Food entrepreneurs of the future given a helping hand by Food Innovation Centre

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Two groups of student food entrepreneurs from the University of Nottingham have won through to the UK final of the annual Ecotrophelia competition which turns the spotlight on eco-innovative food products.

Experts at the university’s Food Innovation Centre signposted the two student teams to local companies who could support them in developing their product ideas, first devised as part of the new product development module on the Food Science degree.

Nottingham-based Origin Kitchen, which produces plant-based sweet and savoury pots and spreads out of a unit at Southglade Food Park, advised Hey Pesto! - super seed pesto products that can be eaten either as a spread on bread or crackers, or stirred into pasta.

Food ingredients, blends and raw materials company, Healy Group, based near Coalville in Leicestershire, helped PlanEat, who developed a breaded snacking product featuring meal worms.

Both PlanEat and Hey Pesto! have now been selected for the UK Ecotrophelia final and both also won accolades at a recent showcase event held at the university’s Sutton Bonington Campus.

PlanEat was named best in the showcase according to the official judges, who were representatives from the food industry and also honorary professors from the food sector, while Hey Pesto! won the People’s Prize.

The Ecotrophelia Competition challenges students to develop a sustainable and innovative food product from concept to market. It promotes eco-design and sustainability, with the aim of inspiring future food entrepreneurs to create products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible.

Senior food innovation advisor at the Food Innovation Centre, Alice Jones, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that PlanEat and Hey Pesto! have both been picked as UK finalists in the annual Ecotrophelia contest which shines a spotlight on new product development created by students for the food and drink sector.

“We want to thank Origin Kitchen and Healy Group for their support of the students to get this far. Both have been interacting with the students throughout the NPD project module, from ensuring they started with a market-relevant brief to challenging them throughout the development process to ensure the products they came up with will be suitable for commercial development and launch in the future. The process has given the students real-life technologist experience of working on a science-based development project whilst managing interactions with the other functions within a company.

“It has been great experience for the students to get this exposure to commercial businesses during their Food Science degree courses and I am sure no accident that the close contact with the companies really brings them along and prepares them for the questioning by the food industry ‘dragons’ which they’ll experience at the UK Ecotrophelia finals on 7th June.”

Hey Pesto! team

Hey Pesto! chose to develop a seed mix pesto that was optimised to be highly nutritious and avoids the allergen issues that pestos with nuts would pose. PlanEat focused on the idea that insects can be used as a more sustainable alternative protein source to conventional meats, and the team worked hard to create snacks in a format that was tasty and convenient, even using a 3D printer to make their own moulds to shape the products in.

There are seven UK finalists in the 11th edition of the Ecotrophelia UK Competition, which is organised jointly by the Institute of Food Science & Technology and Campden BRI. The competition is open to teams of students registered at a university or other establishment of scientific/technical higher education and turns the spotlight on eco-innovativefood products for the retail or food service sector, with special consideration for eco-innovation in terms of ingredients, packaging, process or distribution.

Leah Brown, co-founder and head of operations at Origin Kitchen, said: “We were delighted to work with the students and see how well they progressed during the project.”

The Food Innovation Centre, based at the Bioenergy and Brewing Science building at the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington campus, offers free support to eligible small and medium-sized food and drink manufacturers in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire under the Driving Research and Innovation project - a three-year project that runs until the end of June 2023. Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) via the D2N2 LEP, the project is run by the Food Innovation Centre at the University of Nottingham School of Biosciences, in conjunction with the Chemistry Innovation Laboratory in the School of Chemistry and Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and in association with the Midlands Engine. It is a unique collaboration project that provides free specialist innovation support to small and medium-sized businesses.

For more details about the Food Innovation Centre, visit

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Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
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About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

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The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

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