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The upcycling food movement, which aims to reduce food waste and the impacts of consumption on the environment, has inspired the development of sustainable food and beverages

Line of soups made with vegetables that would otherwise be discarded, food by-products transformed into new ingredients, surplus grains in breweries that become snacks and mineral water extracted from the production of concentrated juice. These are just a few examples of how the food industry has innovated to transform what would go to waste into tasty and nutritious products. 

These efforts are part of a movement that is gaining more and more strength: upcycling food, which aims to reduce food waste and the impacts of consumption on the environment. 

Whole Foods Market, a multinational supermarket chain in the United States that sells natural and organic products, identified upcycling food as one of the top ten food trends of 2021. 

To get an idea of the size of food waste, according to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the problem represents global losses of almost 1 trillion dollars each year, including the resources used in cultivation, processing, packaging, transporting and marketing these foods. In addition to the economic losses, there are 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases generated by this waste.

FAO also estimates that 6% of the world’s food losses occur in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each year, the region wastes around 15% of available food. Furthermore, Latin America and the Caribbean are responsible for 16% of the global carbon footprint generated by this problem. With the food wasted at the time of sale, in supermarkets, street markets and warehouses, it would be enough to feed more than 60% of the population in this region that suffers from hunger. 

All of this has a direct impact on the sustainability of food systems. Therefore, food recycling can contribute in favor of the environment and is also a great opportunity for the food and beverage industry to foster sustainability, in addition to offering innovation to consumers.

Upcycling food: A promising move

According to a survey by Mintel, the international market intelligence agency, 76% of consumers said they were willing to try foods made with recycled ingredients if such products had a lower environmental impact. 

In addition to the concern with environmental issues and the growing engagement on the part of the consumer indicating the consolidation of this trend, Future Market Insights, a research and business intelligence agency, found that the market for reused ingredients was already worth more than US$ 46 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow 5% per year over the next decade. An example that illustrates this growth is RIND, a maker of functional and sustainable fruit snacks based in New York, which uses discarded fruit peels. The company had a 500% increase in revenue in 2020.

Recently, the Scandinavian vegan food startup Mycorena also received a $9 million investment and became one of the global micro-protein manufacturers. Promyc, Mycorena’s main micro-protein ingredient, is developed by recycling food waste in industrial processing. It is already being tested as a protein ingredient in several vegan products sold in Scandinavia.

But, after all, what is upcycled food

The Upcycled Foods Association, of the United States, defines it as “food that consists of reducing food waste, creating nutritious and high quality food products from the nutrients that escape through the cracks in the food system”. 

According to the association, recycled foods are:

  • Made from by-products or ingredients that would otherwise be wasted;
  • Value-added products;
  • Safe for human consumption but can also be used in pet food and cosmetics.

In addition, upcycled food must be part of an auditable supply chain that guarantees its provenance and ensures that it reduces pressure on the environment. 

Discover some products and ingredients made from food recycling, launched by companies that have already embraced this movement: 

1 Barnana
California company that makes chips, tortillas and cookies made from "imperfect" bananas
Pulp Pantry
The Californian company produces fiber-rich, vegetable-based chips using leftover vegetable pulp from juices.
Take Two Barleymilk
The Portland, US brand uses nutrient-rich grains that are processed into plant-based barley milk.
Tempeh Minced Meat
Minced vegetable meat from Dutch Schouten Europe. It is partially made from recycled materials left over from other Schouten products.
Tow Good Iogurtes
Danone's Greek Yogurt portfolio is made with fruit that would be discarded.
Texas-based startup Foodtech uses new technology to recycle various organic by-products from different industries and turn them into a stable ingredient on the shelf or to be used as a raw material.
Outcast Foods
Canadian plant-based technology company that transforms non-saleable, nutrient-dense, long-lived fruits and vegetables into wholesale, retail and consumer products.
Aqua Botanical
The Australian company extracts, filters and mineralizes the water used in the production of concentrated juice.
Located in the Netherlands, Kromkommer rescues imperfect products that would be thrown away. In 2014, the company launched Wonky Veggie Soup, a line of soups created from these foods.
United States company that works with large and small farmers to harvest food by-products and develop new ingredients. Some projects include the recycling of eggshells and grains used to obtain fiber and proteins
Rubies in the Rubble
London company that makes condiments from rejected food products.
Wize Monkey
The Canadian organization works to help farmers maintain a year-round income, using leaves from the Arabica coffee plant to make tea.
Pacha de Cacao
Fruit juice made from the pulp inside a cocoa capsule. The pulp is ethically obtained from farmers in Ecuador. The drink is made in Ecuador and the Netherlands. Pacha is produced, distributed and marketed by Pacha de Cacao BV in Amsterdam.
Caskai Sparkling
The Austrian brand uses cascara (dried coffee cherry fruit) recycled from Arabica beans from Panama and Nicaragua to produce a lightly carbonated beverage.
the product from the Kenyan company Azuri uses mangoes that would be discarded in the country to produce a healthy snack from the dried fruit.
Takay Foods
Ecuadorian ice cream brand Takay uses fruits that were rejected by shoppers for esthetic reasons to create its smoothie and healthy ice cream blends.

This new market movement, even recent, shows great growth potential in the coming years, especially with consumers connected with care for the planet and people. Is there already any initiative focused on Upcycled Foods in your company? Tell us about it!

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