Kent sustainable food and drink innovations

As the Garden of England, Kent has a well-established reputation in the food & drink sector and contributes £2.6bn to the UK food & drink industry, with over 2,500 businesses and 17,000 employees.  

We’re blessed with some of the most productive agricultural land in the UK, and we excel in growing fruits: apples, cherries, plums, strawberries to name a few. We also boast the largest high-tech greenhouses complexes in the UK. Our producers benefit from the best, natural, local produce; some of it all year round!  

Horticulture, fresh produce packaging, and food and drink processing are technology intensive. Our infrastructure and skills have evolved with the demand of the sector – from optimising crop production, choosing local and in season ingredients over imported produce, wasting less, to offering more plant-based products and tackling plastics.  

Kent continues to invest in research, innovation and R&D. With technologies such as automation, AI, engineering and precision farming, the potential to deliver environmental sustainability and efficiency gains across the food & drink supply chain are substantial.   

Growing Kent & Medway – a consortium bringing together innovative growers and processors, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs – backed by local and national investment, plays a key role in supporting the agri-food sector with hitting net-zero carbon emission targets.  

Low carbon farming 

NIAB East Malling’s research on perennial fruit crops is known internationally. The new GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture is a new state-of-the-art glasshouse and energy centre, offering high-tech imaging, robotics, precision irrigation rigs, LED lighting and CO2 systems to advance horticultural agronomy. The hub also hosts a Wine Innovation Centre.     

ThanetEarth high-tech greenhouses, located in East Kent, produce year-round tomatoes and cucumbers and reduce the UK reliance on imported produce. GrowUp has chosen Discovery Park to build its latest low carbon vertical farm to bring fresher, long-lasting salad to supermarkets all-year round. The farm will use 95% less water than conventional growing methods, grow crops without pesticides and be powered directly by renewable energy.  

But UK production is a drop in ocean compared to what we consume. There are opportunities in Kent for companies working on innovative ways to grow and deliver fresh produce and pantry items to the people living across London and the South-East.  

Green tech and product development 

Run by Kent’s School of Biosciences, the University of Kent is one of the most advanced Biotech Hub for sustainable food and drink. They work closely with Kent producers and farmers – from start-ups to household brands – to develop green technologies, processes and products.   

The Medway Food Innovation Centre, at the University of Greenwich, is new facility offering high tech equipment and technical expertise to help businesses solve some of those product development challenges.  

With the UK consumer’s growing appetite for plant-based products, food and drinks producers are racing to keep up with the demand for truly sustainable, no compromise meat and dairy alternatives. There are opportunities for companies developing innovative and value-added foods. We also welcome companies that can improve packaging and distribution.  

Zero waste solutions 

The FoodLoop app is an initiative from the No Food Wasted forum set up by Produced in Kent to reduce food waste by redistributing good food surplus to those who need it. Meanwhile, the Wasted Kitchen puts food destined for landfill back into circulation.  

Here again, there is room for more innovation to help address the challenges of making food surplus and packaging circular and waste-free.   

Funding and mentoring to go green  

A new programme, Growing Green, provides eligible businesses with carbon emission audits, mentoring and grants. The programme is funded by the UK Government and Growing Green Partners through the UK Community Renewal Fund and delivered by NIAB EMR, Low Carbon Kent, Locate in Kent, Produced in Kent, the Kent Foundation and APS Produce Limited. There are 40 places available. Applications close midnight 14 April 2022.   

As true sustainability credentials take time to build, collaboration is integral to growers and producers to fulfil their responsible aims. Whether you’re looking for the right supply chain partners, or have a food product or service in mind, we’ll can help you make the right connections. 

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