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Summary of the last KTN's Plant Sector Board meeting on “Improving Nutritional Profile of Edible Plants: Challenges and Opportunities”

The meeting of the KTN Plant Sector Advisory Board was held on the 23rd of October, and was kindly hosted by Campden BRI. The meeting was focused on investigating opportunities and challenges to innovation related to the theme of “Improving Nutritional Profile of Edible Plants: Challenges and Opportunities”, and was organised through a collaboration between the KTN Plant and Food sector teams. As well as members of the Board, a number of external speakers were also invited to help strengthen knowledge and expertise related to the theme.

Within the context of the theme, it was hoped that the meeting would help to establish: market opportunities; current status of technologies and commercial production; barriers and opportunities for innovation; and the steps needed to help UK capture value from innovation in this area.

 

The following speakers gave presentations at the meeting:

  • Bertrand Emond – Head of Membership & Training at Campden BRI – gave an overview of Campden BRI, its aims and objectives, and key themes of activities, particularly related to the theme.
  • Colin Kelly – Director of R&D at Warburtons – gave an overview of key trends in food and ingredient manufacturing in relation to developing healthier diets, and links between poor diets and higher risks of many diseases and illnesses.
  • Simon Penson, Head of Primary Production & Processing and Fraser Courts, Nutrition, Diet & Health Specialist at Campden BRI - gave a joint presentation about current research that was on-going at Campden BRI related to improving the nutritional value of foods.
  • Calum Murray – Programme Leader for Sustainable Agriculture and Food at Innovate UK - gave an update on progress related to establishing Centres for Agricultural Innovation along with current and planned Innovate UK funding schemes.
  • Professor Cathie Martin, project leader in Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre (JIC) - gave an overview of various nutritionally enhanced horticulture products that had been developed at JIC.
  • Dr Guy Thallon, Head of Research, Development & Innovation at Produce World 
- presented an overview of some of the successes and challenges that were being faced in developing and commercialising nutritionally enhanced fresh produce in the horticulture sector. 

  • James Phillips, Senior Business Interactions Manager at BBSRC - gave an update on BBSRC strategic aims, and activity aimed at supporting the linking changes in primary production with changes in diets and health.

 

During the meeting a number of important points were highlighted, such as:

  • There is a clear need to improve human diets in the UK and in other counties and changes in nutritional profile of plants could play an important role in achieving that;
  • Useful changes in the nutritional profile of plants can be achieved through breeding, and more was likely to be possible with further research;
  • There was substantial amount of evidence to suggest that sustained improvements in diet could have a dramatic effect on human health and consequently on reducing costs for health services;
  • However, most consumers were unlikely to be sufficiently motivated currently to consciously change their diets over a sustained period of time, particularly if they had to pay more to achieve that;
  • Although some nutritionally enhanced products were successfully being marketed and sold, they tended currently to be only to be niche markets. As a result, it was very difficult for plants breeders and producers to justify substantial R&D investments to develop new nutritionally enhanced products based on relatively small projected volumes of sales;
  • Until sufficient volumes of nutritionally enhanced plants were available it would be difficult for processors and retailers to change their current practices and products that are aimed at the mass market – and thus increase the demand for nutritionally enhanced primary products;
  • To successfully deliver a substantial change and, it would likely require the development of stronger collaborations throughout the supply chain, and across government departments.

These and other important points identified during the meeting will be used to inform further KTN activity in this area.

The KTN team would like to thank Campden BRI for hosting the meeting and all the speakers and Board member for their contributions to an excellent meeting.

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