fancy comfort food at its best.

Carruffle, Nottingham Trent University

What is it: Caruffle is a truffle made from carob and hazelnut with a jelly fruit centre, rolled in popped and ground quinoa.
Where the idea came from: When conducting research, we found that the vegan diet is still growing in popularity, particularly with young people. However, there are still gaps within the market here, sweet snacks being one which we identified.

Further research showed that many vegans are lacking in vitamin B12 in their diet due to a lack of meat and dairy. We also discovered that there has been an increase in concern in environmental welfare.

We wanted to try and incorporate all of these things into a new food product. Due to this, the idea of using carob over chocolate came to light as it is significantly less detrimental to the environment. This, combined with locally sourced ingredients where possible ('wonky berries' being one) and market research, gave us our gap in the market. And so, Caruffle was born.
Why it’s an attractive product: Our product is beneficial to the consumer as vegans often lack vitamin B12, a vitamin our product is high in, as well as vitamin E. It is likely to attract the younger generation who are opting for the vegan diet and are environmentally conscious, although it’s a sweet treat for all to enjoy. 

Cubiies, University of Nottingham

What is it: Cubiies are no-added-sugar, teeth-friendly vegan gummy sweets which are predominantly made from vegetable purées but have smoothie-inspired flavours: Peach & Passionfruit and Mixed Berries & Banana.

Where the idea came from: The idea came about as we identified a growth in the snacking market, but a need for these to be healthy, as obesity and dental caries are two major public health issues prevalent in children.

Why it’s an attractive product: Targeted at 5-12-year-olds, Cubiies have no added sugar and the highest vegetable content currently available in the confectionery market. Our company, Veggie Vibes, is focused on creating healthy confectionery for children in a sustainable way.

Both Cubiies products feature an educational character aimed at increasing children’s awareness of healthy eating and delivering environmental sustainability messages, with education being core to our brand. 

The Ecotrophelia UK winner will be announced on June 12 at Campden BRI Day. The winner will go on to compete in the Europe-wide contest.

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