How upcycling is transforming food waste – new ‘Food in Canada’ feature from Cher Mereweather
Today’s snack is a tasty fruit Pulp Crunch from a company called “Bruized.” Little clusters of yummy dried fruit pulp that makes me think of a granola that’s been on a beach vacation and forgotten its sunscreen.
This product is 100 per cent sourced from waste juice pulp and other imperfect fruits that would otherwise go to waste. This rather neatly leads me into the subject of this issue’s column: food waste, and specifically “unavoidable” food waste — or, the byproducts of our production system and what to do about it.
According to The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste report by Second Harvest in 2019, 58 per cent of food produced in this country is lost or wasted. Thankfully, most companies are now fully committed to doing their part to solve this problem. But most of their efforts are focused on preventing waste and recovering the food that is still good for human consumption to return it to the system.
And while this is critical, two-thirds of our “food waste” can neither be prevented nor directly consumed. This “unavoidable” waste is mostly byproducts: pulp from juicing, grains from brewing, soya residues from tofu production, etc., and while most goes to animal feed, compost or anaerobic digestion, there is still a lot that ends up in landfill.
And yet, this byproduct does have nutritional value and if it can be seen as nutrients or ingredients for other products, it could also have commercial value. And thus, a new food category has emerged to address this opportunity: Upcycled Food.
Already estimated to be valued at more than $46 billion, Upcycled Food has been named by FoodBev Media as one of the top five food trends in 2021, with data showing that 60 per cent of Canadians are interested in purchasing such products.
Upcycling has real potential to help deal with “unavoidable” food waste, and its rapid scaling will not only create more yummy snacks to help everyone get through their morning, but it will provide an economically-viable path to tackling the millions of tonnes of unavoidable food waste.
Challenges and solutions
However, commercializing upcycled food is not without its own challenges. Shifting from diverting or disposing a byproduct to optimizing its nutrient value and generating new revenue streams raises both cultural and technical barriers.
First, the byproduct needs to be quantified. Companies need to know exactly how much of which byproduct they are diverting or disposing and what potential value (both nutritional and economic) it represents. Then, they need to discover how to productize it into an ingredient, and finally, how to bring it to market.
It’s a whole new business. And it requires a complex combination of data analysis, laboratory and nutritional research, market and field research, partnership development, product development and more.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Canada’s food and beverage companies are SMEs — most of whom simply do not have the bandwidth, or access to this range of skills and resources internally or externally. So, is Upcycling destined to remain a niche, never able to realize its full potential in Canada? Will “unavoidable” byproducts continue to be wasted? Not likely!
Later this spring, as part of the ground-breaking “Our Food Future” initiative led by the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington in Ontario, Canadians will see the creation of the Re(Purpose) Network: a unique, network of expertise for unavoidable byproduct commercialization.
The Re(Purpose) Network will bring together all of the key functions and resources I listed above into a virtual platform.
This platform will give Canadian food and beverage companies access to cutting-edge technology to help them to identify unavoidable waste opportunities within their facilities. It will also give them access to an expert team of nutritionists, economists and other food and beverage industry experts who can help them to develop new upcycled revenue streams.
Once a market-ready solution is identified, the Re(Purpose) Network will connect back into the Our Food Future Circular Food Waste Marketplace to connect the byproduct to a manufacturer who can commercialize it. And these manufacturers will also be able to access support to bring their new upcycled ingredients and products to market, thus securing the new economic value chain.
And so goes the circular economy…
Unavoidable waste will find new leases on life, new Upcycled ingredients and products will emerge and hopefully we will have created — here in Canada — a model that will inspire similar movements in other countries around the world.
My team and I are really proud to be helping design and execute this future network, and as I crunch on my Bruized upcycled fruit snack, I can’t help but wonder how many more new food products like this one will be created in the coming months and years as a result of the Re(Purpose) Network.
And, I also can’t help but wonder how many of you reading this now have “unavoidable” waste byproduct that could become the ingredients for one of those new products.
It could bring a whole new meaning to the future of Elevenses…
P.S. — If you have food waste or a byproduct and want to rewrite the future of Elevenses, then let’s talk (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cher Mereweather, CEO of Provision Coalition Inc., is a food industry sustainability expert based in Canada.