Tesco Suppliers Embrace Innovation Connections with Trailblazing Sustainability Start-ups
The winners of the 2022 WWF Tesco Innovation Connections Program have made impressive strides in their collaborative efforts with major Tesco suppliers. Through this program, they have been able to advance their research, develop, test, and scale their innovative solutions. Notably, these startups have a strong focus on sustainability, and their initiatives have included a range of projects aimed at driving positive change in the food supply chain.
These initiatives encompass a commercial trial of low-carbon fertilizers, the development of a tool to monitor and track supplier carbon footprints, and the use of AI technology designed to detect and monitor birds and pollinators within Tesco’s intricate supply chains.
The WWF Tesco Innovation Connections Programme has served as a pivotal platform for these startups. It has allowed them to establish collaborative relationships with major Tesco suppliers, which, in turn, has facilitated the acceleration of their research and a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with scaling their innovative solutions in a commercial setting.
Each of these innovative startups has shared their significant achievements attained during their participation in the program. One notable milestone has been the opportunity to work closely with major commercial suppliers to conduct trials of their products. These successful trials have provided valuable insights and a tangible path forward for their innovative solutions.
On a broader scale, the context for these endeavors is the pressing concern of agriculture and land use’s detrimental impact on the environment. Globally, these sectors are responsible for nearly 60% of biodiversity loss and a substantial 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, addressing these environmental challenges is imperative. To mitigate the impact of food production on the environment, it is widely acknowledged that scalable innovation is essential.
Such innovation is expected to reduce costs, lower carbon emissions, safeguard food security, and promote sustainable growth throughout the supply chain.
The WWF Tesco Innovation Connections Programme is just one of several initiatives established by Tesco in collaboration with WWF to foster innovation within the food system. This particular program, however, has emerged as a noteworthy success, thanks to the remarkable progress achieved by the five winning projects.
These five projects showcased their progress at a recent industry event.
Their presentations were not only an opportunity to highlight their achievements but also to share their insights and knowledge with representatives from across the food industry. Their contributions were diverse and impactful:
- AgriSound utilized its ‘Polly’ AI devices to listen for the sounds of key pollinator species in Spanish citrus farms and UK apple orchards. This endeavor aimed to quantify the benefits of insect biodiversity in different farming systems.
- As a result of their collaboration, AM Fresh, a prominent fresh fruit producer, committed to extending bee-friendly certification across all its Spanish citrus production sites. Additionally, they continue to collaborate with AgriSound to investigate the relationship between pollinator numbers and regenerative agriculture. This partnership also intends to leverage the technology to measure Med Fruit Fly thresholds and, in turn, reduce pesticide applications.
- CCm Technologies and Andermatt embarked on a significant trial of novel low-carbon fertilizers over the course of the last 10 months. This ambitious project focused on potatoes and sought to explore new approaches to fertilizing potato crops. The results of this trial were twofold, demonstrating benefits both to the environment and in terms of reducing the carbon footprint.
- The Farm Carbon Toolkit played a crucial role in this project by conducting carbon footprint analysis of the products and associated systems. This allowed for a deeper understanding of the emissions dynamics associated with this innovative approach. Building on this initial trial, Tesco initiated its own extensive trial of various low-carbon fertilizer products, including those developed by CCm. This move is a pivotal part of Tesco’s commitment to reducing emissions in alignment with key climate targets.
- The collaboration between Farm Carbon Toolkit and RBO Organic has resulted in an enhanced functionality to support aggregated reporting of farm carbon data at a supplier level. This innovation has provided more effective tracking of Scope 3 emissions throughout the food supply chain. Moreover, a version of this tool is in development to enable reporting from producers outside of the UK. RBO Organic and Farm Carbon Toolkit plan to continue working together into 2024 to track the carbon footprint of businesses year on year.
- Chirrup.ai deployed AI-enabled devices capable of identifying bird songs across thirty sites on fifteen farms in the UK and Northern Ireland. The results were illuminating, showcasing the rich diversity of bird life, with an average of 34 species observed, and in some cases, up to 48 species on the most biodiverse farm. Moreover, Chirrup’s program has uncovered the presence of fourteen threatened species, including skylarks and yellowhammers. The data collected is providing crucial baseline information to support multi-farm benchmarking and the ongoing tracking of bird populations as an indicator of broader biodiversity on farms.
- Future by Insects achieved a significant milestone by obtaining proof of concept for a circular feed system. This system utilizes microalgae and insects to produce a feed ingredient that is more protein-rich compared to conventional soymeal. At scale, the production of insect meal through this process has the potential to be carbon-negative, signifying a positive impact on the environment.
- The project also demonstrated the capacity to recover valuable resources from food waste and create sustainable, locally produced protein for the UK’s feed industry. The startup worked in close collaboration with Hilton Foods, Greencore, and Fera Science, and they are now actively seeking opportunities to scale production in the UK.
The feedback and responses from key figures involved in the program have been overwhelmingly positive. Alice Ritchie, Lead Nature and Forests Manager at Tesco, expressed the critical importance of these innovations in building a more resilient, sustainable, and productive food system.
She highlighted the potential of these innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance soil health, improve water quality, and provide a clearer picture for monitoring biodiversity in supply chains.
Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, emphasized the importance of embracing innovation in achieving sustainability goals in the food system. She expressed pride in WWF’s partnership with Tesco and their collaborative efforts to support and showcase these promising sustainability-focused innovations. She also looked forward to seeing how these startups would continue to develop their products beyond the Innovation Connections Programme.
Casey Woodward, Founder and CEO of AgriSound, underlined the significance of their project, especially in terms of collecting valuable data about different farming systems and their impact on pollinator numbers.
They are excited to continue working with AM Fresh to monitor pollinator levels and share more results in the future.
Conrad Young, Founder and CEO of Chirrup.ai, stressed the value of working with Hilton, Tesco, and WWF to demonstrate the scalability of their AI technology in recognizing species. He noted that, with a relatively small group of farms, they have already begun analyzing patterns in how different farm management techniques support various pest-controlling species.
Their desire is to expand their efforts further, especially on farms that may not fully realize the value of their natural assets.
Evelyn Peters, Chief Executive Officer of Future By Insects, discussed the importance of evidence in validating their innovative concept and vision. Their participation in the Tesco/WWF program, along with reputable project partners, has established their credibility and opened doors to numerous opportunities for business development.
Lizzy Parker, Calculator Manager at Farm Carbon Toolkit, talked about how the Innovations Connections funding has enabled them to work closely with RB Organic to enhance their tool’s functionality. This not only supports aggregated reporting of farm carbon data but