The trend toward incorporating upcycled ingredients into new food products is continuing to gain momentum, as more companies seek to increase their sustainability efforts and minimize their waste.
June 24 was National Upcycling Day, which was reportedly first established in 2015 in the United Kingdom to call attention to the benefits of upcycling across a range of industries, from apparel to construction.
Food products featuring upcycled ingredients have been repeatedly cited in recent years by SFA’s Trendspotter Panel, and more and more products made from recycled ingredients have been appearing at the Fancy Food Shows, from snack foods to enhanced beverages.
This year, for example, an allergen-free pie crust made from upcycled brownie trimmings won a New Product sofi Award. That product, Hillside Lane Farm Chocolate Brownie Pie Crust, is one of several products containing upcycled ingredients from Randolph, Vermont-based Freedom Foods, said Cathy Bacon, founder and owner of the company.
The company, which specializes in allergen-free foods, also makes an allergen-free graham cracker pie shell from upcycled waste from its graham cracker production, as well as an upcycled allergen-free pizza crust— a past sofi Award winner—made from upcycled aquafaba, the liquid that cooked chickpeas are stored in. The liquid is sourced from Freedom Foods’ own use of chickpeas in other products.
“The crusts were all inspired by a similar thing: What could we do with this other product that was a byproduct of an ingredient we were using?” said Bacon.
As a co-packing facility that strives to be as “green” as possible, Freedom Foods also counsels other brands in their efforts to incorporate ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.
“It’s pretty common when you are in a green facility, at least, to try to figure out how to minimize the waste going into the environment and maximize the opportunities for complementary products,” said Bacon.
The supply chain challenges of the past two years, when some key ingredients have become unavailable or have fluctuated in cost, may also be driving some food makers to look at upcycled ingredients as a more dependable source of inputs.
Bacon said she sees upcycled ingredients increasingly used in food categories such as enhanced waters, condiments, and snack foods. In addition, plant byproducts such as leaves and stems are increasingly being turned into nutrient-rich powders that can be used in a variety of applications.
‘Explosion of Innovation’ in Upcycled Foods
ReGrained, a company that incorporates the spent grains used in brewing beer into a variety of products and is primarily focused on supplying other manufacturers, said demand for the company’s upcycled product, ReGrained SuperGrain, is growing.
“We are seeing an explosion of innovation,” said Dan Kurzrock, cofounder and chief grain officer, ReGrained.
He noted that ReGrain’s Upcycled Food Lab operation has seen growing interest from established companies seeking to create new products using upcycled ingredients. In fact, one of the challenges involved in incorporating upcycled ingredients, he said, is the fact that they are often not a direct substitute for other ingredients, and may have to be developed into new products, which can take months or even years.
ReGrained, which was one of the founding companies that formed the Upcycled Food Association, works with companies to help them create products using upcycled ingredients.
“We are a development partner, not a commodity supplier,” said Kurzrock.
Among the 150-plus products that ReGrained’s Upcycled Food Lab is working on include a new bread for a national supermarket operator, various other baked goods, snacks, ice cream inclusions, and carriers such as wraps, pizza crusts and pastas.
“We are really excited about some of the things coming down the pike,” said Kurzrock. “There are products in every area of the grocery store.”
Helping drive the momentum of upcycled foods is the Upcycled Certified standard that the UFA launched, which Kurzrock said helps validate brands’ claims in consumers’ minds.
He pointed to a recent study by research and consulting firm Mattson, which found that awareness of upcycling has been increasing, and that 57 percent of consumers said they planned to buy more upcycled products in the coming year. A little more than half of consumers also said that the Upcycled Certified logo would make them more likely to buy a product.
Sales of Upcycled Certified products increased by more than 1046 percent between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2002, according to the UFA, citing data from SPINS.
“The Upcycled Food Association is proud to see this acceleration of Upcycled Certified products in the market, as every product prevents more food from being wasted,” Turner Wyatt, CEO of the UFA, told SFA News Daily. “This astronomical growth is a testament to both the climate-fighting innovation that UFA member companies bring to this space and to the fact that these products taste great.”
Other SFA member companies that have been active in the upcycled food space include Renewal Mill, an upcycled ingredient supplier that creates plant-based, climate-friendly baking products. It recently released two new cookie SKUs that are co-branded with plant-based dairy company Miyoko’s Creamery, featuring upcycled Miyoko’s butter.
In addition, Renewal Mill has launched nationally at Whole Foods Market with three flours and three baking mixes, and also launched three private-label baking mixes. It also recently launched three co-branded products for Williams Sonoma’s Seed & Harvest line of sustainably sourced pantry products.
Another example is the Ugly Pickle Co., which was first featured by the SFA’s Trendspotter Panel at the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show, where it showcased its rescued produce pickle products as part of Incubator Village. It has expanded its into 5-gallon buckets of its Burger Party Dills, Bread N Buttahs, and Dilly Carrots for foodservice.
“We are just beginning to expand our foodservice presence with these to add to restaurants with burgers, sandwiches, and charcuterie boards,” Kayla Abe, co-founder, told SFA News Daily.
The company has been expanding locally in San Francisco restaurants and wine bars, including newly opened Shuggie’s Trash Pie + Natural Wine, where Ugly Pickles are available in a Fried Pickle Kakiage, or on the Pickle Lady pizza.