With more than 30% of food produced globally going into the trash, upcycling excess food and by-products has become an increasingly popular strategy. Not only does it have consumer appeal, it makes sense for the bottom line.  

Image of Superfrau beverages
Photo courtesy of Superfrau

The great news is that more than half of the population wants upcycled food products, as they want to play their part to save the planet.  As Generation Z grows their presence in consumer markets, voting booths and workforce, they have carried forward a mission for sustainability of the planet and our environment.

While upcycling to make new food products is rising in both significance and popularity among younger cohorts, other groups are not as familiar with the concept.  Food and Nutrition Sciences Report stated that only 10% of the surveyed consumers know about upcycled food products.  Once made aware, 80% of those consumers stated that they would intentionally seek out such products due to their positive impact on the environment.

The Upcycled Food Association defines upcycled food as food made from ingredients that otherwise would be wasted by human consumption, and are procured and produced using standard supply chains, and make a positive effect on our environment.  To make it easier to identify such products, brands are starting to bring it front and center in their marketing communication. Think Superfrau beverages, Table Scraps premium dog treats, Renewal Mill, Barnana, and more.

While taste, price and convenience remain important, as in the past, Gen Z is far more focused on where the product comes from instead of only what the product does for them. A recent Deloitte survey reported that climate change or protecting the environment is the No. 1 concern for Gen Z, followed by healthcare/disease control and unemployment.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates annual food waste and loss totals 1 billion tons and is worth $1 trillion.  So, food upcycling has become more important than ever before. By buying upcycled food, we all can prevent food waste and contribute towards the planet and environmental sustainability while ensuring we have enough food left for the generations to come.

Photo courtesy of Renewal Mill

Upcycled food is not only an eco-friendly practice, but it is also health friendly. Upcycled food improves the quality of the food we eat on a daily basis. For instance, fruit pomace, the fibrous byproduct from fruit juice production, can be added in snack food to enhance its flavor and nutritional value. Similarly, wheat middlings and whey proteins are all economically viable upcycled products that make food a medicine. Wheat middlings, a residual of the flour milling, when added to breakfast cereals, boost their minerals, vitamins, and fiber content. Whey protein, obtained out of cheese production, makes healthy bars and protein shakes much more nutritious.

Courtesy of Del Monte

Large CPGs are getting into upcycling too.  Many tout their corporate ESG commitments and zero waste goals. Now they are looking to upcycling to meet these corporate goals, while delighting consumers at the same time. Del Monte has been a global leader in fruits and vegetables since their first day.  Del Monte Blue Lake Petite Cut and Blue Lake Farmhouse Cut Green Beans turn what had been 600,000 pounds of cut green bean waste into these two new SKUs. (Full disclosure: I have literally seen the incredible volumes of what used to be this green bean waste real time during my many years working for Del Monte).  Not only does the product have a great origin story but consumer-friendly language and positioning.  To consumers, this is not a “waste stream optimization” product line; it is product that speaks to their desire for sustainable, healthy food choices from their favorite popular brands.

The future is upcycling. Food Network Magazine and Whole Foods WFM ranked upcycled foods as one of the key trends in 2021 while the Future Market Report predicts that the upcycled food market worth $46.7 billion in the coming decade.  Ecovia Intelligence predicts a surge in upcycled products for 2022.

Launching new brands and products focused on upcycled ingredients can really resonate with sustainability-motivated consumers; startups and legacy brands are both successfully getting into the upcycled space.  All companies, of course, are most successful with upcycled products and communications if they start with a strong brand, one that resonates emotionally with a clear target, and a brand positioning and guardrails to ensure the company knocks it out of the park with their new products. If you are interested in learning more about the future of upcycled food, then please reach out.

Xander Shapiro

Xander is a seasoned General Manager and strategy leader with over 20 years experience driving profitable growth in both large CPGs and startups, including Del Monte and Akorn Technology. He focuses on businesses that deliver nutrition, health and wellness through fresh produce, plant-based foods, and botanical supplements.

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