From insect proteins to vertical farming, the FMCG world is increasingly turning to innovative solutions in an effort to reduce the environmental impact of entire supply chains, from farm to fork. This time, let’s take a look at an emerging trend – upcycling.

Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products or waste materials into new products that are perceived to be of greater quality or value, for instance having a positive environmental impact. And when it comes to food waste, this can also mean saving a pretty penny. The UK alone could save millions by simply repurposing its food waste from manufacturers, that is the food spoiled during the manufacturing process and is therefore no longer fit for sale, into sustainable biofertilizers – a somewhat creative answer from ReFood’s commercial director, Philip Simpson.

Environmental benefits are also a key considering factor, and currently have significant sway over public sentiment. In fact, as per GlobalData’s latest COVID-19 recovery tracker, it is clear that the pandemic has actually accelerated such concerns; over half (51%) of the global population now prioritize food waste as a more pressing issue as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, with millennials reporting the highest rate at 54%. However, it should be noted that all responses are considerably high suggesting a stable consumer base and prime potential for investments.

Ocean Spray, a US-based agricultural cooperative that focuses on cranberries and grapefruit, has introduced cranberry seeds to its product portfolio. Notably, the seeds are clean-label, and harvested from certified-sustainable cranberries. Perhaps more interestingly, however, is that they are upcycled from what would otherwise be discarded waste, helping the company to foster a zero-waste supply chain. This is a simply, cost-effective and accessible innovation that also provides a new product sales channel, increasing the company’s overall revenue. But can upcycling be implemented on a larger, international scale?

Well, one company would argue yes.

Olam Food Ingredients’ subsidiary, Olam Coffee, has recently announced the development of a new “superfruit” made from cáscara, the husk of the coffee cherry fruit. This coffee by-product is usually discarded or used as a crop fertilizer, however, Olam has recognized its significant health benefits as an antioxidant, leading the company to repurpose the fruit extract for a number of potential industries, including beverages, foods and cosmetics.

As an ingredient, there is much promise in the “superfruits” potential applications. As a dry cáscara product, Olam plans to use it for tea infusions and flour, while its liquid concentrates can be used for jams, jellies, dessert toppings and bakery fillings and its powered formats can be used in hot and cold RTD beverages and mixes. The flexibility of the ingredient across different industries, as well as its health and eco-friendly claims, could see it become a regular in shopping baskets in the near-future.

Consumer sentiment is increasingly open to new innovations and ingredient formulations. When at one time, manufacturers may have argued that upcycling was impossible, because consumers would never spend money for a perceived waste ingredient or product, increased focus on environmental and sustainable supply chains during the last few years has realigned consumers’ priorities, proving this not to be the case; the rise of “ugly” or “wonky” fruit and vegetables, which made headlines in the last decade for being key culprits of food waste, for instance, have been popularized in the UK via campaigns and marketing strategies by some of the country’s top retailers. Brands should invest in their upcycling capabilities as a means of creating new product lines, positioning themselves as more ecological, and potentially branching out into other industries.

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