As global supply chains remain fragile, European food companies are looking for new ways to source ingredients close to home. Upcycling not only provides supply resiliency, but it also reduces waste and energy use throughout the production process. Here are some of the latest innovations in upcycled ingredients. 

Upcycling as the Holy Grail

Broadly speaking, “upcycling” refers to re-evaluating current production processes and waste streams, looking for innovative ways to extract value from items that are currently being discarded. As the EU sets ambitious goals for both the climate and the economy, upcycling is the most promising area of growth, moving us closer to the goals of: 

  • Climate neutrality. The EU aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, which means balancing levels of greenhouse gas emissions with greenhouse gas absorption. This goal must be achieved by drastically reducing emissions, along with optimizing carbon offsets. Ingredient upcycling maximizes the value of the energy and CO2 already invested in producing the material, moving us closer to the goal.  
  • Circular economy. A circular economy looks toward recycling and upcycling waste materials to re-enter the economy and be used again, reducing unused waste and pollution. By reusing natural resources over and over, we can extend the life cycle of products and reduce the impact on the environment.  
  • Greater independence. The EU seeks to reduce its reliance on foreign countries to provide energy and raw materials necessary for an advanced economy. By looking to maximize resources within Europe, the EU has more economic autonomy to drive foreign policy.  

With all those benefits in mind, here are some of the most innovative ingredient upcycling projects:

Upcycled Spent Grain into Alternative Proteins

In Switzerland, startup Circular Food Solutions has found an innovative way to re-use grain. In the brewing industry, barley malt starches are used to produce beer. The leftover barley waste is typically used as animal feed, but this spent grain is still high in protein, fiber, and nutrients. Circular Food Solutions is using spent grain as an innovative and affordable ingredient for the meat alternative industry, repurposing the plant proteins for various vegan foods. 

Upcycled Fruit Fibers into Fashion

Fruit giant Dole Sunshine Company is pioneering a new process in partnership with Musa Fabric. Every year, Dole sends more than 200,000 metric tons of banana stems and waste to landfills, but the new program harvests the banana fibers and turns them into fabric. Working with Musa and the Kasilak Foundation, Dole helps local workers extract and weave the fibers into textiles, which are then woven into clothing. Musa Fabric’s fashions are sold in 9 countries and recently walked the runways at New York’s Fashion Week, proving there is demand for more responsible and sustainable fashion. 

Upcycled Food Waste into Beauty and Skin Care

Upcycling food waste into beauty products is a natural fit, since food-grade ingredients are of the highest quality, but the two industries often use very different plant components. Consumers in both sectors are looking for organic, sustainable, natural ingredients, allowing ingredients and components to be shared between the two industries. Beauty brands like UpCircle Beauty, Circumference, LOLI Beauty, and more, are making upcycling not just sustainable, but luxurious, with high-end, natural, local ingredients re-captured from the food industry. 

Upcycling technologies are still in their infancy, and many of the processes required to re-use and transform waste into new products are still energy-intensive. However, these processes are constantly improving, as we “mine” our own waste streams to create more value for consumers and reduce harm to the environment. If you want to recruit the talent that will take your food, beverage, or beauty brand to the next level, contact grapefrute today.