The future of food? Grantham Centre visits Quorn production base

Posted on July 20, 2016 in The Grantham Scholars' Blog by . Share this article

Quorn is one of the best known manufacturers of vegetarian food, and the company prides itself on its environmental sustainability. The company invited students and staff from the Grantham Centre to visit their factories. Here, Grantham Scholar Patience Muchada explains what she found out.

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. Grantham Scholar Katie Sumner, undergraduate student Abigail Hutchings and Grantham Research Fellow Christian Unger were also on the trip.

“To make the world’s diet healthier and more sustainable by being experts in delicious, healthy and suitable alternatives to meat.” That is the vision of Quorn Foods, and in a nod to last month’s World Meat Free Day (www.worldmeatfreeday.com), a group of Grantham Scholars and staff paid a visit to Quorn’s factories and processing plant sites in Teesside and North Yorkshire to see how they are working towards that goal.

Quorn is made from mycoprotein, 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. It is made by 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.

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

Grantham Scholar learn about the Quorn production line.

Grantham Scholars learn about the Quorn production line.

Quorn on the shelves.

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 before being taken on detailed tours of the laboratories, giant fermenters and production lines. These were followed by interesting discussions on, among other things, sustainability in Quorn and its suppliers’ supply chains, and future products. 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 and 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, or other binding agents beside egg albumen, for 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.

Visit the Quorn website

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.