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Tesco, WWF Tapping Sustainable Food Startups to Fast-Track Supply Chain Innovations

The Innovation Connections accelerator program aims to fast-track vital food system innovations; Tesco is also calling on the UK government to help accelerate scale-up of late-stage innovations in food supply chains.

Tesco and WWF have launched an accelerator program that pairs pioneering startups with Tesco suppliers to fast-track sustainability innovation in the supply chain, with the goal of reining in the environmental impact of food and support UK food security.

The Innovation Connections accelerator will address a key barrier preventing promising sustainability innovations from being adopted at scale in food supply chains, by identifying suppliers who can help to scale up new ideas and technologies. Applicants have been paired with long-term Tesco suppliers to pitch scale-up projects that apply their ideas in the real world of food supply chains. Winners will work with Tesco’s supplier partners to pilot and scale their innovation and will each receive up to £150,000 in funding support.

“More than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are driven by the way we produce and consume food, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” says WWF CEO Tanya Steele. “It’s possible for farms to produce enough nutritious food and sustain farmers’ livelihoods at the same time as protecting and restoring the natural resources they depend on. We hope the launch of this new accelerator program with Tesco will bring innovative solutions a step closer and help us achieve our goal of halving the environmental impacts of the average UK shopping basket.”

From 70 Innovation Connections applications, eight startup finalists took part in in a pitch competition on May 6 for the chance to see their project rolled out in the Tesco supply chain:

  • AgriSound & AM Fresh (Tesco fruit supplier) – technology that uses bioacoustics to monitor pollinators and pest levels on farm to help farmers protect biodiversity and increase produce yields

  • Aurea & Adrian Scripps (Tesco apple supplier)– full lifecycle crop intelligence for fruit trees that allows farmers to manage health and fruit-load for every tree individually, improving yields while minimizing the use of inputs such as fertilizer

  • ai & Hilton (Tesco meat and fish supplier) – a monitoring system that uses birdsong as a science-based biodiversity indicator in grassland farming

  • CCm, Andermatt, FCT & Branston (Tesco potato supplier) – a demonstration of low-carbon fertilizers to reduce the carbon footprint of potato production

  • FCT & ProduceWorld (Tesco produce supplier) – advanced carbon footprint software for horticultural growers to analyze and reduce their emissions and increase carbon sequestration on farm, whilst also identifying cost savings and efficiencies

  • Future by Insects & Hilton (Tesco meat and fish supplier) – creation of circular fish feed using food waste to grow microalgae to feed fish.

  • Harbro & Muller (Tesco milk processing supplier) – technology to precisely measure nutrient efficiency on dairy farms

  • InsPro & Prepworld (Tesco prepared fruit supplier) – portable bioconversion units that use insects to convert food waste into chicken feed and reduce the use of soy feed in the egg supply chain

A winner will be announced later this week.

Tesco is also calling on the UK government to do more to unlock innovation in UK food supply chains and support innovations to market readiness — not just at the seed funding stage. Specifically, it is asking the government to set out timelines and process for updating outdated regulations that hinder the scaling up of late-stage innovations such as insect protein in animal feed or sustainable low-carbon fertilizers, and to create incentives for businesses and consumers who are early adopters of new food system innovations.

Tesco Group CEO Ken Murphy said: “To deliver affordable, healthy and sustainable food for all, the entire food sector must innovate fast. That’s why, as well as driving improvements in our own operations, Tesco is collaborating with innovative suppliers and startups. But we also need government support, to help the food industry to scale proven innovations. The upcoming Food Strategy White Paper is a great opportunity to transform our food system and enhance food security. We hope the paper will set out a process to update outdated regulations that hinder the scaling up of much needed innovations.”

The overarching goal of Tesco and WWF’s partnership is to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket by 2030, compared with a 2019 baseline — a commitment that Tesco and its fellow UK retail giants Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and The Co-op made at COP26 last November.

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