Creating 'taste' from what would be 'waste'
Published April 30, 2017
Our last post highlighted Barnana, a pioneer in the Food Waste Innovator Database’s “Food Product Creation” category that converts reject bananas into healthy snacks. Barnana is representative of the innovators within this category creating new food products from produce that is deemed ‘too ugly’ or ‘too small’ for retail. But there is an emerging subsection of this category that is practicing a form of “food waste alchemy” – deriving new food materials from the byproducts of other manufacturing processes. According to ReFED’s Food Waste Innovator Database, there are currently 11 entities practicing some aspect of this model in the United States, with additional businesses likely conducting one-off projects or experiments.
The high-volume of waste grain that is generated during the brewing process, coupled with the constant growth in urban craft breweries, makes the craft brewing industry a perfect candidate for byproduct intervention. On average, a pound of grain is generated for every six pack of beer despite efforts by brewers to make their process more efficient. [It should be noted that spent grain is not factored into the 63 million tons of annual food waste figure that is identified in ReFED’s Roadmap.] ReGrained is a for-profit startup company in San Francisco (CA) that harvests “spent” brewery grain from urban craft breweries to create a food-grade ingredient that they are currently incorporating into granola bars, acting as a bridge between the brewing industry and local food systems. ReFED recently connected with Dan Kurzrock, Co-Founder and Executive Grain Officer at ReGrained, to learn about what it takes to make tasty food from beer waste.
Jordan Schwartz (left) and Dan Kurzrock (right), co-founders of ReGrained.Image courtesy of ReGrained.
ReFED:It must be rather difficult to communicate to consumers about what makes ReGrained unique – you use the “Eat Beer.” slogan, but how do you engage customers in your story?
D.K:Within the food system, we don’t yet have a good – appetizing – way to talk about eating what would-be waste. As food waste-fighting entrepreneurs, we wanted to make it clear for people that they are consuming something that is reducing waste, without making people feel that they are eating “waste” itself. Our “Eat Beer.” tagline is an unfamiliar combination of two familiar words, which allows us to get folks’ attention and share our story. From there, we realized that we have to deliver on great-tasting products first and foremost, which will then allow our brand’s other characteristics (e.g., waste reduction) to build lasting value. Just like Tesla made a beautiful, fast car that happens to be electric – we wanted to make supporting a company that reduces waste easy by leading with a flavor and fun angle.
ReFED:Converting “spent” brewery grain into a food grade ingredient can’t be easy – what factors must be considered to ensure an effective process?
D.K.:To begin, it is essential that food safety is the utmost priority throughout the conversion process. The “spent” grain is actively breaking down and needs to be stabilized within hours to recover it as a food-grade ingredient. Further complicating matters, not just for us but for everyone practicing similar models, is that there currently isn’t sufficient technology for processing the grain at the scale we envision. We can grow our bar product line significantly under the status-quo, but our vision is much grander. We see this challenge as an opportunity, and in mid-2016, ReGrained officially partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to focus on finding a solution. We need to be inventive to realize the full potential of our impact, which is really what ReGrained is all about. To us, this is the real definition of food tech.
ReFED:What does the future hold for ReGrained? What role do you see your company playing in the food waste space?
D.K.:At ReGrained, our biggest growth opportunity is going beyond the granola bar by exploring other applications of our flour ingredient and bringing those products to market. If we are successful at doing this, then we are bringing a new ingredient into the food system that doesn’t take virgin resources to produce, but instead is generated as a result of an industrial process. We want to be a galvanizing force for the upcycled food products market, and the best way to do this initially is to create something compelling for people, teach them through our brand, get people excited about what we are doing, and provide them an opportunity to vote for what they care about with their dollar. We are here to create a new way of doing things, and make it become theway.
Businesses creating delicious food from byproducts face hurdles like education and awareness even before they can tackle typical growing pains like scaling and becoming staple household products. In addition to passion, vision, and the ability to see value where others see waste, companies that are creating products with social purpose at the core appeal to today’s consumers who choose products with their hearts and minds – in addition to their wallets. To learn about other companies creatively repurposing wasted food into new food products, check out ReFED’s Food Waste Innovator Database today!