Is quorn sustainable? This picture shows a range of Quorn products in a supermarket.

Is Quorn sustainable? Grantham Centre visits Quorn production base

Patience Muchada
Patience studies global food security

Is Quorn sustainable? How do the makers of Quorn assess their environmental impact? Quorn invited the Grantham Centre to come to their factories to find out more about them.

Here, Grantham Scholar & food security expert Patience Muchada explains what she found out↓

What is Quorn?

Quorn is made from mycoprotein, which is a tiny member of the fungi family that can be converted into a protein and has an ability to replicate the taste and texture of meat.

The process for making Quorn involves adding oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals to a fungus called Fusarium venenatum. All this is done in 40m high fermenters, under controlled temperature, pH, nutrient concentration and oxygen conditions to achieve the optimum growth rate.

The mycoprotein is then harvested, chilled and frozen, to achieve the meat-like texture. This means Quorn can produce a significant tonnage of protein with a meaty texture, appearance and taste, all without a single animal on site.

Is Quorn sustainable? Grantham Scholars learn about the Quorn production line.
Grantham Scholars learn about the Quorn production line.

Is Quorn sustainable?

One could say Quorn ‘arrived’ onto the food scene at the best possible moment, given current global concerns that range from current and future food shortages and health issues associated with meat-heavy diets.

There are also concerns about the socio-environmental impacts of intensive livestock farming, such as high GHG emissions and poor animal welfare.

It takes about 2kg of wheat to produce 1kg of Quorn compared to about 2-4kg of feed for a kilogram of chicken or between 12-24kg of feed for a kilogram of beef.

Quorn is therefore a more efficient and environmentally friendly way of converting plants to protein.

Our visit to the Quorn factory

During our visit to two Quorn Foods premises at Belasis in Billingham, and Stokesley, we watched presentations from heads of the company’s production, innovation and sustainability divisions. After this we were then taken on tours of the laboratories, giant fermenters and production lines.

These tours were followed by interesting discussions about important topics such as sustainability in Quorn and its suppliers’ supply chains, and future products.

Grantham Scholars Niall Bradshaw, Emma Stevens and Patience Muchada with Grantham Industry Engagement Fellow Richard Bruce.
Grantham Scholars Niall Bradshaw, Emma Stevens and Patience Muchada with Grantham Industry Engagement Fellow Richard Bruce during the Quorn visit, which Richard organised for our students.

Future improvements

Like any enterprise, there are challenges that the Quorn team are trying to address. Results from their own product life cycle assessment have helped them to identify waste management, energy and water use efficiency as key areas for improvement.

Quorn continues to do research for product improvement. For example, research into other potential sources of glucose besides wheat. They are also looking at other binding agents beside egg albumen, in order to make vegan products.

Their work on sustainability and understanding consumer needs also ties in well with some of the work the Grantham Centre and the University of Sheffield is doing, creating the potential for future collaborations.


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Thanks and references

With thanks to the following people at Quorn:

Steve Finn – Factory Manager
Dr Tim Finnigan – Director of Innovation
Louise Needham – Environment and Sustainability Manager
Isabelle Kelly – KTP Associate (Leeds Beckett University)

References

Ramirez, C.A.; Patel, M.K.; Blok, K. (2006) Energy, volume 31, issue 12, pp. 2047 – 2063

Rosegrant, M. W., Leach, N. V., & Gerpacio, R. (1999). ‘Meat or wheat for the next millennium?’ plenary lecture. Alternative futures for world cereal and meat consumption. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58(2), 219-234.