- A new study from Drexel University finds there is a strong likelihood that consumers would be interested in a new category of food made from discarded ingredients, according to Food Ingredients First.
- Participants in the study felt value-added surplus products were more helpful to the environment than conventional foods, but less helpful when compared to organic foods. They also responded best to the title "upcycled" for these surplus products.
- Researchers hinted these upcycled foods may also be able to fetch a premium price, as consumers more closely align them with organic food than conventional in terms of category.
In an age where products are judged not just by their taste, but also by the companies that manufacture them, sustainability has become a desirable quality. But is using discarded ingredients something consumers can really get behind? According to Drexel University professors, they can.
There is something of an "ick" factor when it comes to upcycled products. However, when presented in the right manner, Drexel’s study shows consumers can see the greater good and get over the food’s recycled image.
The almond industry has already adopted this strategy for its co-products, like hulls, shells and other woody material. These ‘co-products’ are effectively repurposed — almond hulls are used as livestock feed, while the husks can be turned into livestock bedding.
It’s one thing to feel good about discarded almond hulls feeding cows, but it’s another when it comes to food meant for human consumption. A number of smaller upstarts have found success by using these undesirable ingredients.
Startup WTRMLN WTR uses almost every part of watermelons that are not shipped to retailers to make fresh cold-pressed beverages. Sir Kensington’s created a vegan mayonnaise made with aquafaba, the liquid left over from cooking chickpeas. Barnana upcycles organic bananas that aren’t considered attractive enough for retail sales and makes them into ‘super potassium’ snacks.
Major manufacturers also are getting in on upcycling. AB InBev funded a startup called Canvas that uses the spent grain left over from beer making to produce smoothie-like, barley milk beverages. Quaker Oats has taken a different approach and started an online recipe contest called "More Taste, Less Waste" that challenges professional chefs to come up with recipes that use oats and "rescued food," such as onion and garlic skins.
In addition to fulfilling sustainability pledges, more large food manufacturers may start exploring the possibility of using upcycled ingredients for one simple reason: consumers may be willing to pay more for it. The Drexel study found that participants more closely identified upcycled food with organic than conventional, which may mean they would be willing to pay a higher price for it.
American retailers also are getting on board with this strategy. Grocers, including Walmart, Hy-Vee and Raley's — have jumped on the ugly produce bandwagon, proudly displaying and discounting the misshapen items in their stores. Others supermarket chains like Kroger and Trader Joe’s are leveraging the ugly produce movement to push their sustainability agendas of zero-waste, and bolstering their community outreach by donating the produce, which is perfectly safe to eat, to local food banks.
As consumers grow increasingly more concerned about waste and the environment, and the global population increases, upcycled foods may soon become a more intricate part of the daily menu for many more shoppers and retailers. It could further benefit food manufacturers and stores who could promote their use of these unloved products, producing additional goodwill with consumers to buy their items or shop at their establishment— if only more people can move beyond the "ick" factor.