UK attracts foreign investment for plant science, health and nutrition

07 Jun 2021 — The Department for International Trade (DIT) has backed a new proposal to reinforce the UK counties of Norfolk and Suffolk as the global center of excellence for plant science focusing on nutritious food. The move comes amid a growing global demand for more nutritious food products that improves both physical and cognitive health.

The plan, driven by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership’s Norfolk & Suffolk Unlimited inward investment team, Norwich Research Park and other local partners, focuses on attracting businesses to use the region’s globally renowned plant science expertise to develop nutritious food products.

The DIT’s High Potential Opportunities (HPO) program selects focused investment opportunities to promote internationally.

This new HPO for Norfolk and Suffolk will be promoted by DIT’s global network, showcasing the opportunities internationally and promoting the projects to investors.

Click to EnlargeDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, medical advice has highlighted the increased risks of infection and mortality from poor diets, diabetes and obesity.Strengthening agri-tech, food and health
Dr. Jonathan Clarke, head of business development at the John Innes Centre, welcomes the designation. “HPO status is important because it promotes the strength of our region internationally. In Norfolk and Suffolk, our strength is agri-tech, food and health. The John Innes Centre and our Norwich Research Park partners have a big role to play in this.”

“The food industry is seeking new natural ingredients from sustainable sources to replace artificial additives to deliver healthy, nutritious foods while reducing production costs,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst

Spotlight on health
During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical advice has highlighted the increased risks of infection and mortality from poor diets, diabetes and obesity. 

“Lockdowns have impacted food purchasing trends. As consumers moved to home cooking, they adopted healthier, more nutritious foods,” he outlines.   

According to Clarke, the UK has an established and globally respected food industry, recognized for quality, authenticity and traceability. 

“UK research and development in agri-food and health is driving innovation in the sector. The UK government has provided access to non-dilutive investment and further incentivized innovation with R&D tax credits. When combined with access to a skilled labor force, the UK is an attractive environment for the growth of innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large companies.”

Moreover, the quality, availability and cost of meat alternatives are set to make these healthy options available to a broader consumer base. 

“Under the pressure of environmental constraints on livestock and poultry production, the cost of meat is likely to increase. When combined with the awareness of the benefits of a healthy diet, these factors are set to sustain or accelerate the decline in meat consumption,” Clarke explains. 

Nutrition on the rise
Governments are seeking solutions to combat a range of health concerns associated with lifestyle choices and healthy aging (e.g., obesity, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis and dementia).

The link between general health, age, diet and vulnerability to COVID-19 has further brought this to the fore.

A European hub
Core to the HPO is Norwich Research Park, Europe’s largest single-site hub of research, training, education and enterprise-focused on plant science, food and health. 

The park’s 3,000 researchers and clinicians and around 150 science and technology businesses focus on the full range of technical activities required to research, develop, commercialize, test and market new scientific products.

“The HPO process will help to raise the profile of our region on the international stage,” says David Dukes, New Anglia LEP’s head of inward investment.

According to Dukes, the UK is ideal for developing nutritious food products as it specializes in plant science and agri-food.Click to EnlargeNorfolk and Suffolk are already home to global food and drink brands and more than 1,000 manufacturing businesses employing over 35,000 people.

“Investors will have access to the expertise of partners at the Norwich Research Park, a strong agri-food business network and an innovative testbed with cutting-edge developments in the pipeline,” he elaborates. 

“Promotion needs to occur on the international stage as most existing businesses and investors in the field operate overseas, with most growth expected in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. Through active engagement with the international market, this HPO will promote Norfolk and Suffolk as an ideal location for businesses operating in this sector.”

Expanding opportunities 
The work behind the HPO bid includes developing a network of commercial opportunities to attract new businesses, both through new companies moving to the area from overseas and supporting existing businesses to attract more significant investment from parent companies. 

There will also be support for innovative start-ups and early-stage firms to create a dynamic and growing cluster that will continue to attract investors worldwide.

Alongside an extensive and innovative agri-food sector and developments like the Food Enterprise Park, the region has the building blocks required to create a food-focused plant science cluster that can compete with international hubs including St Louis (Missouri), Memphis (Tennessee) and the Wageningen Food Valley (Netherlands).

By Elizabeth Green

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