British mushroom farmers in East Anglia are discovering there is money to be made from waste mushroom stalks, courtesy of one of the fastest growing food sectors – sports nutrition, health foods and supplements. Produce Business UK learns more
Cambridge Commodities is a leading player in the manufacture of ingredients and products for sports nutrition, health foods and supplements, and is now investigating the potential of using mushroom stalks.
“We thrive on new ideas, and we’re innovation driven,” Emma Cattell, research and development nutritionist at the company, tells Produce Business UK. “We are constantly looking for new products and have recently started working with local mushroom growers about taking their waste material.
“The stalks are snapped off before being sent to the supermarkets because that is what the supermarkets want. But the stalk is very nutritious – even more so than the cap of the mushroom, and we can use it.”
Tapping into rising demand
Sports nutrition, health food supplements and healthy snacks are benefitting from the ever-growing consumer interest in healthy living, prompting many large brands and global enterprises to add natural products to their food ranges.
Cambridge Commodities already offers a line of over 2,500 raw materials, from açaí berry, alfalfa and blackcurrant to apple cider vinegar, horseradish and yarrow root powder. There are some surprising ingredients too, which many growers would regard simply as weeds, such as dandelion, chickweed and cleavers. The most popular products are: spirulina, chlorella, barley grass, wheatgrass, vegan proteins and whey protein.
“Dandelions are a very exciting product,” Cattell points out. “It is ideal for detoxification and is very potent. It is often described as a new superfood in the greens category.”
New and innovative ingredients are constantly being discovered, and Cambridge Commodities seeks to stay ahead of the market so as to provide customers what they need, when they need it.
“We source supplies of raw materials from all over the world,” Cattell says. “We source some from the UK but not as many as we would like as it is not always economically possible. Our new product planning team sources the products, and producers have to go through an application process to ensure the quality matches what we want. If the process is successful, we place an order.”
Unexpected potential for produce growers
The sports, health and nutrition sector is one that many fruit and vegetable producers might not consider as a viable route to market, but clearly it can provide unexpected opportunities even if it means growing dandelions or providing produce formerly thrown away.
In fact, sports nutrition and health foods is an industry that is undoubtedly growing, and, looking ahead, it is forecast to reach £527m in value by 2019.
According to Euromonitor’s 2015 report on Sports Nutrition in the UK, sports nutrition, in particular, is becoming a mainstream trend. Originally the preserve of bodybuilders and serious athletes, sports nutrition products are proving increasingly popular among women who are seeking to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“Sports protein products are posing growing competition to weight management, particularly as a combination of these products with green vegetables, and fruit is seen as more healthy and natural in comparison to meal replacement slimming,” indicates the report.
Daniel Lucht, research director at retail analyst ResearchFarm, claims the entire supplements sector has been steadily growing for years. “It used to be much more of a niche sector for health food and organic stores,” he says. “Now it has crossed over to the big players. The rise of people with food intolerances and obesity is helping to shape demand for these products too. You have to place it in the context of health and wellness, organic food, and the growing awareness of natural food. There is no doubt this is a growing market.”
Healthier snacks and supplements
Cambridge Commodities is therefore looking for products, including those that the fresh fruit and vegetable sector could provide. “We are always interested in hearing from potential suppliers,” Cattell explains. “We take a product and send it to one of the producers we use to turn it into powders, liquids etc. We are always looking for new ways to use fruit, vegetables and whole food products.
“Many people outside the direct industry sector do not know what we do, nor the scale of the market. This is going to change, it is an expanding sector with many opportunities and we will continue to be the leading player.”
Already, Cambridge Commodities is investigating opportunities within the healthy eating snack market, as well as developing its European market share. As a nutritionist, Cattell believes strongly that the demand for healthy food will continue.
“The health food and sports nutrition sector is going to grow further,” she predicts. “I think the future is going to focus on healthier snacks and supplements. The demand for clean labels has inspired a lot of companies to clean up the ingredients on their labels already. Consumers are much more aware of healthy eating and are checking labels to see what ingredients are being used.”
It is this awareness of trends, of potential opportunities, that has resulted in Cambridge Commodities gaining recognition from the London Stock Exchange, the Cambridge News Business Excellence Award and being ranked in the 2015 Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 League.
The firm is undoubtedly proving highly successful. Founded in 1998, it has grown quickly and is now a major exporter. The company has increased its European Union trade too, with sales rising from £300,000 in 2011 to over £7 million in 2015.
Cattell claims Cambridge Commodities is fairly unique too, in that it offers a one-stop service. “We provide the ingredients, we can provide advice, we can help with product development, arrange manufacture if required, work with labelling and ensure labels are fully compliant with all regulations.
“We work with start-up businesses who have not been involved in the sector before, as well as big brands who have been around for many years.”
Currently, the group is working with the likes of Tesco, Holland and Barrett and various sports brands. “We have a large customer profile and we’re becoming quite well-known in the industry for the services we provide,” Cattell claims. “The customer is at the heart of all we do. We help to create market-leading products by providing service, high quality and innovation.”