Food waste occurs all along the supply chain, from farm to fork. With an estimated 63 million tons of food wasted in the United States each year, the incurred expenses well exceed an annual bill of $200 billion, as illustrated below:
A market opportunity:
Fighting food waste has presented as a major market opportunity for companies, with underlying financial benefits for all sectors of society, whether consumers, businesses, or governments. Preventative solutions such as packaging modifications that extend shelf life, for instance, have a diversion potential of 208 thousand tons of food and an economic value of $3,443 per ton saved — nearly three quarters of a billion dollars — according to ReFED, an entrepreneurial nonprofit working with decision-makers from across the food system to reduce U.S. food waste.
Value-added processing: 10 companies, 10 solutions
Another financially sustainable solution is value-added processing that involves processes that turn food waste into a product that can be used again. And a number of startups have emerged that do just that. Some consumers may think of this concept as “eating trash,” and in essence, it really is. But with an estimated 68% of what’s being trashed in homes still being edible, according to a National Resources Defense Counsel survey, the potential for repurposing “edible trash” is fairly easy to digest.
1- ReGrained: From spent grain from beer brewing to protein bars
ReGrained is a San Francisco–based startup that has developed a patent-pending technology to upcycle spent grain from the beer brewing process. The technology makes use of the fact that during beer brewing, sugar is processed out of grains, giving “optimal access to protein, fiber, and a whole bunch of micronutrients,” as stated by the company. The upcycled product is called Supergrain+ flour, and it’s used to make nutritious protein bars. On September 25, 2018, ReGrained secured a $2.5 million series C seed financing investment from Griffith Foods to upscale production and commercialize their ingredient innovations. To date, the startup has upcycled 48,841 pounds of Supergrain+.
2- Misfit Foods: From ugly produce to bottled juices
Based in Washington, D.C., Misfit Foods (previously known as Misfit Juicery) is a startup dedicated to preventing food waste. In 2015, the company launched their concept based on transforming “ugly” fruits and vegetables into bottled juices. According to Misfit, about one third of harvest is tossed due to cosmetic issues, and an estimated 40% of food is dumped by supermarkets due to spoilage and overbuying.
3- Rubies in the Rubble: From ugly produce to wholesome condiments
This UK startup has taken a similar approach to that of Misfit, but transforms wasted produce into ketchups, relishes, and chutneys. Today, Rubies in the Rubble offers a variety of ten products that are sold online and in a number of supermarkets.
4- ¡Yappah!: From food scraps to protein chips
Tyson Food’s Innovation Lab launched ¡Yappah! on May 31, 2018. ¡Yappah! uses spent malted barley from beer brewing and veggie purees near their expiration dates combined with chicken breast scraps and tapioca flour to make ¡Yappah! Chicken Crisps.
5- Kelloggs and Seven Bro7thers Brewery: From rejected cornflakes to beer
Kelloggs recently announced that it will be sending rejected cornflakes to the Seven Bro7thers Brewery in Manchester to be used as part of the grain that goes into their new Throw Away IPA. The rejected cornflakes are those that are too small, too big, or overcooked. According to the Telegraph, “A spokesperson for Kelloggs said that around 30 per cent of the grain content of the beer will be cornflakes, and 70 per cent wheat.” The cornflakes will sweeten the beer and add to its golden color.
6- Upprinting Food: From food waste to 3D-printed snacks
Upprinting Food, a Netherlands-based startup, uses 3D printing technologies to upscale different kinds of food waste into elegant snacks. How? A 3D printer is fed with food paste, with which it prints appealing shapes and designs. The printed food is then baked and dehydrated to last longer. Upprinting Food’s idea started off with old bread that was mashed and mixed with water, spices, and herbs to make a crispy, tasty snack. The startup has now extended their ingredients to include fruits and vegetables. Their aim is currently to help restaurants analyze and reuse their food waste.
7- Wheyward Spirit: From cheese waste to vodka-like spirit
Wheyward Spirit is an Oregon-based startup that is turning whey, a byproduct of cheese, into a unique spirit that is comparable to vodka. For every one pound of cheese made, cheesemakers are left with 9 pounds of whey. As Wheyward Spirit’s CEO, Emily Darchuk, explains it, “We take this nutrient-rich whey to ferment and distill into our ultra premium spirit. It produces a spirit with a uniquely velvety smooth finish and a sippable flavor.” The startup plans to launch their product this year.
8- Pulp Pantry: From pulp to grain-free granola
Pulp Pantry’s mission is to repurpose juice pulp, a byproduct of juicing, which is quite abundant in juiceries. According to Pulp Pantry, “for every pound of juice produced, as much as one to four pounds of nutritious, fiber-rich pulp might be trashed.” The Los Angeles–based startup has devised a way to transform the pulp into a grain-free granola.
9- Barnana: From rejected bananas to nutritious snacks
Based in California, a startup called Barnana is transforming bananas “unfit” for export from organic banana farms into simple banana-based snacks. Unfit bananas are those with scuffs, are of an irregular size, or are too ripe. Products include chewy banana bites, plantain chips, and banana brittle.
10- The Coffee Cherry Co: From coffee cherry pulp to flour
The Coffee Cherry Co. (formerly Coffee Flour) is upcycling coffee cherries, the fruit that protects the coffee beans inside. The coffee cherry fruit is mostly skin and pulp, but it takes a long time to decompose due to the high fiber content. The Coffee Cherry Co. dehydrates and mills the disregarded coffee cherries to produce flour. This versatile high-fiber flour can be used as a flavor enhancer, potentially helping to reduce sugar content. It can also be incorporated with other flour blends.
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