The fact that a third of all food within the global supply chain goes to waste is not a new problem. The Institute of Food Technologists’ Anna Rosales believes the answer lies in food processing technology, which she said CPG companies should not be afraid to embrace.
“The reality is a lot of times when you have a raw material sidestream, you have to process it, whether for the safety or for the texture or taste, to get it into a form that’s suitable for the food product you’ll be making,” Rosales said.
Rosales, IFT’s senior director of government affairs and nutrition, told Food Dive in an interview that mitigating food waste must involve increasing the amount of technology used to preserve food within the supply chain, and adapting the machinery to fit consumer needs. This strategy includes creating new products, which she said can meaningfully reduce its environmental impact.
While there is a trend among consumers wanting foods that are minimally processed, Rosales believes there are opportunities to improve food at every point in the food supply chain, including processing foods to increase their shelf life and decrease deterioration.
“Food science has the power to bring a lot of these ideas and solutions that we need to scale,” Rosales said.
IFT, an industry trade group that advocates for greater funding for food technology, said on its website its mission is to “advance the science of food and its application.”
As food tech continues to drive strategic decisions at companies, IFT believes machinery holds the key to innovating the supply chain to lower the amount of food that does not get sold or eaten. In a white paper published this month, IFT said food waste could cost the industry roughly a trillion dollars annually and contributes to over a billion tons of food wasted each year.
A significant piece to solving the issue, IFT said, is explaining food waste reduction strategies to consumers. One piece of this could involve redefining the issue entirely, according to Rosales, in an effort to curb negative connotations.
Steps toward achieving circularity
The primary solution to food waste, according to the organization, involves working to achieve a circular economy for ingredients. In this system, the industry would recycle or recover resources through actions like extending shelf life or upcycling foods. IFT cited a Consumer Goods Forum report that said for every dollar a company used to reduce food loss or waste, it saved $14 in operating costs.
But explaining the benefits of lowering food waste to consumers can prove challenging — something leaders in the space are working to tackle.
“When you think of it as waste, you’re going to treat it as waste,” Rosales said. “But if you think of every raw material that’s coming as an opportunity to innovate or to create, it totally changes the perspective.”
Framing the situation as one where consumers can benefit from products that were produced sustainably presents the opportunity to motivate more people to support it, she said. Innova Market Insights found last year that 62% of consumers are willing to pay more for products that work to prevent food waste.
In the food waste advocacy space, organizations and companies argue on behalf of a variety of solutions to the issue. According to ReFed’s food waste solutions database, the methods with the greatest net financial benefit are consumer-driven, including education campaigns, tracking individual food waste and controlling portion sizes.
Upcycling rising up
One solution IFT sees promise in is heightened consumer interest in the upcycled foods movement, which has led to the launch of food products made from food that would have otherwise gone to waste. This popularity consumers increasingly value products that promote sustainable attributes.
The Upcycled Food Association’s CEO, Angie Crone, while speaking at a Food Institute panel in April, said the organization saw 21% year-over-year growth in products that received Upcycled Certification last year. The upcycled foods space, she added, is projected to be worth $80 million within a decade. The Upcycled Foods Association has upped the ante on this innovation pipeline, working with CPGs like Kerry and Puratos to implement foods that would have gone to waste — such as spent grain from beer production and cacao fruit — as ingredients for new food products.
IFT emphasized the importance of making these food tech solutions more affordable and scalable for CPGs to adopt. This must involve legislative action and coordinated work throughout the food supply chain, which U.S. policies currently fail to do, it said in the white paper.
The organization suggested this could involve an industry resource that makes tracking global food waste easier for both governments and companies. Being able to map out where food waste is more prevalent across the global supply chain is needed in order to ensure that a circular food waste economy is reached, IFT said.
Challenges with implementing upcycled ingredients
IFT included a series of studies in its report examining how products using food waste can provide challenges and opportunities for new ideas.
In one study, a manufacturer developed a smoothie made using upcycled produce ingredients. In order to make sure the ingredients were acquired and used safely, the manufacturer had to partner with producers that harvest surplus produce, determine the amount of product needed and collaborate with its quality assurance team to ensure its safety. IFT said a key takeaway from the study was the need for flexibility toward size variation and ingredient mix, among other factors.
Another study saw a manufacturer aiming to sell an industrial ingredient. It used tech assessments of the ingredient — including comparisons to ingredients already on the market — to understand the strengths and weaknesses associated with its potential use as an upcycled ingredient.
Lastly, one study features researchers using upcycled soybean oil from Sub-Saharan Africa to create a nutritious cake. They faced difficulties including high costs for the necessary tech and limited abilities to process the soy protein. They determined that by having a working relationship with partner producers and washing the ingredient, the cake was able to garner a higher market value, IFT said.