How do you get the attention of major beverage companies? Try offering them $165 billion.
That much money is being lost every year in the U.S. due to food waste, which has helped spark interest in the idea of using so-called “seconds” or “ugly” produce — fruits and veggies considered aesthetically unfit for retail sale and sent to landfills — to create new food and beverage products.
However, until more consistent sources of “ugly” produce are made available and processing is subsequently implemented on a larger scale across the industry, smaller, more regional companies will likely be leading the way.
As the co-founder of Ugly Juice, a San Francisco Bay Area-based cold-pressed juice company that exclusively uses “ugly” fruit, last year, Slava Chupryna is helping to create a larger commercial market for this type of produce. The brand sources its ingredients from “ugly” fruit and veggie broker Imperfect Produce, which offers a subscription-based model where product is delivered direct to consumers, as well as from local produce wholesalers who are looking to unload surplus goods for a discount or sometimes even for free. For a growing company that’s less than a year old, the cost savings provided by this model can make an immediate and significant impact.
“When we buy from wholesalers, we are paying 20 to 30 percent of what “normal” produce would cost,” said Chupryna, who estimates each juice his company produces uses somewhere between 1.3 and 2 lbs of produce. “We try to work smartly with them, and now they know exactly what we are looking for and they usually reach out to us, which is great.”
Aleks Strub, the founder of Imperfect Produce, said that Ugly Juice is the company’s only current client engaged in beverage manufacturing and that it has no plans to expand into a wholesale operation at the time. Yet the savings provided from farm to factory are significant.
“For the consumer, we offer a box that’s about 30-50 percent cheaper than at the grocery store,” she said. “Some of the farms we work with have been able to start their own lines of seconds or ugly produce that they can then sell in addition to their firsts, or their top tier. It’s generating a market for them.”
Coconut water manufacturers are also uniquely positioned within the upcycling movement. The production process, in which only a small amount of liquid is extracted from the coconut, leaves behind a husk that can be employed in a variety of uses and new products.
Obrigado, which markets a pasteurized coconut water made from young Brazilian coconuts, has the stated goal of using 100 percent of the coconuts they harvest. That extends to powering their production facilities with bioenergy from coconuts, which Roy said the company is confident of achieving by the end of 2018.
“Our goal is to use all of our coconuts that come out of factory to fuel our factories themselves,” she said, noting that the waste from an individual green coconut can total around 2 kg. “The green and brown shells offer different benefits but both can be used to create biomass energy.”
Roy said that Obrigado has met with other companies throughout the world who are grappling with similar issues of reducing environmental waste and inefficiencies. She also said that the company is planning the construction of a bio tech facility that will house house microorganisms that digest the fiber from the green coconut husk into organic fertilizer and bio gas, cutting remaining waste down to almost zero percent.
Baldor Specialty Foods, a major East Coast-based food and distribution company, has taken a leading role in the upcycling movement through its “SparCs” program, an initiative with the goal of ensuring that 100 percent of the edible product in the company’s warehouse goes toward human consumption.
For them, the next evolution in recycling SparCs is coming soon in the form of a versatile blend of 20 dehydrated vegetables that can be integrated into a wide variety of recipes. In baking, for example, it can be used as a nutrient-dense substitute for flour. Baldor is also working with another company on creating retail products that use the blend as an ingredient.
“We see this dry vegetable blend as an opportunity to process thousands and thousands of pounds [of SparCs],” McQuillan said. “We anticipate that this is going to take a very large portion of our production capacity, maybe upwards of 15 percent.”
While some brands are looking to control all elements of the production process, one upstart is closing the loop by choosing a raw material that is already widely employed for uses outside of beverage.
Founded by Zachary Anderson and Courtney McCoy, IGZU’s mission is create new and innovative CPG products out of the most sustainable crops on the planet. The brand premiered its three-SKU line of Bamboo Teas, available in Lavender Peach, Elderflower Citrus and Hibiscus Blackberry varieties, at Expo West 2016.
In developing its teas, the pair saw great value in the plant’s resiliency, ease of growing and ability to be harvested in the wild. IGZU sources the raw materials from a farm in the Caribbean which Anderson said is the only USDA Certified organic source of bamboo in North America.
Anderson explained that the company and its farming partners do not use any irrigation systems, fertilizers or modern farming techniques on the plants, allowing them to subsist on natural rainwater before being harvested every six to eight months.
“The way the cycle of the actual bamboo harvest happens is they kind of cut down right at the base of the stalks so they can get the full growth to use,” said Anderson, adding that, in cutting the bamboo, the tree is not uprooted and grows back to be extracted again in the future. “There’s a plant here that has unique health benefits to it if we brew the leaves, but we’re also not expending a ton of energy or putting fertilizer or any of that stuff into the planet.”
After harvesting, farmers use the bamboo stalks for a variety of products and functions, such as bamboo charcoal. The closed loop represents the rare occurrence when economic and environmental interests are aligned in a mutually beneficial system, one which looks set to continue developing in innovative ways over the coming years.
“We are that last piece of the loop to actually give some type of purpose to the entire harvest,” said Anderson.