Upcycled food is here to stay. Here’s five great examples

20 January, 2021

If current global food-waste trends continue, by 2030, around 66 tonnes of food will be lost or thrown away every second, according to analysis by Boston Consulting Group. This will have devastating consequences to the world’s growing population, which could reach ten billion by the middle of the century.

Food upcycling – taking food that would otherwise be wasted in the production process of a product and using it to make other food products – is one of several strategies being implemented to address this food waste challenge. It could positively impact the food-waste associated with the production, packaging and processing elements of the food sector, which contribute around 660 million tons of wasted food every year, according to UN data.

Food upcycling is not a new concept. But a convergence of factors – corporate food-waste reduction targets and growing consumer demand for more sustainable products – have accelerated the development of an innovative and exciting space.

While the vast majority of growth is being driven by demand for animal feed, the overall upcycled food market is performing well. According to Future Market Insights, the upcycled food market is worth $46.7 billion and is expected to grow 5% during the next ten years.

Of course, food manufacturers and raw ingredient suppliers are enticed by potential new revenue streams. Upcycling offers a way to monetise waste that would have cost to dispose of. Reducing waste and cutting costs while establishing a new product or ingredient creates a win-win-win situation.

Here are five examples of food upcycling in action.

1. ReGrained

In college, friends Jordan Schwartz and Dan Kurzrock learned how to make beer. For every six-pack they brewed, they were left with one pound of grain. “We were hauling this grain out to the dumpster until we started baking bread with it,” says Dan. “At first, our goal was to make enough money to brew beer for free. We soon realised the possibilities were much bigger.”

Digging a little deeper, the pair found brewers’ grain to have incredible nutritional value. The grain is only “spent” in as much as it can’t be used to make more beer. The sugars go into the beer, leaving behind plant protein, prebiotic fibre and micronutrients.

It was on this basis that Jordan and Dan set up ReGrained to source the billions of pounds of grain ‘wasted’ at breweries every year and upcycle it into a range of award-winning snack bars.

2. PeelPioneers

The fresh fruit juice market is huge. In the UK, 891 million litres were sold in 2019, creating a £1.6 billion market.

Orange juice accounts for more than 60% of that market. But what happens to the orange peels leftover after making fresh juice? Well, they go to waste.

It is a problem that Netherlands-based PeelPioneers hopes to solve. Describing itself as the “peel farmer of the 21st century,” the business processes peels that would otherwise have gone to the incinerator into functional ingredients for the food and cosmetics industries. These includes de-greasing agents, cold pressed oil and five-fold oil, the highly concentrated orange aroma found in soaps and perfumes.

Founded by Lindy Hensen, Bas van Wieringen and Sytze van Stempvoort, the company opened the world’s first orange peel factory in 2018. Today, it processes more than ten million kilos of peels every year.

3. Nestlé

The food sector often looks to one of the industry’s biggest players for inspiration and ideas. So, when Nestlé turned its attention to upcycling, the world paid attention.

The company is creating new chocolate using only the cacao plant fruit pulp for sweetness, omitting the need for added refined sugar. The chocolate will go into the popular KitKat branded products.

It is an approach to making chocolate that not only reduces the amount of refined sugar used in the end product, but it also allows the company to use 31% of each cacao pod. Previously, just 22% of it was used.

4. Seven Bro7hers

A high-profile example of brands working together to upcycle food waste is the initiative fostered by Kellogg’s and Seven Bro7hers Brewing Co.

The two organisations have joined forces to create limited-edition beers using ‘less than perfect’ cereals that did not meet Kellogg’s strict quality control measures. As the company’s website proudly declares: “Still packed with taste and flavour, the rice-based flakes don’t quite make the grade required to get into the cereal boxes. But they’re not wasted.”

As such, Corn Flakes are used to replace some of the wheat grain in the beer mix during the mashing process of making the firm’s Throwaway IPA. Rice Krispies replace the malted barley in its Cast Off Pale Ale, and Coco Pops replace the malted barley in Sling it Out Stout.

5. Renewal Mill

The mission of Renewal Mill is two-fold: to extract value out of food system by-products and to address the lack of affordable nutrition in food deserts.

Through its proprietary technology, it transforms former organic, high-fibre food by-product streams and turns them into nutritious raw ingredients.

The company uses an automatic dryer, with combined ceramic and steam heating elements, to dehydrate wet and heavy by-product materials within an existing food factory. There, the company are producing okara flour, a superfood flour made from the by-product of soy-milk manufacturing. It is organic, non-GMO, low-carb and a natural replacement for refined all-purpose flour.


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