Upcycling: Important opportunities for food development

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 25 No. 5
Volume 25
Issue 5

Food byproducts and waste present an important opportunity for product development.

Photo © Pixel-Shot - Stock.adobe.com

Photo © Pixel-Shot - Stock.adobe.com

The food industry is full of creative entrepreneurs who want to make a positive impact by offering healthier, or more sustainable, products. And consumers are receptive to having more healthy and sustainable options. For example, according to the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic food in 2021 grew by 13% to $56.5 billion. Unfortunately, all the wonderful products on the market, no matter how good their intentions, create a strain on the environment.

For example, processing fruits into finished products creates an immense amount of waste in the form of peels, trimmings, stems, shells, bran, and seeds. When food byproducts end up in landfills, they pose a danger to the environment due to microbial decomposition and leachate production. Sometimes, byproducts are burned to remove fungi and parasites. The handling of this solid waste is also an economic burden on both food processors and those managing landfills. Food waste and byproducts not only have an impact on the environment but also are missed opportunities for human nutrition. In fact, these byproducts, which account for 50% of fresh fruit, can often have nutritional and functional content higher than the finished product1.

The nutritional potential of food byproducts is worth exploring when you consider the fact that 805 million people globally suffer from hunger. In food waste and byproducts is the presence of proteins, lipids, starches, micronutrients, bioactive compounds, and dietary fibers. It’s a shame to waste that potential.

Consumers are becoming aware of food waste and trying to be proactive, with grocery delivery services like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods providing blemished produce and other items at a discount. Therefore, upcycling food waste and byproducts creates a compelling story that will appeal to people’s desire to make a difference.

On top of that, emerging certifications that recognize carbon neutrality and upcycling will help communicate that story and verify said claims. Two recent brands that have put the importance of upcycling into perspective are EverGrain (St. Louis, MO) and Riff (Bend, OR), which are Upcycled Certified and Certified Carbonfree, respectively.

EverGrain is a subsidiary of AB InBev, a brewing company that is responsible for producing the world’s most popular beers, including Budweiser. A brewing company this size goes through a huge amount of grain, such as barley, each year. According to an article in FoodDive2, the brewing industry produces nine million metric tons of used grain each year, and AB InBev accounts for 16%, or 1.4 million metric tons. Currently, EverGrain repurposes 50 tons of barley each year to develop protein and fiber-rich ingredients for the food and beverage industry—but soon will be able to upcycle 7,000 tons annually after retrofitting a 1905 fermentation cellar by AB InBev’s St. Louis brewery at a cost of $100 million. When one considers just how much beer is produced and consumed, the potential benefits of this kind of closed-loop system are staggering.

Coffee is another product that consumers cannot get enough of but that comes at both a human and environmental cost. Labels like Fair Trade help people sleep at night, but Riff is exposing something many of us may have been unaware of: unused coffee byproduct. According to a white paper published by Riff in partnership with Oregon State University in June 2020, during the 2018/2019 growing season, coffee production hit 24 billion pounds of coffee, with an estimated value of $48 billion. The coffee beans were harvested from 120 billion pounds of coffee cherries, which means that nearly 100 billion pounds of byproduct was left behind, including 58 billion pounds of nutrient-rich coffee fruit. Left unmanaged, the wasted coffee fruit could generate up to 14.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of emissions from three million passenger cars for an entire year.

Riff uses the fruit, known as cascara, to make immune-boosting energy drinks. But the fruit has so much potential for other food and beverage applications. According to the white paper, 100 g of cascara fruit contains 50% of the daily recommended intake of biotin and vitamin E, 35 g of fiber, and 6.15 g of protein, with less than 1 g of fat.

This is the story for so many of the fruits that we know and love. Mangoes. Pineapples. Bananas. Grapes. Their byproducts are just waiting to be tapped.


  1. Torres-León C et al. “Food waste and byproducts: An opportunity to minimize malnutrition and hunger in developing countries.Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, vol. 2, no. 52 (September 4, 2018)
  2. Doering C. “AB InBev’s EverGrain Brings Used Beer Ingredients to Snacks and Plant-Based Milks.” FoodDive. Published online March 17, 2022.

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