CrushDynamics’ company story starts with a bike ride and a bear.
In 2016, founder and President Bill Broddy was biking near a winery and saw a bear chowing down on pomace — the grape seeds and skins discarded in the winemaking process. Broddy watched the bear, not out of fear, but out of curiousity, said CEO Kirk Moir.
Later, Broddy asked Gary Strachan, a Canadian wine advocate and consultant who is now CrushDynamics’ lead scientist, why the bear was eating the discarded material. Strachan responded that the pomace is extremely nutritious, and the bear was likely loading up on quality food before beginning its hibernation.
Broddy realized that maybe there could be another way to use the pomace. It has great nutritional benefits, and the winemaking industry produces millions of tons of it a year. Pomace is usually discarded, turned into fertilizer, or sometimes sold to energy companies to use for renewable energy.
CrushDynamics, formerly known as Winecrush Technologies, is turning pomace into a protein ingredient. The company has a patent-pending fermentation-based process that not only removes the natural bitterness of the pomace — what’s known as the tannins, which give a slightly bitter flavor to red wines — but also reduces the production cost by 90%, Moir said. The resulting ingredient can provide flavor enhancement, bitter blocking, color, salt reduction and shelf life extension. And it’s rich in polyphenols, which contain antioxidants, help maintain healthy blood sugar, and contribute to circulatory, cardiac and immune health.
“This has global implications,” Moir said. “...We're just trying to find good homes for 15 million metric tons of winemaking derivatives on a global basis every year. We have a fairly big, big, hairy, audacious goal.”
CrushDynamics is moving closer to being able to accomplish that goal. The company closed a $3.6 million seed round of funding in April, with investors including the Western Universities Technology Innovation Fund, Women’s Equity Lab, Lumia Capital, Australia’s AgFood Opportunities Fund and Turnham Green Capital. Moir said that these funds will be used to work on making the company’s process — which it has so far implemented in a single winemaking region in Canada’s Okanagan Valley — into something that can be taken to other areas and put to use.
Making wine waste palatable
When CrushDynamics began, Moir said it had the goal of valorizing the discarded wine pomace. And it started by doing what was the most obvious thing: drying the pomace and making it into a protein powder.
The natural bitterness of the pomace, however, got in the way of success. Moir said that the bitterness is a part of the pomace, and the tannins produced by the wine skins and stems have a significant purpose for winemaking. After the company explored different technological processes to remove the bitterness, Strachan developed the fermentation-based process. Moir called it a “biotransformation,” and said it is both extremely successful in removing the bitter taste and a more cost-effective way to make an ingredient. And, he said, the process also makes the end product more nutritious.
"We're just trying to find good homes for 15 million metric tons of winemaking derivatives on a global basis every year. We have a fairly big, big, hairy, audacious goal.”
CrushDynamics currently has two ingredient lines: Ruby Purée and Gold Purée. The difference is in the color of the ingredient and the blend of grape varieties, Moir said. The single ingredient can do many things: Amp up nutrition, act as a natural preservative, or increase umami flavor. Much like different blends of grapes are used to make different varieties of wine, Moir said the same is true for CrushDynamics’ purees. These blends can highlight more desired functions for different products. There can also be custom changes made in the fermentation process to get a different sort of end product.
“We see those as incredibly useful levers to come up with an ever-growing family of products,” Moir said.
The process also may not be limited to winemaking waste. Moir said it may also work for waste from other naturally bitter and high-tannin, plant-based waste, like that from cranberries.
Adding a little wine (waste)
A few dozen product SKUs containing CrushDynamics’ purees are on the market today, and the company has plans to expand to more this year, Moir said. It is looking at a wide variety of different types of products as candidates for the ingredients.
“We're fond of saying, ‘Think of a food that doesn't go better with wine. Pretty short list, right?’” Moir said. “In fact, often we come up with no list at all. So that's kind of the starting premise.”
Right now, CrushDynamics is concentrating on working with more agile challenger brands, Moir said, though it is putting together a team to take the ingredient to large food companies. Currently, the puree is featured in Big Mountain Foods’ Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble, which won a NEXTY Award at Natural Products Expo West this year for Best New Special Diet Food.
The company is also working with plant-based meat and cheese companies, Moir said. The ingredient adds umami flavor and helps block the bitterness usually present in popular plant-based ingredients like pea protein, according to the company. CrushDynamics is currently working on projects with Protein Industries Canada to improve some of the plant-based cheese made in the country. Moir said researchers have found the polyphenols in CrushDynamics’ purees bind exceptionally well to pea protein, so their ingredients are a beneficial addition for those applications.
But any manufacturer seeking to cut salt content could also benefit from the distinctive flavor and functional profile of the ingredient, Moir said.
The low cost of production, as well as the fact that they are upcycled from winemaking waste, also makes CrushDynamics’ purees extremely cost effective, according to the company. Moir said that the ingredient is less expensive than most other clean-label bitter blockers, umami flavors or preservatives available today.
Big growth plans
While CrushDynamics has one plant now, Moir said the company plans to expand throughout the winemaking world. Right now, he said, it is working with dozens of sustainability-minded wineries in Canada’s British Columbia province.
Moir said the company is currently working to build relationships with wineries in Chile and Australia. Winemakers throughout the world are interested in coming up with new ways to turn their waste into something reusable and valuable, he said.
“We do see ourselves [as] an agri-tech, food-tech company, but also and obviously with a huge green tech sustainability theme,” Moir said.
“We're fond of saying, ‘Think of a food that doesn't go better with wine. Pretty short list, right?’ In fact, often we come up with no list at all. So that's kind of the starting premise.”
In the next five to 10 years, Moir said CrushDynamics hopes to be working with a large proportion of wine waste products throughout the world. Australia is currently the main international expansion target, but Moir said he’s also talking to winemakers in California and the Finger Lakes region of New York, which is close to many of the East Coast food manufacturers CrushDynamics hopes to work with.
“We actually think of this ... as a global optimization problem,” Moir said. “Where are my food producers? Where are the grapes? Where do we want to put our production facilities?”