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November 12, 2022

A tortilla made with sprouted seeds forms the carrier of this sandwich wrap. / Image courtesy of ReGrained.

The upscaling movement could help move food processors closer to zero-waste goals in the near future.

While professional restaurants have traditionally turned fruit and vegetable scraps and meat cuts into menu items, upcycling is an emerging industry activity on the creative side. It gets a second life for things like spent grains from the production of beer and oat milk, whey from cheesemaking, and coffee and cacao berries left after the bean harvest.

“Upcycled food and beverages are a huge market opportunity,” said Dan Kurzrock, founder of Upcycled Foods, Inc., during a presentation at the International Foodservice Editorial Council in Santa Barbara, Calif., this week. “It started in retail. But the food market is ready.”

The estimated value of the food economy raised is $52.9 billion, and according to INNOVA Market Insights, 63% of consumers say they would like to eat at a restaurant that prevents or reduces food waste, Kurzrock said.

He started thinking about it as a solution to food waste back in college, as an explorer of craft beer. “Every six pages produced left us with one pound of grain,” he said. “Grain raising started as a hobby in 2010.”

Later, he and a business partner harvested spent grains from a batch of breweries and turned them into what is now ReGrained Supergrain, a nutritious product that is ground into flour. Food manufacturers are using it to make pizza and pie crusts, pasta, tortilla wraps, wraps and many baked goods.

“Leftover bread adds up to a huge amount of food waste,” said Kurzrock. In a true example of “closing the loop” upcycling, that bread is now recycled into alcoholic spirits.

The non-profit Upcycled Food Association (UFA) now has a third-party certification program to give products on-package the Upcycled Certified mark if they pass certain criteria. “There are 200-plus businesses now producing high quality food and products,” said Turner Wyatt, CEO of UFA.

While foodservice lags behind in sales, he noted that US Foods now has a hamburger bun that uses upcycled grains and will be selling it soon.

Kurzrock said there are several ways to increase access for users. On top of the latter, executive chef Matthew Accarrino of SPQR restaurant in San Francisco is making new pasta using ReGrained flour, and cake chef Erin Kanagy Loux, formerly of Union Square Events in New York City, bakes a matcha layer cake using the product.

Through ReGrained’s Upcycled Food Lab, Kurzrock and his team work with menu designers on emerging concepts and small coffee chains to create signature upcycled items. But to increase the amount and knowledge of development in food, Kurzrock said, “employees must also rely on suppliers to develop solutions.”

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