Upp wants to upcycle unused stalks, stems to make vegetarian proteins

A short walk from Shropshire's tranquil country fields, AgTech startup Upp is preparing to test its broccoli upcycling platform having just raised £500,000 to drive early progress.
Upp wants to upcycle unused stalks, stems to make vegetarian proteins

Upp, a UK-based startup seeking to use unused broccoli discards to manufacture protein ingredients, has raised £500,000 in pre-seed funds from London-based investor Elbow Beach Capital.

The funding will support development of a pilot study to try out Upp's broccoli harvesting and upcycling system, with the aim of completing three test programmes before 2024-end in the UK, Spain and California.

Headquartered in Shropshire, England, Upp has devised an intelligent crop harvester for collecting broccoli. Using machine learning and built-in 3D cameras, the harvester would know the difference between matured and unripe broccoli crops. 

After harvesting, Upp's tractor-towed technology would break broccoli plants apart to make use of the stem, stalk and roots that generally  aren't palatable to eat raw. Upp estimates up to 80% of broccoli's mass is thrown away.

From the farmer's perspective, there'd also be reduced pressure to hire extra seasonal farm hands, and Upp technology would keep functioning even in nightfall.

Meat proteins are a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group estimates a gigaton of CO2 could be saved worldwide if 11% of protein consumption was sourced using plant-based methods.

On the other hand, some plant-based proteins are more carbon-intensive than others and create emissions also.

Upp notes that soya beans, one of the earliest vegetarian meat substitutes, is a major cause of deforestation and farmer displacement. Pea-based proteins are often used to make protein shakes for building up muscle. But Upp says these still produce carbon and that its technology would be "four times less carbon intensive." That would be particularly helpful in the UK, which is among the world's largest broccoli producers.

David Whitewood, upp CEO, commented: "upp is all about making the most of the crops that we already grow.

"Upcycled broccoli is much more than a more environmentally friendly alternative to pea-protein, it is packed with health-promoting nutrients, fibre and is entirely natural.

"In a future market of bioreactor and lab grown alt-proteins, plant-based foods with good provenance, will attract a premium like organic grass-fed beef does today.”

Elbow Beach Capital's Andy Summerfield has joined upp's board in connection with the pre-seed investment. His colleague Jon Pollock, CEO of Elbow Beach Capital, commented: "Food wastage, carbon-intensive protein production and labour shortages are three of the most significant issues in UK and international agriculture.

"upp is working to address all three. David and his team have achieved a great deal in a short period of time, and we’re excited to see the results of their pilots this year.”*

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